A daily study of the Network’s diverse faiths
Chökhor Düchen (Chokor). Tibetan and Nepalese Buddhist festival, one of the four major Tibetan Buddhist holidays, commemorating the first teaching (the turning of the Wheel of the law of Dharma) given by the historical Sixth-Century BCE Siddhartha Gautama, a prince of the Shakya clan. A colourful and relaxed midsummer festival in which statues of the Buddha and copies of the scriptures engraved on narrow, rectangular wooden blocks are carried to the sound of music and jollity, symbolising the promulgation of the Buddha’s teaching. The whole community, clerical and lay, male and female, joins in the processions to holy places to leave offerings of incense and prayer flags, and in the picnics that follow. For eight weeks after his enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, the Buddha did not do any teaching, even though Buddhist belief holds that one attains enlightenment in order to help other sentient beings. The normal explanation for this is that at that time there were no beings present who had sufficient good karma (कर्म, deeds) to receive such important teachings. The Indian gods Brahma and Indra, revered together as protectors of the historical Buddha (釋迦, 釈迦, Shakyamuni, Sage of the Shakya) gave him gifts and pleaded with him to begin his teaching and the Buddha turned the Wheel of Dharma for the first time at the Deer Park in Sarnath, Varanasi by expounding the Four Noble Truths that have remained the basis of all the traditions of Buddhism. He gave this first teaching to five of his companions, from his earlier time of practising asceticism, who had previously left him on the banks of the Indian Nirañjana (Lilajan) River after becoming disillusioned with him for giving up his practice of austerity. When they saw him once again, they were overwhelmed by his presence and their curiosity was such that they could not resist asking him to explain what had happened. He talked with them through the night and when morning came these first five students took refuge with him in the Three Jewels: Buddha (attained wisdom); Dharma (divine law); and the Sangha (monastic order). Together with the Buddha, they became the first members of the Sangha community of practitioners who follow the teachings of the Buddha, and they became enlightened arhats (arahants, monks who have achieved nirvana, the release from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth). At this time of year, today’s Buddhists reflect on and seek to follow their example. Forty-five years after that first gathering, 1,250 enlightened personal disciples of the Buddha gathered spontaneously in the Bamboo Grove at Rajagrha (Rajgir, now in Bihar State) on the full moon of the month of Magha (February). This was one of the earliest large gatherings of Buddhists and was when the Buddha taught the principles of the Dharma and set out his teachings to the assembled arahants for them to study, learn and follow. Düchen means great occasion and like Chotrul Düchen, Saga Dawa Düchen and Lhabab Düchen, Chökhor Düchen is regarded as a ten million multiplier day, multiplying the effects of all positive and negative actions ten million times. Together, these four major Tibetan Buddhist holidays mark the four events known as the Great Deeds of the Buddha. The 27 February Chotrul Düchen celebrated the time when the Buddha displayed a different miracle each day to spur on his disciples. The 26 May Saga Dawa Düchen commemorated the Buddha’s enlightenment, death and parinirvana achievement of freedom from physical existence and its sufferings. The 27 October Lhabab Düchen will mark the return of Buddha to earth from the heavenly realm after three months of teaching. Image: samyeinstitute.org.
Prayer Homage to all past, future and present buddhas, bodhisattvas, pratyekabuddhayanas and śravakas. To the supreme bodhisattvas, Who were pure and stainless, the buddhas in the four directions confer their blessings. To extinguish all unwholesome deeds we will proclaim this auspicious sublime discourse that exhausts all negative karma, grants all peace and happiness, completely eliminates suffering and is adorned with all that is glorious. The suffering of all creatures will be forever pacified and protection will be offered to them by the guardians of the world. Excellent again are You!
