Saga-Dawa is a holy month for millions of Buddhist devotees around the world. It is the month in which Shakyamuni Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and passed into Nirvana. These three events occurred on the same month of the same day of a full moon. They are considered to be the three most sacred and greatest events of the historical Buddha’s life on mother earth.

Shakyamuni Buddha was born in India at Lumbini Park at Kapilavatthu 2,600 years ago into the royal family of the Shakya clan. On the fifth day after the prince’s birth, he was named Prince Siddhartha, or Shonue Dhondup in Tibetan, which means “wish-fulled”.

His father’s name was King Suddhodana, which means “pure generosity”. His mother’s name was Queen Mayadevi, which means “magical goddess”. Buddha’s beloved mother died seven days after giving birth. However, her younger sister, Prajapati married the king in the best interests of the infant Prince Siddhartha. She adopted the child, entrusting him as her own son and nursed him by all means with love and affection.

In accordance with the ancient Indian custom, eight highly learned Brahmins were invited to the palace for the naming ceremony. After carefully examining the characteristic marks and signs of the prince, seven of them raised two fingers each, indicative of two alternative possibilities. They said that the prince would either become a universal monarch or a supreme spiritual teacher. One among the eight yogis doubtlessly declared that the prince would definitely renounce the world and would become a Buddha, a fully enlightened or awakened spiritual teacher.

After examining the marks on the prince, the royal family was really frightened by the yogi’s declaration, thinking that their son would not succeed in taking the lineage of the Shakya clan royal family. His father used all possible means to shield the prince from catching sight of any of the miseries of the world. The father built three lotus ponds: one blue, one white, and one red for his son’s enjoyment. Three palaces were also built for him by his father, one for the cold season, one for the hot season, and one for the rainy season.

His father gathered 500 hundred beautiful young girls (similar to cheerleader girls) in order to please the prince. The young girls’ jobs were to dance, sing, tell stories, read poetry, give massages, give baths, take walks around the palace compound, and make constant eye contact with gentle smiles and winks to the prince. The king did this in an effort to shield the prince from going out from the palace compound, where he could catch sight of the miseries of the world.  His father worried that this could cause him to renounce the world and seek the truth of what really leads to pain and suffering among mankind. 

Prince Siddhartha was educated at home in the palace. He studied inner science, Hindu philosophy, various rituals, arts, music, and the art of warfare. At the young age of 16, he married Princess Yashodhara, who was the same age. For nearly 13 years of a happy marriage, he led a luxurious life. The couple had a son, named Rahula, the name given by his grandfather. Day and night, a white parasol was held over Prince Siddhartha’s head so that heat, cold, dust, leaves, or dew might not touch him. However, Prince Siddhartha never found any satisfaction in his father’s luxurious great palaces. He was very drawn to compassion and curiosity about the conditions of the world outside the gates of his palaces.

His deep contemplative and boundless compassionate nature did not permit him to spend his time in the mere personal enjoyment of the fleeting pleasures of the royal palace life. He knew no personal grief, but he felt a deep compassion for the suffering of humanity. Amidst comfort and prosperity, he realized the universality of sorrow. 

After going out of the gates of his palaces, he witnessed that all beings are subject to karmic birth, sickness, aging, sorrow, imperfections, and death. Birth has no room for happiness, but only torment. Birth is painful. Life is fragile. Because of karma, death is unavoidable, and rebirth is necessary in the subsequent moment of death.  Prince Siddhartha came in direct contact with the stark realities of life.

On his way home, he saw a homeless man who seemed relatively happy, content, serene, and abiding in equanimity. It inspired him and he became hopeful and optimistic that there should be a remedy for the sufferings of humanity. This increased the urge in him to loathe and renounce the world. Finally, Siddhartha decided to leave the palace in search of truth and eternal peace.


Siddhartha left the palace on one dark midnight while his wife and son were in a deep sleep. He gave his last loving kiss on the cheek to his wife and infant son, thinking that they would never be lacking of anything in their lives. They would have all the needed support from his parents. He was not worried about the future worldly happiness and comfort of the mother and child, as they had everything in abundance and were well protected. He was 100% sure that he could play a more important and beneficial role than a dutiful husband and father, or even as a king of kings. It was not that he loved them less, but that he loved humanity more.


He ordered his loyal charioteer, Channa, to saddle the horse and went to the suite of apartments occupied by the princess. Opening the door of the chamber, he stood on the threshold and cast his dispassionate glance on his wife and child who were in a deep sleep. Great was his love for the two dear ones at this parting moment. Greatest was his compassion for the suffering of humanity. He left everything behind. Alone and penniless, he set out in search of the truth.


Siddhartha renounced the world. But in was not the type of renunciation of an old man who has had his fill of the worldly life. It was not the renunciation of a poor man who has nothing to leave behind. It was the renunciation of a prince in full bloom of youth, with plentiful wealth and prosperity – a renunciation unparalleled in history. It was in his 29th year that Prince Siddhartha made this historic journey.


He journeyed far and, crossing the river Anoma, rested on its banks. There he cut his hair and shaved his beard, and handed over his garments and ornaments to Channa, with instructions for Channa to return to the palace. Siddhartha assumed the simple yellow garb of an ascetic, and led a life of voluntary poverty.


The ascetic Prince Siddhartha, who once lived in the lap of luxury, became a penniless wanderer, with no permanent abode. A shady tree or a lonely forest sheltered him by day and by night. Bare-footed and bare-headed, he walked in the scorching sun and in the piercing cold. With no possessions to call his own, except for a bowl to collect food and robes just sufficient to cover his body, he concentrated all of his energy on the quest for the truth.  


