Ulambana Is celebrated throughout the Mahayana tradition from the first to the fifteenth days of the eighth lunar month. It is believed that the gates of Hell are opened on the first day and the ghosts may visit the world for fifteen days. Food offerings are made during this time to relieve the sufferings of these ghosts. On the fifteenth day, Ulambana or Ancestor Day, people visit cemeteries to make offerings to the departed ancestors. Many Theravadins from Cambodia, Laos and Thailand also observe this festival.
Magha Puja Day takes places on the full moon day of the third lunar month (March). This holy day is observed to commemorate an important event in the life of the Buddha. This event occurred early in the Buddha's teaching life.
After the first Rains Retreat (Vassa) at the Deer Park at Sarnath, the Buddha went to Rajagaha city where 1250 Arahats,(Enlightened saints) who were the Buddha's disciples, without prior appointment, returned from their wanderings to pay respect to the Buddha. They assembled in the Veruvana Monastery with the two chief disciples of the Buddha, Ven. Sariputta and Ven. Moggalana.
When worshipers come to the temple to pay homage to the Buddhas, many of them perform several Mahayana rituals. Buddhists may chant, pray, meditate, eat vegetarian meals, and celebrate Buddhist holidays, such as the Buddha's Birthday and other Enlightenment dates of the Chinese lunar calendar.
When worshipers enter a room in which there is a Buddha statue, they put their palms together and bow, to show their highest respect for the Buddha and His teachings. The proper term for the bowing is prostration. The individual prostrates three times by facing the Buddha or Bodhisattva and kneeling – with palms turned upward – on a kneeling stool. The open palms represent wisdom and compassion; during the first prostration, the turning out of one hand symbolizes cultivating wisdom internally, while the movement of the other represents the outward offering of compassion.
When Buddhists chant, their speech is pure and free of lies, curses, slander, and so on. Chanting is one of the important to the Buddha’s teachings, and through repetition, to be visions of benevolence, perseverance, self-discipline, and charity.
Gongs are used in Buddhist ceremonies as chanting instruments. They are used in the temples for three purposes: to announce the time for a meeting, to mark different phases of services or tempos of chanting, and to aid the congregation during their meditation. We listen as it resonates to soundlessness, which signals the beginning of the meditation session.
Lighting or burning incense is a gesture of paying one’s highest respects to the Buddha. The lit incense prompts us to follow the Buddha’s practices and teachings, and trains our minds to focus on one single object during meditation. The act of lighting incense reminds us to free ourselves from the samsara of life and death, from mental afflictions, reincarnation, and attachment to material desires. This practice guides us on our journey of spiritual development. Some worshippers may also use lit incense as offerings to the Buddha for His blessings
At the temple, one would often see tables laid with fresh fruits and flowers. Buddhists place these items upon the altars in appreciation for the Buddha’s teachings, and blessings bestowed by the Buddhas and Bodhisattva. This is most apparent on the Chinese New Year’s Eve, when thousands of people come to the temple with offerings, to thank the Buddhas and Bodhisattva for a safe and harmonious year. Altar offerings at the temple are typically flowers and fresh fruit. Sometimes there may be small vegetarian dishes. All food offerings are vegetarian, as Buddhists advocate vegetarianism and do not kill animals for food.
Meditation is about the mind and its purification. It is a technique for developing the right concentration which can only be acquired through direct experience, and not from reading alone. The purpose of meditation is to calm the wandering of our minds. To calm the mind is the first step, Samadhi. We focus on an object and direct our monkeying or false minds so that it is no longer engaged in egoistical thought. Vipassana or self-contemplation follows. This is when we put our minds under control and contemplate introspectively.