The International Buddhist Confederation (IBC), in partnership with India’s Ministry of Culture, on 4 July celebrated the holiday marking the Buddha’s first teachings after his awakening, known throughout Buddhism as the “Turning of the Wheel of Dharma” (Pāli: Dhammacakkappavattana). The event featured India’s president, Ram Nath Kovind, along with Buddhist and political leaders from India and beyond at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the president’s official residence in New Delhi. This follows a Virtual Vesak and Global Prayer Week from 7–16 May, also hosted by the IBC.
In his statements, Kovind suggested that the Buddha’s life and teachings remain as relevant as ever. “We all know that the moment the virulence of coronavirus slows down, we have a far more serious challenge of climate change before us,” Ram Nath Kovind said. “Today, as the pandemic ravages human lives and economies across the globe, [the] Buddha’s message serves like a beacon. He advised people to shun greed, hatred, violence, jealousy, and many other vices to find happiness. Contrast this message with the hankering of an unrepentant mankind indulging in the same old violence and degradation of nature.” (India Today)
Kovind also noted the Buddha’s respect for intellectual liberalism and spiritual diversity as a hallmark of Indian religious thought. Kovind stated that two of India’s most influential 20th century thinkers, Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948) and B. R. Ambedkar (1891–1956), were inspired in part by the Buddha. “Following in their footsteps, we should strive to hear the call of the Buddha, to respond to his invitation to walk the noble path.” (India Today)
The holiday, known in India as Dharma Chakra Day, falls on the full moon in June or July. Also known as Esala Poya in Sri Lanka and Asanha Bucha in Thailand, it is widely regarded as the second most sacred day for Buddhists after the Buddha Purnima or Vesak, celebrated on the full moon in April or May.
Also starting on this day, for Buddhists who observe the tradition, is the “rains retreat” (varsha vassa), when monastics primarily reside in one place for three months as a way to reduce the harm caused by traveling during the rainy season, in which insects proliferate and would be stepped on by traveling mendicants.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the event was held with only small groups gathered in each place, with attendees wearing masks, and a live stream available for people across the world to take part virtually.
Kovind praised the conference organizers for going forward with the event in its virtual format. “The world has suffered much this year, and I sincerely wish that this sacred day heralds a new ray of hope and grants a glimpse of happiness. I also pray that it lights the lamp of wisdom in the heart of everyone,” Kovind concluded. (The Sentinel)
India was one of the countries spared from an early first wave of confirmed coronavirus cases, with fewer than 100 recorded cases until 14 March. On 25 March, India began a nationwide lockdown, stranding millions far from home without work. Many people were forced to walk hundreds of kilometers or more to reach family members, with some Indians starving on the way. In late May, with infection numbers climbing above 100,000, lockdown restrictions were eased. Today, India is one of the hardest hit countries in the world, with 720,000 confirmed cases and 20,174 confirmed deaths from COVID-19.
As coronavirus ravages human lives, Buddha’s message serves like beacon: President Ram Nath Kovind (India Today)
Follow discipline amid corona crisis, President Ram Nath Kovind urges people (The Sentinel)
India Reports Record Spike In COVID-19 Cases, But Nixes Another Nationwide Lockdown (NPR)
The largest lockdown in the world is ending. India is bracing for what comes next (Washington Post)