Ascetic Prince Siddhartha met five other Hindu ascetics in that lonely forest and joined them. After some time living together, Siddhartha was not happy with the practice and discipline that he was doing with the other five ascetics. He found out that the practice was none other than self-mortification. Weakening the body only weakens the mind and its natural clarity. So, he made a decision to leave the practice and discipline with them and he moved to another place of solitude where he remained in deep meditation. His body was already very weak and fragile owing to the practice of self-mortification with the five ascetic friends.


One day, a young village girl saw him sitting in deep meditation and discovered that he was extremely weak and fragile. The girl then offered him a bowl of rice and some milk. The ascetic Prince Siddhartha ate the rice and drank the milk. As a result, he regained his physical strength and his mental energy and clarity of mind. In subsequent time, he found the Middle Path, which was neither extreme indulgence nor total rejection.


His five ascetic friends saw that Siddhartha ate the rice and drank the milk. They were very upset, thinking that he had behaved sinfully and had broken his vows, which made him unworthy of the ascetic practice.


After regaining his mental and physical strength, he made a firm determination to remain in deep meditation underneath the Bodhi tree in Bodh-Gaya. He promised that he would not remove himself from his lotus seating position until he attained full enlightenment. After six years of sitting in intense and deep meditation, at the age of 35, Prince Siddhartha finally attained enlightenment – on the 4th Lunar month on the full-moon day – the day he was also born. He attained enlightenment on that day at dawn by defeating the five Maras simultaneously, with the two subtlest obstructions – the obstruction to liberation and the obstruction to omniscience.


Since then he was referred to as a Buddha or an awakened one. The historical Shakyamuni Buddha was no longer referred to as Prince Siddhartha. He became a supreme spiritual teacher while remaining a human and not a God or Divine being. However, he did not give a teaching for 45 days after attaining enlightenment, thinking that others may not be able to understand what he had to teach them. He remained in silence for 45 days. However, on the 46th day, his compassion allowed him to come out into the world in order to teach the way to virtue and the path to ultimate happiness.


The historical Shakyamuni Buddha gave teachings for 46 years for the best interest of humanity. His teachings are not dogma, and they have no room for blind faith or blind practice. His teachings are called Dharma, which means “one that brings inner transformation”.


He gave two levels of teachings, Sutrayana and Tantrayana. Sutrayana is exoteric teaching and Tantrayana is more esoteric teaching. The entire teachings of the Buddha come under three categories: morality, meditation, and wisdom. Morality is a necessary spiritual foundation. Meditation is a necessary tool for realization. Wisdom is a necessary eye to see the truth of reality in order to cut the root of samsara and go to the other side of the shore to enlightenment.


Shakyamuni Buddha gave his first teaching in Deer Park, Varanasi to his five former ascetic friends, on the theme of the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths actually form a strong foundation of Buddha’s teachings.


Before opening his formal teachings to the public, he made very sure to explain that he is not a God, but a human teacher. Buddha said: “Do not see a divine being in me. I am not a God. I am here only to teach about the path that I Myself have travelled to attain enlightenment. I teach only what I know. I teach only what you need. I teach only through my personal experience and knowing. I do not teach things that I do not know and things that you do not need though you may want me to”.  


Similarly, the Buddha wanted to make sure that his teachings do not require faith and do not need to be accepted in order to find the truth of his teachings. The Buddha openly discouraged his followers to not place blind faith or acceptance out of reverence in the Buddha.  


The Buddha said:  “Oh…monks, nuns, scholars, and other followers. Do not accept my teachings out of faith or mere reverence to me. Rather, one should examine my teachings thoroughly like a goldsmith examines the purity of his gold through rubbing it, cutting it, and burning it. Once you have found the truth in my teachings, then only should one accept them and put them into real practice”.


At the end, the Buddha said: “I am not a savior. I am not a punisher. I am not a rewarder. But I am just a teacher and I am here to teach. One should know that the enlightenment is within your own hand”.


After giving extremely broad and extensive teachings for 46 years during his lifetime, Shakyamuni Buddha chose, at the age of 81, to dissolve his physical body from the eyes of the world on the same full moon day and in the same month as his birth and attainment of enlightenment. The whole purpose of his physical dissolution was to demonstrate that life is impermanent.  He also wanted to motivate the world to extract the essence of life through practicing the Dharma.    


Shakyamuni Buddha predicted that his teachings would last for 5,000 years and remain effective for humanity. 2,600 years have already passed, with 2,400 years remaining for his teachings to be alive and remain as effective as they were before.


Prior to Buddha’s passing away into Parinirvana, his students requested him to give clear instructions on who should succeed him or should be appointed in his place. The Buddha replied: “No one should be appointed in my place and there is no need of it. My teachings on Vinaya or morality should be treated as your teacher”.  These words were the last words of the Buddha. The Buddha utterly went into silence for a few days and finally passed away by dissolving his gross physical body from the world’s eye.




Through the force of the sacredness of this holy time in the month of Saga-Dawa, reciting mantras will multiply as follows:

One (1) mantra will multiply to 100

100 mantras will multiply to 10,000

10,000 mantras will multiply to 100,000

100,000 mantras will multiply to 10 million

10 million mantras will multiply to 10 billion


It is very important to recite mantras during these sacred days, especially Buddha Shakyamuni's:


If we do negative actions on these sacred days, the same multipliers will happen, only with negative results.

One should perform positive actions as much as possible during Saga-Dawa.

If that is not possible, one should try to perform neutral actions. 

One should avoid any negative actions as much as possible during this sacred month.


By Geshe Dakpa Topgyal

Spiritual Director and Resident Teacher

Charleston Tibetan Society and Dharma Center,

and the South Carolina Dharma Group