WEDNESDAY, MAY 10: The word “Dharma” resounds around the world this week, as Buddhists, monks, non-Buddhists and international UN offices pause to observe Vesak. A Buddhist observance, Vesak recalls a trio of events: the birth, enlightenment and death of Guatama Buddha. Per the request of Buddha himself, devotees focus especially on carrying out the Buddha’s teachings by living kindly, giving generously and abiding by the Dharma (or Dhamma, spellings vary). Specific dates of observance are determined by various lunar calendars, and so vary slightly.
A VEGETARIAN MEAL AND HYMNS OF PRAISE
Despite varying dates, Vesak celebrations across the globe begin the same way: with adherents gathered at a local temple, before sunrise, to watch the ceremonial hoisting of the Buddhist flag. Hymns of praise rise through the air, as attendees line up to offer flowers, candles and food. A shared vegetarian meal with follow, but it’s in the flowers and candles that devotees understand the truth of Vesak: that life, as with all things, will wither away and decay. All that is eternal is the Dharma truth.
VESAK ACROSS THE GLOBE
The World Fellowship of Buddhists tried to formalize the celebration of Vesak as Buddha’s birthday in 1950, although festivals of a similar fashion had been custom for centuries. Aside from parallel morning ceremonies, Vesak festivities vary around the world: In Sri Lanka, two days are set aside for Vesak and liquor shops, slaughter houses and casinos are closed; in Japan, a sweet Hydrangea tea is poured over statues. Nepalis can claim Lumbini as the birthplace of Buddha, and their holy temple—Swayambhu—is opened only one day per year, on Vesak. Since Vesak is a public holiday in Nepal, even non-Buddhists get into the spirit by donating and volunteering on this special day. Processions line the streets in many countries during daylight hours, while colorful lanterns light the skies at night.
In 1999, the United Nations resolved to internationally observe Vesak at its headquarters and offices.
Wonder how Vesak will be observed around the world, this year?
- Sri Lanka will host a three-day celebration, at which national leaders of other countries will be present. (Read the story here.)
- The Vatican has issued a letter in recognition of Vesak that calls on Catholics and Buddhists to work together for peace, entitled, “Christians and Buddhists: Walking Together on the Path of Nonviolence.” (Read more on the story here.)
- The British Council Library has organized the Vesak Lantern Competition 2017, for which participants between the ages of 6 and 20 will make lanterns for certificates and cash prizes. (Read more in the Sunday Times.)