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Pali, noun.
lit. "entering to stay"

A traditional Theravada Buddhist day of special religious observance. The Uposatha is held on the full, new, and first and last quarter moon, with the full moon observance being the most important. Observance of the Uposatha is based on the local lunar calender, and may vary from place to place. Additionally, each Theravada sect (such as the Dhammayut order in Thailand) follows its own variations on the calender.

During the Uposatha, Buddhist laity will receive the Eight Precepts from a monk, undertaking restrictions above the Five Precepts required of laypeople from sunrise until sunrise. One who undertakes the Eight Precepts must not violate the precepts themselves ("violation through body"), nor ask or order another to violate them ("violation through speech"). Lay people will also often visit a temple or monastery during this day, to hear a Dhamma talk given by a local monk or to make offerings to the Sangha.

For monks, the Uposatha days are days of more intense practice. Work unrelated to the Dhamma (such as making repairs to the temples) is stopped for the day. On the new moon and full moon Uposatha, the monks recite the Patimokkha (the monastic code from the Vinaya Pitaka), and confess any transgressions of the monastic discipline before the assembled monastic community. Special talks or intensive meditation sessions may be held during the time of the Uposatha as well

The disciplinary and ascetic character of the Uposatha is important. In Theravada societies, it is said that for the laity, it is better to not undertake the observance of one of the Eight Precepts than to receive it and then break it without re-receiving and re-undertaking the precept. Traditional lore holds that following the precepts on a special day such as the Uposatha grants one greater merit than observing sila on any other day, but that violations of morality on such a day carry unusually severe consequences. Great detail has been provided over the years on the proper observance of the Eight Precepts by the laity during the Uposatha. Monks are equally careful about paying proper attention to the Patimokkha during these days. The goal of this attention to rules is to focus the mind of the practitioner on the Dhamma for the entirety of that day, and keep them mindful of their actions.

Originally, there were no Uposatha days. The Buddha taught that every day, one should be equally rigorous in observing proper behavior and attention to the Dhamma. The Uposatha was established at the request a group of monks and laymen, who wished to offer those interested in the Dhamma an alternative to weekly and monthly retreats and periods of intensive practice held by other teachers, likely including the early Jains. It was also seen as an opportunity for the laity to gather merit by honoring the Tiratana and focusing their attention on the Dhamma.

Special Observances:
There are a number of special observances that fall on the Full Moon Uposatha. In Theravada countries, these are the religious holidays that are observed across the country. They are:

Magha Puja, sometimes referred to as 'Sangha Day', recounts the gathering of 1,250 arahants to hear a summary of the points of the Dhamma before they were sent out to spread the teachings of the Buddha. Usually on the full moon of February.

Visakha Puja (Vesak), is the most important Buddhist holiday in many countries. It recounts the birth, death, and enlightenment of the Buddha, all of which are held (in the Theravada tradition) to have taken place on the full moon of May (approximately). Observed in most Theravada countries, but also in Vietnam, Tibet, and Nepal.

Asalha Puja, 'Dhamma Day', recalls the Buddha's first discourse, given to a group of five monks with whom he had practiced asceticism for many years. The yearly rains retreat (vassa) begins on the following day.

Pavarana Day, held in October, marks the end of vassa. In the month following this day, ceremonies are held where the laity provide monks with new robes and other requisites for the coming year.

Anapanasati Day, commemorates a particularly productive vassa, after which the monks and the Buddha elected to stay in retreat, studying and practicing meditation, for an additional month. At the end of the month, the Buddha delivered the Anapanasati Sutta (MN 118), laying out one of the basic practices of Buddhist meditation. Occurs on the full moon following Pavarana Day.

Access to Insight was instrumental in constructing this write-up.

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