The Singapore Lodge Theosophical Society
The following articles are reproduced from the July 2017 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.
The Asala Festival
Bishop C. W. Leadbeater wrote in The Masters And The Path, which was first published in 1925, the following account of the Asala Festival.
“Besides the great Wesak Festival there is one other occasion in each year when the members of the Brotherhood all meet together officially. The meeting in this case is usually held in the private house of the Lord Maitreya, situated also in the Himalayas, but on the southern instead of the northern slopes. On this occasion no pilgrims on the physical plane are present, but all astral visitors who know of the celebration are welcome to attend it. It is held on the full moon day of the month of Asala, (in Sanskrit Asâdha), usually corresponding to the English July.
This is the anniversary of the delivery by the Lord Buddha of His first announcement of the great discovery—the sermon which He preached to his five disciples, commonly known as the Dhammachakkappavattana Sutta, which has been poetically translated by Rhys Davids as “The Setting in Motion of the Royal Chariot Wheels of the Kingdom of Righteousness”. It is often more briefly described in Buddhist books as “The Turning of the Wheel of the Law”. It explains for the first time the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, expounding the great middle way of the Buddha—the life of perfect righteousness in the world, which lies midway between the extravagances of asceticism on the one hand and the carelessness of mere worldly life on the other.
In His love for His great predecessor the Lord Maitreya has ordained that, whenever the anniversary of that first preaching comes round, the same sermon shall be recited once more in the presence of the assembled Brotherhood; and He usually adds to it a simple address of His own, expounding and applying it. The recitation of the sermon commences at the moment of full moon, and the reading and the address are usually over in about half an hour. The Lord Maitreya generally takes His place upon the marble seat which is set at the edge of a raised terrace in the lovely garden just in front of His house. The greatest of the Officials sit close about Him, while the rest of the Brotherhood is grouped in the garden a few feet below. On this occasion, as on the other, there is often an opportunity for pleasant converse, and kindly greetings and benedictions are distributed by the Masters among Their pupils and those who aspire to be Their pupils.
It may be useful to give some account of the ceremony, and of what is usually said at these Festivals, though it is, of course, utterly impossible to reproduce the wonder and the beauty and the eloquence of the words of the Lord Maitreya on such occasions. The account which follows does not attempt to report any single discourse; it is a combination of, I fear, very imperfectly remembered fragments, some of which have already appeared elsewhere; but it will give to those who have not previously heard of it some idea of the line generally taken.
That great sermon is wonderfully simple, and its points are repeated over and over again. There was no shorthand in those days, so that it might be taken down and read by every one afterwards; His disciples had to remember His words by the impression made on them at the time. So He made them simple, and He repeated them again and again like a refrain, so that the people might be sure of them. One may readily see in reading it that it is constructed for this special purpose—that it may be easily remembered. Its points are arranged categorically, so that when it has once been heard each point reminds one of the next, as though it were a kind of mnemonic, and to the Buddhist each of these separate and easily remembered words suggests a whole body of related ideas, so that the sermon, short and simple as it is, contains an explanation and a rule of life.
One might well think that all that can be said about the sermon has been said already many times over; yet the Lord, with His wonderful eloquence and the way in which He puts it, makes it every year seem something new, and each person feels its message as though it were specially addressed to himself. On that occasion, as in the original preaching, the Pentecostal miracle repeats itself. The Lord speaks in the original sonorous Pâli, but every one present hears Him “in his own tongue wherein he was born,” as is said in the Acts of the Apostles.”
In addition to the account by C. W. Leadbeater we also have the testimonial of Geoffrey Hodson (1886-1983), a renowned theosophist and clairvoyant and also a priest of the Liberal Catholic Church, regarding the Asala Festival. In his occult diary, his wife Sandra Hodson wrote on July 7, 1976, “Geoffrey recorded to me verbally that on one or more occasions he remembered, on awakening, an out-of-the-body experience following the Asala Festival, of attendance at the home and garden of the Lord Maitreya. Geoffrey stated, “As far as my memory goes, not only Adepts, but a considerable number of aspirants to Adeptship—devotees of the Lord Buddha, the Lord Maitreya, and the Masters of the Wisdom—were also present and listened to the discourse. Most of them, in physically influenced memory, were floating in their subtle bodies, as it were, in the air above the Lord’s garden on the southern slopes of the Himalayan Mountains.”