WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 8: Mahayana Buddhists celebrate the death of the Buddha today. That may seem like an odd attitude to Westerners, but Buddhists believe that their master had acheived Enlightenment—so his final triumph was leaving this physical world in death and all of this world’s lingering attachments. The holiday is known as Parinirvana Day. (It’s easier to pronounce if you think of the word as “Pari—Nirvana”).
The man known to his followers as the Buddha actually had reached Enlightenment 40 years before; still, he wasn’t able to enjoy the full benefits of his release from the cycle of death and rebirth until his physical body had died. At age 80, Buddha was in a state of meditation when he died and attained nirvana. Thus, on Parinirvana Day, a Buddhist will often meditate on his own impending death, as well as the deaths of loved ones who have recently died. (Read more at Wikipedia.) By meditating, devotees hope to get one step closer to Enlightenment and, possibly, to help their loved ones to do the same.
East Asian temples and monasteries are filled with Buddhist followers today, and passages from the Nirvana Sutra—describing Buddha’s final days on earth—are read. The faithful bring food to temples and monasteries, and as well as gifts, including money and clothes. By offering one’s possessions and understanding the impermanence of life, Buddhists aspire to fully comprehend and embrace the steps needed to reach Enlightenment.
While Parinirvana Day is celebrated most widely in East Asia, it is also marked by some Western Buddhists; some will observe it today, while others will mark it Feb. 15.
WHERE DID BUDDHA ACHIEVE MAHA PARINIRVANA?
In India, in the present-day town of Kushinagar. (Details are at Wikipedia.)
MAHA PARINIRVANA IN THE NEWS
Some Sri Lankan Buddhists are pushing for their country’s devotees to befriend Buddhists in India, as a means of creating peace between the two countries; after all, India is home to millions of Buddhists and several important Buddhist landmarks, including the spot where Buddha attained Maha Parinirvana. In a recent column in The Asian Tribune, Sri Lankan Buddhists are urged to help preserve the memory of the late Indian philosopher and political activist Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. In his prime in the early 20th Century, Ambedkar converted to Buddhism and was famous for arguing against restrictions placed on Dalits, better known to Americans as the “Untouchables” caste. Perhaps Sri Lankens could embrace an Indian hero who advocated on behalf of poor people, the column in the Asian Tribune argues.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.