The first month of the modern Bhutanese calendar coincides with one of the holiest months in the Buddhist calendar: Chotrhul Dawa (ཆོ་འཕྲུལ་ཟླ་བ་), the month of miracles. It is believed to be the month when Buddha performed many miracles and outdazzled the rival teachers of his time.
In the theory of Buddhahood, the Buddha is said to possess a physical presence, which is powerful and charismatic. His speech is said to be melodious and inspiring and his mind composed, compassionate and all knowing. So, whatever the Buddha did through his body, speech and mind are said to be awesome and miraculous. The Buddha’s physical comportment, verbal expression and enlightened thoughts are miraculous in converting the ordinary minds of the sentient beings into a better and more enlightened form.
In addition, the Buddha is remembered to have performed many miracles, particularly to impress and convert difficult persons including his rivals who were also leading spiritual teachers in his days. The Buddha lived at a time when there were many spiritual men in pursuit of solution to problems of life and some of them were also influential like the Buddha. Six teachers in particular are mentioned in the biographies of the Buddha. The Buddha is said to have surpassed all of them in contests of spiritual realisation and power. One of the most important events in the Buddha’s life is his victory over these rivals, which is said to have occurred in Chothrul Dawa when he was based in Jetavana in Śāvastī. The rival spiritual figures are said to have instigated the king to arrange the contest.
In course of his contest with his rivals, the Buddha also performed many miracles during this month. On the first day, when the Buddha was invited for lunch by King Prasenjit, he planted his toothpick in the ground and it miraculously grew into a large tree. On the second day, he created a precious mountain with grass and fruits for people and animals to enjoy and, on the third, he transformed the water he used to wash his hands into a lake filled lotuses. On the fourth, he created streams flowing into the lake with sounds of dharma. On the fifth day, a golden light emitted from his face and those who were touched by it were filled with bliss.
On the sixth day, he blessed his disciples to be able to read each other’s mind and realize one’s positive and negative actions. On the seventh, he appeared as a Universal Monarch with a large retinue in the eyes of the Śākya clan in order to impress them. On the eighth day, he was invited by Indra and he sat on a throne lifted by five lions and flanked by Brahma and Indra. The ground shook with tremors. On the ninth day, Brahma attended on him and he manifested a radaint body reaching the Brahma world. On the tenth day, the kings of four cardinal directions worshipped him and he manifested a body extending to the end of the world with brilliant rays, and on the eleventh, when Anathapindika worshipped him, his body became invisible in a state of meditation on loving kindness but his melodious speech was audible. On the twelfth, he sent forth golden rays of loving kindness and on the thirteenth, he emitted light from his navel and showed countless Buddhas resting on the light rays. On the fourteenth, when King Udrayana hosted him, he transformed the flower petals thrown on him into chariots and on the fifteenth day, he miraculously filled the containers at King Bimbisara with food and also revealed the hell realm to his audience to help them gain conviction in the law of cause and effect.
In this way, the Buddha is said to have performed different miracles in order to attract sentient beings to his teachings and eventually to the path to enlightenment as this was the main purpose for the Buddha to perform miracles, not to show off his spiritual powers. The Bhutanese best remember the acts of the Buddha in this month through the following verse by Nāgārjuna, commonly chanted in praise of the Buddha.
You displayed in Śrāvastī great miracles
Of unmatched calibre in the three worlds.
Homage to you, who causes the teachings to flourish
Worshipped by the world of gods and men.
Because the Buddha has blessed this month with many miracles, the month is believed to be a spiritually powerful one. Bhutanese believe good done in this month will multiply a hundred thousand times. Thus, the month is also called Bumjur Dawa (འབུམ་འགྱུར་ཟླ་བ་). If one saves one life, one is said to gain the merit of saving a hundred thousand lives. For this reason, people undertake virtuous activities and go on pilgrimage to recollect the Buddha. In Tibet, the grand Chotrhul Monlam Chenmo of Lhasa takes place in this month. The Tharpaling Monlam Chenmo, perhaps the oldest monlam ceremonial event in Bhutan, is also organised in the first month of the year.
Karma Phuntsho is a thought leader, writer and social worker, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of many books and articles including The History of Bhutan.