CHOKOR (also CHO KOR DU CHEN)
Chökhor Düchen, the festival of ‘Turning the Wheel of Dharma’, is one of the four major Tibetan Buddhist holidays. It is a Tibetan and Nepalese festival that commemorates the first teaching (the turning of the wheel of law) given by the historical Buddha. It is a colourful and relaxed mid-summer festival, when statues of the Buddha and copies of the scriptures, engraved on narrow, rectangular wooden blocks, are carried round the district with music and jollity, symbolising the promulgation of the Buddha’s teaching. The whole community, clerical and lay, male and female, joins in the processions and the picnics.
For eight weeks after his enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, the Buddha did not give any teaching, even though Buddhist belief holds that one attains enlightenment in order to help other sentient beings. The normal explanation of this suggests that at that time there were no beings present who had sufficient ‘good karma’ to receive such important teachings from the Buddha. Other stories suggest that the Indian gods Indra and Brahma presented him with gifts and pleaded with him to begin his teaching. In the event the Buddha ‘Turned the Wheel of Dharma’ for the first time, at the Deer Park in Sarnath, near Varanasi, by expounding the ‘Four Noble Truths’.
He gave this first teaching to five of his companions from his earlier time of practising asceticism. They had previously left him on the banks of the Niranjana river after becoming disillusioned with him for giving up his practice of austerities. When they saw him once again, they were overwhelmed by his presence, and their curiosity was such that they could not resist asking him to explain what had happened. The Buddha taught them the Four Noble Truths which have remained the basis of all traditions of Buddhism. He talked with them all through the night, and when morning came, these first five students took refuge with him in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Together with the Buddha, they became the first members of the Sangha, the community of practitioners who follow the teachings of the Buddha, and they became enlightened arhats. At this time of year Buddhists today reflect on and seek to follow their example.
45 years after that first gathering, 1250 enlightened personal disciples of the Buddha came spontaneously to the Bamboo Grove at Rajagaha on the full moon of Magha (usually in late February or early March). This was one of the earliest large gatherings of Buddhists, and this was when the Buddha taught the principles of the Dharma and set out his teachings to the assembled arahats (enlightened monks) for them to study, learn and follow.
‘Duchen’ means ‘great occasion’ and like Chotrul Düchen, Saga Dawa Duchen, and Lhabab Düchen, Chokor Duchen is regarded as a ‘ten million multiplier’ day, multiplying the effects of all positive and negative actions ten million times! Together these four major Tibetan Buddhist holidays mark the four events known as the ‘great deeds’ of the Buddha. The first is Chotrul Duchen, and celebrates the time when the Buddha is said to have displayed a different miracle each day to spur on his disciples. Next is Saga Dawa, which remembers the Buddha’s enlightenment, death and parinirvana. The third is Chokhor Duchen, which commemorates the Buddha’s first sermon and the teaching of the Four Noble Truths.
In Tibet Chokor Duchen is a day of pilgrimage when believers visit particularly holy spots to leave offerings of incense and prayer flags. The whole community, monks and lay people alike, join in processions bearing statues of the Buddha and copies of the scriptures. They make much use of Chokhors or prayer wheels, which are common religious objects in Tibet, a normal part of daily life for all Tibetan Buddhists. These hand held wheels contain hollow wooden or metal cylinders attached to a handle. When turned, these are believed to spread spiritual blessing. Mantras – such as Om Mani Padme Hum – believed to evoke the attention and blessings of Shakyamuni, the Buddha of Compassion – may be printed or etched on the cylinder, and each revolution is said to equal one repetition or prayer. Larger prayer wheels are also lined up on racks along the paths circling the monasteries or at other sites so that passing pilgrims can set them into motion.