When is Vesak (07.05.2018)
Observed in Countries with Buddhist populations, especially India, Tibet, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka
Observed on Full Moon day of fifth or sixth month of the Buddhist calendar
Observed by Buddhists
Vesak is the most important festival for Buddhists around the world. Buddhism enjoys a significant following in Southeast Asia, as well as other parts of Asia. By a strange coincidence, the birth, enlightenment (Moksha, or Nirvana), and death of Lord Buddha all took place on the same date, although necessarily in different years, making this date the most sacred day of the year for his followers.
This three-in-one festival takes place in the month of Vesak on the Buddhist lunar calendar and during the second half of May on the Gregorian calendar.
For Buddhists, it is a day for rejoicing and contemplation.
Celebrations can be elaborate affairs, with lots of festivities and feasting. Silent walks or evening meditations end the Vesak celebration.
Buddhists venerate the Buddha because he understood how to free his mind from the crass realities of the world and practiced the simple methods that would bring tranquility, equanimity, and peace of mind. Vesak for the Buddhists is a day to remember his life and teachings and to contemplate what is achievable and what is worth attempting.
It is an occasion to focus one’s mind on the Buddha’s pious life, his remarkable deeds, the Four Noble Truths, the doctrine of the Middle Path, and the Eight Precepts that he taught would lead human beings away from their sorrows and sufferings.
The association with Vesak is particularly strong in the countries that adhere to the Theravada school, namely Malaysia, Burma, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, where the temples are adorned with lanterns representing the Buddha’s achievement of Nirvana. In Thailand, where the festival is called Visakha Bucha, multitudes of caged birds are released, and the devout spend the festival chanting, fasting, and joining in other religious observances. At the Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple in Singapore, in exchange for donating money Buddhists receive a small piece of gold leaf that they can attach to the Buddha’s statue.
By the end of the day, the statue has a new covering of gold leaf. At the Borobudur Temple in Indonesia, where the celebration is called Waisak, elaborate festivities are planned. Around the world devout Buddhists spend the entire day in contemplation, meditation, and piety, and perform acts of charity and compassion toward the less fortunate, thereby actively following the lofty ideals of Buddhism.
Origins and History
Vesak commemorates the birth of an extraordinary being who propounded the practice of Buddhism.
The Buddha, whose the birth name was Gautama Siddhartha (c. 563–c. 483 B.C.E.) was a member of the Shakya dynasty-a warrior clan that ruled Kapilavastu (modern Nepal). He was born into a life of luxury and privilege, surrounded by unlimited material wealth. His mother died soon after his birth, but he was brought up lovingly by his family. His father wanted Gautama to succeed him as the head of the clan, but something was always bothering the boy in spite of his sheltered existence: He was curious to know about the end of human life. Gradually he was exposed to, and became aware of, the harsh realities of life-sickness, old age, and death. He was so shaken by these revelations and so disillusioned that he left his wife and newborn son behind and, renouncing his easy life, became an ascetic.
Following six years of adversity, extreme penance, and endless endeavor the Buddha eventually attained enlightenment. (Vesak also commemorates the Buddha’s enlightenment.) The depth of his experience made him certain that he had found the ultimate knowledge and that there was hope beyond the seemingly eternal cycle of sickness, old age, and death. The Buddha understood that this suffering could be ended.
While he was meditating beneath the Bodhi tree, the Buddha had a revelation, and it became clear to him that he had been through many births; he understood that all living beings were reborn in circumstances, good or bad, depending on their actions in their previous life (or lives). The Buddha realized that suffering was a result of desire and attachment to the things of this world, and that there was a sure way of escaping suffering. Buddhist scriptures offer ample proof of the fact of Buddha’s ultimate understanding and that he knew how others could gain the same. The Buddha’s experience holds out hope for humanity: anyone can achieve enlightenment.
Thirdly, Vesak commemorates the Buddha’s achievement of Nirvana (also called his parinibbana).
As the Buddha lay dying, no miraculous transformation took place; there was no supernatural ascent into heaven, no implausible escape. The Buddha’s death was normal. (He had consumed soft pork, or sukaramaddava, which probably led to food poisoning.) It was like that of any ordinary human being. In many ways, his was an extraordinary death, because he was liberated from the cycle of life, death, and suffering, and got total release, or Nirvana. His last words were plain and clear: “All things are impermanent,” he said, “strive on with diligence.” On Vesak, devout Buddhists assemble in temples to pray and offer alms to the monks. A number of people spend the entire day at the temple, listening to recitations of Buddha’s precepts and anecdotes about his life. Others invite monks to their homes to share their discourses. On this sacred day the followers reaffirm their pledge to live an ethical and virtuous life.