So what’s all this talk about Saga Dawa?
As a western woman, I’m new to the whole ‘Saga Dawa month’ concept. In fact, you could say that I’m new to the whole Tibetan-Buddhism concept altogether.
For those that have read my earlier blog “An Aussie in Dharamshala”, you can see that my recent sea-change to India has been an eye-opening one- but I’m getting there. And little by little I’m learning what it’s like for the Tibetan community living in exile. We often get caught up in the struggles of our daily lives that we forget how lucky we are to be living in countries where our national identity is never in question. Here, national culture and traditions become a deliberate choice and a continual conscious effort.
So, it’s no surprise that the words ‘Saga Dawa’ are on the lips of pretty much every Tibetan I’ve encountered over the last few days. They speak of it like the Christians speak of lent and the vices they are going to give up for the month such as “no more cigarettes” and “I’m going vegetarian”.
But what exactly is Saga Dawa? Here’s the low down for all those religiously-challenged folk out there like myself.
What is it?
It’s considered the holiest of months in the Tibetan Lunar calendar. This year it started on 26th May and goes right through to 24th June. It’s a celebration of the three most significant events in Buddha’s life; his birth, enlightenment and death- all of which are believed to have happened in this auspicious period.
Where does the name come from?
Dawa means month in Tibetan and Saga is the name of the star that shines most prominently during this month. Astrologically, this month marks the perfect alignment of the stars and planets in such a way that a person’s energy “flows freely into the external world, thus creating a synergy between man and the cosmos”.
It’s also the time of the Taurus-Gemini axis, which has been referred to as the ‘cusp of energy’ where the elements of earth meet air.
What happens during this time?
The Tibetans primarily adhere to the 5 Buddhist precepts during this month; being no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no lying and no intoxicant abuse.
You will also see an influx of pilgrims visiting temples and reciting mantras as they perform the kora, mala beads in hand. Beggars will line the streets surrounding these areas in expectation of receiving donations and treats.
It’s also a popular time for Tibetans to not only refrain from eating meat, but to free captured animals as well. This is a time where livestock is bought from local markets and released into the wilds. In fact, this act has become so popular in Lhasa (capital of Tibet) that barrels of fish are imported into the city so that the locals can release them into the streams.
Why do they do it?
Because of the events that happened in Buddha’s life during this month, the Tibetans believe that karmically speaking, any good deeds performed in this time are going to be amplified tenfold. This means that any acts of charity and sacrifices made are going to significantly tip the scales in their favour for any future incarnations.
What is the Saga Dawa Festival?
There are many Saga Dawa festivals held throughout the world, but the most famous of all is the one held in Mt Kailash, Tibet. Mt. Kailash is revered as one of the most energetically potent locations in the Himalaya and countless pilgrims flock towards this area to participate in the Ngari Darchen Kusheng. It’s a festive event where prayer flags are attached to a giant pole which is positioned into the ground at a perfect 90-degree angle. These prayer flags are then left there for the next 12 months as a symbolic gesture for the well being of all Tibetans
So, whether you are a devout Buddhist or budding spiritual seeker like myself, this month is a great reminder of the importance of morality and Integrity in these tumultuous times. And though we may not all feel inclined to recite a set of Buddhist mantras, as human beings, we can always show a little more kindness to strangers and a little more restraint in our vices.
What are you planning to do during Saga Dawa?
Written by Jeanette