Māgha Pūjā origin story

There’s this story of 1250 arahants meeting with the Buddha without prior appointment, which is the origin story for the Māgha Pūjā day. I’ve tried to locate this story in the vinaya, but without success; so I am wondering: is it at all in the vinaya, or is it perhaps in the commentary?

Anyone who can help?


It’s from the commentary to the Dhammapada verses (on the Ovāda-Pātimokkha), AFAIK. I believe it’s unique to the Theravādin commentaries as well, without a counterpart in extant northern commentarial sources.
[EDIT: it’s from the commentary to MN 74]

Also, it seems that Māgha Pūja was essentially a state created holiday by the Thai government in the 20th century during their forced reform and standardization of Buddhism across the nation. Apparently it’s thought that some people in SE Asia had some kind of holiday celebrating it before the early-mid 1900s, but it doesn’t seem clear what it was or if it really had anything to do with this. It also started out quite small at the national palace, and eventually fell out of popularity in Thailand in the ~50s only for the state to try and make it popular again. Other Buddhist countries who celebrate it got it from modern Thailand. I’ve also read somewhere it was popularized in place of Valentine’s Day. Not sure how true that is.

If anybody has more information or resources on the history, I’d be interested to learn. It seems it may be a case of a very modern, government holiday that is believed to be ancient and timeless.


Thank you Venerable. I wasn’t aware it is such a young tradition.

In the commentary to Dhp 183-185 however I find a different origin story: Ānanda asks the Buddha how the Buddhas of the past held the uposatha, and the Buddha ascribes the Ovāda-Pātimokkha to these Buddhas.

So … the other story must be somewhere else.

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Oops! You’re right - my bad. It’s from the commentary at MN 74.

There’s also a kind of allusion to a potentially similar idea at DN 14 in saying the Buddha Gotama had a gathering of 1250 disciples — not quite sure what this is meant to refer to specifically — and it mentions the reciting of the Ovāda-Pātimokkha with Buddha Vipassī’s assembly.


Wow, thanks for that, I also had no idea how young it was! I assumed it had somehow grown up in Thai Buddhism over the centuries.


Not really related, but The Guardian featured photos of the Dhammakaya cult on Magha Puja, about which I wrote them and complained. They shouldn’t be uncritically endorsing criminal cults. Somewhat surprisingly, I heard back right away, so hopefully this won’t happen again. I wrote them a few times on the same topic many years ago, and they stopped doing it until just this time.


Yes, I once lived at an Ajahn Chah branch with a predominantly Sinhala support base. None of them had any idea what Magha Puja was.

I think people generally don’t recognize how much of Theravada Thai Buddhist culture is as modern as it is.


The scary thing about Dhammakaya is that it ‘looks’ good and their networks are very, very wide. People who don’t know them can’t help feeling positive about their ‘good actions’.


That’s right. They’ve been all over Sri Lanka and no-one gets what they are. Same even with western academics. People seem to imagine they’re a legitimate Buddhist organization. But they’re just being used.

The only time I’ve really seen it be acknowledged was with Sydney U, who had Dhammakaya sponsorship for many years but eventually cut it off. The professor said there were concerns that Dhammakaya’s involvement compromised academic integrity, and I said, “You’re saying that they’re buying Phds?” and he said, “Well I can’t say that.”

For those who don’t know the background, Dhammakaya is a MLM scheme masquerading as Buddhist movement in Thailand. They make vast quantities of money by telling devotees that X amount gets you into such and such a heaven, and so on. Then you get even more if you bring so many friends along, that gets you into an even higher heaven.

They teach a variety of nonsense, the “true” teachings of which are restricted to the “inner circle”; like any cult they have layers of initiation (monks are inner phra nay and outer phra nork). Their inner teaching is that since the dawn of time, there has been a cosmic contest between the white Dhammakaya and the black Dhammakaya, struggling for supremacy. Buddhas are an incarnation of the white Dhammakaya. For our age, the white Dhammakaya has incarnated in the person of the abbot of Dhammakaya temple.

They also teach a bunch of other heresies, such as that Nibbana is a higher self and so on. This stuff is disseminated in, among other places, university student groups, where Dhammaya has a virtual monopoly in Thailand.