St Deusdedit (God has given, Frithona) (d664). Medieval Feast Day commemorating the death of the West Saxon sixth Archbishop of Cantuarabyrg (Canterbury) from 655 to his death. He was the first native-born Anglo-Saxon to be appointed to the archiepiscopal see of Canterbury, at a time it was passing through a period of comparative obscurity. During Deusdedit’s tenure, his authority as Archbishop did not extend past his own diocese and that of Rochester, which had traditionally been dependent on Canterbury, and all the new Bishops in England were consecrated by Celtic or foreign bishops with the exception of Deusdedit’s consecrating the Bishop of Rochester. Deusdedit founded a nunnery on the Isle of Thanet and helped with the foundation of Medeshamstede (Peterborough) Abbey in 657. He did not attend the 664 Synod of Whitby that debated whether the Northumbrian church should follow the Roman or the Celtic method of dating Easter, as there was an outbreak of the bubonic plague that led to his death at that time. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the 598 St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury. Venerated in Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic Churches, Anglican Communion. Image: britishmuseum.org.
St Kateri Tekakwitha (Catherine, Lily of the Mohawks) (1656-80). Feast Day for Algonquin-Mohawk Nieuw Nederland (present New York State) modest, mild-mannered princess whose family died from smallpox that left her face scarred when she was four. Growing up in a period of upheaval, as the Mohawk interacted with French and Dutch colonists who were competing in the lucrative fur trade, Tekakwitha became skilled at traditional women’s arts, including making clothing and belts from animal skins, weaving mats, baskets and boxes from reeds and grasses and preparing food from game, crops and gathered produce. She took part in the women’s seasonal planting and intermittent weeding. As was the custom, she was pressured to consider marriage around age thirteen but she refused. Tekakwitha said: “I have deliberated enough. For a long time, my decision on what I will do has been made. I have consecrated myself entirely to Jesus, son of Mary. I have chosen Him for husband, and He alone will take me for wife.” After defeat by the French, the Mohawk were forced into a peace treaty that required them to accept Jesuit missionaries in their villages and at eighteen Tekakwitha met a Jesuit priest, telling him her story and of her desire to become a Christian. Tekakwitha was baptised at nineteen, on Easter Sunday 1676, being named after St Catherine of Siena (Kateri in Mohawk). Some Mohawks opposed her conversion and accused her of sorcery and it was suggested that she go to the Jesuit mission south of Montreal on the St Lawrence River in New France (present Canada), where other native converts had gathered, Catherine arriving in 1677. She put thorns on her sleeping mat and lay on them whilst praying for her relatives’ conversion and forgiveness. She learned the practice of repenting one’s sins and, with the other women, wished to form a convent of religious sisters. They created an informal association of devout women and in 1679, on the Feast of the Annunciation, Catherine’s conversion was completed and she became the First Virgin among the Mohawk. She believed in the value of offered suffering and ate little, adding undesirable tastes to her food. During Holy Week 1680, friends noted that Tekakwitha’s health was failing and she died on Holy Wednesday, her final words being: “Jesus, Mary, I love you.” Shortly after her death, her face suddenly changed, her smallpox scars disappeared and she became radiant and beautiful. Tekakwitha appeared to three people, holding a wooden cross that shone like the sun, saying: “Adieu, Adieu, go tell the Father that I’m going to heaven,” with her face lifted toward heaven as if in ecstasy. A chapel was built near Kateri’s gravesite and by 1684 pilgrimages had begun to honour her there, the Jesuits turning her bones to dust and setting the ashes within a newly-rebuilt mission chapel to symbolise her presence on earth, her remains sometimes being used as relics for healing. Various miracles and supernatural events are attributed to her intercession. Known for her virtue of chastity and mortification of the flesh, and for being shunned by some of her tribe for her religious conversion to Catholicism, she was the fourth Native American to be venerated in the Catholic Church and the first to be canonised. Venerated in Catholic Church. Major shrine Saint Francis Xavier Church, Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, Quebec. Feast Day 17 April in Canada. Patron of ecologists, ecology, the environment, environmentalists, loss of parents, people in exile, people ridiculed for their piety, Native Americans. Image: catholicnewsagency.com.