THURSDAY, MAY 27: Millions of Buddhists spread joy as they celebrate the most significant day of the Buddhist calendar, Vesakha—also called Buddha’s Birthday. (The decision to observe Vesakha as the Buddha’s Birthday was made official at the first Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in 1950.) The observance date of Vesakha varies by lunar calendar and tradition; nevertheless, the full moon day of May—today—marks Vesakha for many Buddhists around the world.
Vesakha honors the whole of Buddha’s life, including his birth, enlightenment and passing away, into nirvana. (Read more on his life at BuddhaNet.) Today, Buddhists attend temple ceremonies before dawn—at which the Buddhist flag is raised— and bring small gifts to lie at the feet of their teachers. (Learn the significance of the Buddhist flag’s colors at the Buddha Dharma Education Association.) Often, students bring their teachers gifts of flowers or candles, in remembrance that while flowers die and candles burn, just as the human body decays, the soul lives forever. (Wikipedia has other details.) Many Buddhists also clean their homes, feast on vegetarian or vegan foods and hold elaborate ceremonies. Amid all of the festivities, however, Buddhists also remember that Vesakha calls for devotees to bring joy to others through their words and actions; many bring gifts to the less fortunate today. It was Buddha himself, in fact, who insisted that his followers pay homage to him by genuinely striving to follow his teachings.
Vesak lanterns have long been a part of Vesakha celebrations in countries like Sri Lanka, although according to some Sri Lanka citizens, these lanterns have become commercialized and over-marketed in recent years. (Check out a related article at Lanka Rising.) Historically, lanterns represented an offering to the memory of the Buddha and his message of the Dhamma; ironically, the heart of Buddha’s teaching lies in the principle that all material things are impermanent. By practicing Dhamma, Buddha’s teachings, devotees believe they can more easily live in harmony and peace. (The Jade Buddha For Universal Peace is currently touring the globe; read more at the Jade Buddha website.) Devotees hold that right thoughts, right words and right actions on an individual level can lead to peace on a global level.
Care to see a little more about Buddhism? ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm has visited many Buddhist shrines around the world, including in Bangkok, Thailand, where violent political unrest raged through much of May. As a sign of the global natue of ReadTheSpirit, David’s Facebook photo shows him seated in one of the temples around Wat Pho, the world-famous Bhuddist shrine in Bangkok. Violence finally seems to be subsiding in Thailand as May draws to a close—but perhaps a good way to celebrate Vesakha this year is to remind ourselves of Bangkok’s peaceful Buddhist treasures. You’ll see 6 minutes of that in the video, below, shot by a Dutch traveler:
(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)
(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)