Apart from a protracted US half billion embezzlement case, they have been involved in multiple criminal dealing over the years. One of their tricks is to user lazers and UV light to simulate psychic powers. Their inspirations include the Nazis, of whom the direct ancestor of Dhammkaya was allegedly a fan, and their iconography and massive parades clearly draw directly from Nazi imagery. Their ultimate aim, I believe, is to take over Thai Buddhism and turn Thailand into a Buddhacratic fascist state.

One of their methods is to splash their money around overseas and use that for prestige back home. In Australia, for example, they took over a defunct legacy organization, the Buddhist Federation of Australia, which has no operations or members to speak of, got a letter from the Prime Minister’s office for Vesak, then took it to the UN Vesak in Bangkok and read it on behalf of Australian Buddhism. It’s all a performance to convince Thais that Dhammakaya is as dominant overseas as it is there. They sponsor overseas students, paying for courses at cash-strapped western University Buddhist studies departments. They write theses arguing that dhammakaya is a legitimate Buddhist view, which are then presented back home as being a western endorsement of their ideas.


When somebody says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.
H. L. Mencken


Bhante, I believe University of Otago here in NZ has some Dhammakaya sponsorship. I also recall someone who studied there saying that they also took over a meditation group there. I gather that’s also a tactic of one of those dodgy Tibetan groups…


That’s sad to hear. Hard to blame people, they’re all strapped for cash.

Indeed. The NKT likes to push meditation groups. But also, the Khyentse foundation is another major academic sponsor. Its leading monk Dzongsar Khyentse has become an obnoxious rightwing troll, the “edgelord lama”. He’s been perpetrating, excusing, and covering up sexual abuse for ages, even conspiring to paint victims as insane. Like Dhammakaya, he whitewashes his reputation through academic sponsorship.


Thank you for the background on this Dhammakaya movement, I hadn’t encountered that yet.

But back to our original question:

I’ve finally found the story, although I am not exactly sure about the number 1250 (would have to check the previous part of the sutta and count all the arahants).

The story occurs in DN 14 from segment 3.24.1 onward:

DN14:3.24.1 ff:
Then in the late afternoon, the Buddha Vipassī came out of retreat and addressed the mendicants, telling them all that had happened. Then he said,

‘Wander forth, mendicants, for the welfare and happiness of the people, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, welfare, and happiness of gods and humans. Let not two go by one road. Teach the Dhamma that’s good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end, meaningful and well-phrased. And reveal a spiritual practice that’s entirely full and pure. There are beings with little dust in their eyes. They’re in decline because they haven’t heard the teaching. There will be those who understand the teaching!

But when six years have passed, you must all come to Bandhumatī to recite the monastic code.’

Then most of the mendicants departed to wander the country that very day. Now at that time there were 84,000 monasteries in India.

And when the first year came to an end the deities raised the cry:

‘Good sirs, the first year has ended. Now five years remain. When five years have passed, you must all go to Bandhumatī to recite the monastic code.’

And when the second year … the third year … the fourth year … the fifth year came to an end, the deities raised the cry:

‘Good sirs, the fifth year has ended. Now one year remains. When one year has passed, you must all go to Bandhumatī to recite the monastic code.’

And when the sixth year came to an end the deities raised the cry:

‘Good sirs, the sixth year has ended. Now is the time that you must go to Bandhumatī to recite the monastic code.’

Then that very day the mendicants went to Bandhumatī to recite the monastic code. Some went by their own psychic power, and some by the psychic power of the deities.

And there the Blessed One Vipassī, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha, recited the monastic code thus:

‘Patient acceptance is the ultimate fervor.
Extinguishment is the ultimate, say the Buddhas.
No true renunciate injures another,
nor does an ascetic hurt another.

Not to do any evil;
to embrace the good;
to purify one’s mind:
this is the instruction of the Buddhas.

Not speaking ill nor doing harm;
restraint in the monastic code;
moderation in eating;
staying in remote lodgings;
commitment to the higher mind—
this is the instruction of the Buddhas.’

Obviously the story has later been ascribed to “our” Buddha, as happened with other stories too. And it also differs in the detail that, in the version that I heard at least, there was no prior appointment, but here in DN 14 there was a prior appointment. And, although they had neither emails nor WhatsApp, they still had their very efficient heavenly messaging system!

:phone: :loud_sound: :smiley:

Oh yes, and there’s even this parallel at SN4.5, but not with all the details, and especially without the ovada patimokkha part.


