H.E. Zasep Rinpoche always reminds us to meditate on impermanence, to give us a sense of urgency to meditate and practice. Saga Dawa (sometimes Saka Dawa) is the “Month of Merit” where, traditionally, all of our meritorious karma is particularly fruitful. It is an especially good month to practice the three grounds of merit:
- Dana: generosity
- Sila: morality and good conduct
- Bhavana: meditation or mental development/ practice
Saga is named for a star that is prominent in this lunar month, and Dawa just means “month.” It begins June 3 (new moon) and ends July 2 (new moon) in 2019.
Saga Dawa Duchen
The most important day in the month (perhaps for the entire year, for many Buddhists) is Saga Dawa Duchen on the full moon. Duchen means “great occasion,” and this year falls on the full moon day, June 17. It is similar to Vesak in Theravadin Buddhism (which is typically celebrated in May (in 2019, May 19) — celebrating the birth, Enlightenment and Paranirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Making Merit — scrubbing the negative karma away
Every meritorious act in the Holy Month, is especially fruitful. Positive acts can help us “scrub the negative karma.” Traditionally, positive karma is multiplied in the month, and especially on Saga Dawa Duchen. To many practitioners, this means extra practice (Bhavana or meditation), and it is also the month to be extra careful of Sila (morality). Many Buddhists become vegetarians in the Holy Month — at the very least on the day of Saga Dawa Duchen.
Here are the ways to “make merit” in the meritorious month of Saga Dawa:
- Observe all the precepts: not to kill, steal, misuse sex, lie, and abuse intoxicants (for lay followers)
- Do extra personal practices, mantras, sadhanas
- Do extra Tsogs offerings, especially on the normal Tsog Days, plus Saga Dawa Duchen
- Request pujas
- Pilgrimages to sacred places
- Visit the temple or gompa or centre more often.
- Venerate stupas and shrines — especially formal circumambulation (where you full-body prostrate and chant mantras as you circle)
- Dana and giving, and especially to monks and temples
- Donations to the poor, and especially look to donate to people in need on who are homeless
- Lighting butter lamps to banish the darkness
- Go vegetarian for at least, Duchen, and ideally the whole month
- Buy animals intended for slaughter and humanely release them — but it is critical to only release where it is humane: releasing a non-indigenous animal is NOT meritorious, or releasing an animal where they face peril is also a negative act, or releasing an animal that was specifically caught to be released is also negative.