Vesak: Buddhists worldwide live by the Dharma to celebrate Buddha

Temple lit with lights at night, against water

The Gangaramaya Temple, in Sri Lanka, during Vesak. Photo by Nazly Ahmed, courtesy of Flickr

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.

NEWS 2017

Wonder how Vesak will be observed around the world, this year?

 

Comments: (0)
Categories: Buddhist

Vesak: Buddhist lanterns and ceremonies celebrate the sacred ‘triple gem’

Temple lit at night beside water

The Gangaramaya Temple in Sri Lanka, lit during Vesak. Photo by Nazly Ahmed, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, MAY 21 and SUNDAY, MAY 22: Millions of glowing lanterns shine brightly in Buddhist communities worldwide, as the collective birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha is observed with the holiday of Vesak. Known also as Visakha Puja or Wesak (spellings vary), Vesak begins before dawn in many regions, with ceremonies, decorated temples, shared vegetarian meals and deep meditation. In 2016, Vesak is commemorated on May 21 in most regions of India, Sri Lanka and Cambodia; in Indonesia, this year’s Vesak occurs on May 22. This holy day is greeted by devout Buddhists across Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh, the Phillippines, Thailand and several other South East Asian countries—along with various other locations across the globe.

Did you know? Some Buddhists informally refer to Vesak as “Buddha Day,” or “Buddha’s Birthday.”

Buddhism has been practiced for millennia, but it wasn’t until 1950 that the official decision was made—at the first conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists—to observe Vesak as the Buddha’s birthday. Today, devotees bring offerings to temples—such as flowers or candles—in representation of the objects of this world that fade away. Monks provide lectures, and laypersons wear white clothing. It is expected that Buddhists will try to bring some happiness to the unfortunate on this significant day, and review the Four Noble Truths.

Did you know? The design of the Buddhist flag is based on the six colors of the aura believed to have surrounded Buddha after his enlightenment. It is used in almost 60 countries, especially during Vesak.

In commemoration of three major events—the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the historical Buddha—Vesak is recognized by all Buddhist sects. It acknowledges the peace that Buddha brought to the world through the “triple gem”: Buddha himself, the Dharma (teachings) and the Sangha (Buddha’s disciples). Most Buddhists today use candles and small lamps to illuminate temples, streets and homes, representing the light of Buddha’s teachings. In Japan, legend has it that a dragon appeared in the sky on Buddha’s birthday and poured soma (a ritual drink) over him.

Interested in making your own Vesak lantern? Check out this site’s DIY instructions, which include using everyday materials such as drinking straws and tissue paper.

Comments: (2)
Categories: BuddhistFaiths of India

Vesak: Buddhists observe Buddha Day with candles, charity and meditation

Looking down at crowd of Buddhist gathered, all with candles and wearing white clothing, at night

Buddhists gather for Vesak in Thailand. Photo by Captain Supachat, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, MAY 4 and MONDAY, JUNE 1: On varying dates in May and June, Buddhists around the world mark Vesak (spellings vary), also known as Buddha Day or Buddha’s birthday. For many Buddhists, Vaisakhi marks the collective birth, enlightenment and passing away of the historical Buddha, and the occasion is met with deep meditation, shared vegetarian meals, donations to charity and the ceremonial bathing of Buddha statues. (Learn more from BuddhaNet.) The date of Vesak is based on Asian lunisolar calendars, and is noted in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh, India, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and several other South East Asian countries—along with various locations across the globe.

Buddha’s birthday, celebrated as Vesakha, was officially determined at the first conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, in 1950. On Vesak, devout Buddhists assemble at a local temple for pre-dawn ceremonies, including the hoisting of the Buddhist flag. Devotees may bring offerings, such as flowers or candles, in representation of the objects of this world that fade away. (Wikipedia has details.) Monks provide lectures, and laypersons wear white clothing. It is expected that Buddhists will try to bring some happiness to the unfortunate on this significant day, and review the Four Noble Truths.