The episode in the case of our Buddha is referred to at the end of the commentary to the Dīghanakhasutta. The number “1,250 bhikkhus” is spelled either aḍḍhatelasāni bhikkhusatāni or aḍḍhaterasāni bhikkhusatāni.

Bhagavā pana imaṃ desanaṃ sūriye dharamāneyeva niṭṭhāpetvā gijjhakūṭā oruyha veḷuvanaṃ gantvā sāvakasannipātamakāsi, caturaṅgasamannāgato sannipāto ahosi. Tatrimāni aṅgāni – māghanakkhattena yutto puṇṇamauposathadivaso, kenaci anāmantitāni hutvā attanoyeva dhammatāya sannipatitāni aḍḍhatelasāni bhikkhusatāni, tesu ekopi puthujjano vā sotāpanna-sakadāgāmi-anāgāmisukkhavipassaka-arahantesu vā aññataro natthi, sabbe chaḷabhiññāva, ekopi cettha satthakena kese chinditvā pabbajito nāma natthi, sabbe ehibhikkhunoyevāti.


Thank you, Venerable! Could you—or someone else—help with translating the Pali please?

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Bhagavā pana imaṃ desanaṃ sūriye dharamāneyeva niṭṭhāpetvā gijjhakūṭā oruyha veḷuvanaṃ gantvā sāvakasannipātamakāsi, caturaṅgasamannāgato sannipāto ahosi.
The Blessed One, having finished this teaching while the sun was still shining, went down from Vultures’ Peak to the Bamboo Grove and held a meeting of disciples – a meeting wherein there was a concatenation of four factors.

Tatrimāni aṅgāni:
Herein, these are the said factors:

  1. māghanakkhattena yutto puṇṇamauposathadivaso,
    It was the full-moon observance day in the month of Māgha.

  2. kenaci anāmantitāni hutvā attanoyeva dhammatāya sannipatitāni aḍḍhatelasāni bhikkhusatāni,
    1,250 bhikkhus assembled, without having been summoned by anyone and merely because their own dispositions prompted them to.

  3. tesu ekopi puthujjano vā sotāpanna-sakadāgāmi-anāgāmisukkhavipassaka-arahantesu vā aññataro natthi, sabbe chaḷabhiññāva,
    Not a single one of them was a worldling, a stream-attainer, a once-returner, a non-returner or a dry-insight arahant. All were arahants possessed of the six higher knowledges.

  4. ekopi cettha satthakena kese chinditvā pabbajito nāma natthi, sabbe ehibhikkhunoyevāti.
    Not a single one of them had gone forth after having his head shaved [by the sangha]. All had [been ordained by the Blessed One with the words] “Come, bhikkhu!”


Aaahhh! Thank you very much! I wonder though why it is associated with MN 74—which had already been mentioned by Ven. @Vaddha above.

I looked at the sutta and didn’t see any relation to this story … so the only relation is that after the Buddha gave this discourse, this happened.


It was during the teaching of this sutta that Sāriputta attained arahatta, and so the aftermath of it was the earliest occasion when the dhammasenāpati would have been qualified to attend. That would at least explain why the meeting couldn’t have taken place any earlier, for without his presence the meeting would have been a bit of a damp squib.


In the backstory of modern celebration of Māgha Pūjā, it is often told that Buddha Gotama also delivered the Ovādapātimokkha to 1,250 assembled monks:

Reference 1 (zen-buddha.com: Magha Puja)

Reference 2 (Wikipedia: Māgha Pūjā)

But Buddha Gotama’s recitation of Ovādapātimokkha during the assembly is nowhere mentioned in the story referred to in Dīghanakhasutta, nor could I find it anywhere in the canon.

And as Ayya @sabbamitta has pointed out, the Ovada-Patimokkha was recited by Buddha Gotama, but it is a different, unrelated story.

Does anybody know of a linking proof between the recitation and the assembly? Or whether if it’s actually, explicitly mentioned in the canon/commentaries?

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It’s only found in the commentary to MN 74. The commentarial story there is not referenced in the sutta itself. Ven. @Dhammanando offered a translation of the commentarial passage above. :slight_smile:

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I’ve checked the commentary to MN 74: Dīghanakhasutta and couldn’t find “Ovādapātimokkha” in the text.