RECLAIMING VESAK: A GLOBAL TASK

As holidays can lose focus amid commercialization and modern culture, however—as happened with the American Mother’s Day—so, too, Vesak has become, in some regions, an occasion for the sale of countless buckets, loads of lotus flower-shaped lanterns and an overabundance of candles. Distracting crowds form at some events. Focus is sometimes shifted from the simplicity of time in the temple.

Groups of Buddhists are urging devotees to reclaim the intent of Vesak, as is noted in The Nation. In the same way, the Asian Tribune recently published a story, with Vesak wishes, to its readers. In London, as celebrations begin for Vesak, a noted Buddhist figure was interviewed about the true reasons behind the holiday.

Since 1999, the United Nations has observed Vesak at its headquarters and offices.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Buddhist

Vesak: Buddhists recall birth, enlightenment and passing of Buddha

“If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.”
Albert Einstein

People in white robes sitting on ground, outdoors, with elevated platform in front, draped in orange flowers

Vesak ceremony in Jetavana, India. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, MAY 14: Buddhists the world over light millions of lanterns to collectively celebrate Vesak or Vesakha (English spellings vary)—also known as Buddha Day. Dates vary by region, most commonly falling on May 13, 14 or 15.

In commemoration of three major events—the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the historical Buddha—Vesak is recognized by all Buddhist sects. Though it is sometimes casually referred to as “Buddha’s birthday,” Vesak is about much more than Buddha’s birth: it acknowledges the peace that Buddha brought to the world. On Vesak, devoted Buddhists seize the opportunity to spread love and harmony to others, while keeping a humble spirit and developing their minds through meditation.

Events for Vesak begin before sunrise, as the faithful gather at their local temple for the ceremonial raising of the Buddhist flag and the singing of hymns. Homage is paid to the “triple gem”: the Buddha, the Dharma (teachings) and the Sangha (Buddha’s disciples). In some temples, statues of the Buddha are continuously washed, symbolizing the washing away of bad karma; lay persons often bring offerings of flowers and candles to the temple, for their teachers.

In particular, Vesak brings to the forefront the intention of a Buddhist life: to observe the Precepts, and to live simply and humbly. Throughout Vesak, monks recite verses and give talks; while not meditating or internalizing scripture, followers give to charity and visit the sick and elderly.

Did you know? In 1999, the United Nations committed to international observation of Vesak at its headquarters and offices.

Statue of Buddha sitting and meditating on lit lotus flower with lights in back

Photo by Gaurika Wijeratne, courtesy of Flickr

Buddhism has been practiced for millennia, but it wasn’t until 1950 that the official decision was made—at the first conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists—to observe Vesak as the Buddha’s birthday. Today, Vesak is celebrated in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and across Southeast Asia. Most Buddhists use candles and small lamps to illuminate temples, streets and homes, representing the light of Buddha’s teachings. In Japan, legend has it that a dragon appeared in the sky on Buddha’s birthday and poured soma (a ritual drink) over him.

Did you know? The design of the Buddhist flag is based on the six colors of the aura believed to have surrounded Buddha after his enlightenment. It is used in almost 60 countries, especially during Vesak.

It is said that during the third watch of the night, during Enlightenment, Buddha realized the Four Noble Truths; the Four Noble Truths explain the way to the Eightfold Path.

IN THE NEWS:
VESAK WITH THE UNITED NATIONS

A United Nations observance of Vesak was held May 8-11 this year, at the Bai Dinh temple, in Vietnam. (Read more here.) Drawing 1,000 international delegates and 10,000 national delegates, those gathered focused on the theme: “Buddhist Contribution towards Achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.”

In Singapore, approximately 8,000 devotees occupied the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery earlier this month, for a candle-lit procession for an early Vesak celebration. A magnificent display of lights, which includes nine sets of lanterns and an enormous dragon lantern, will light up every weekend until May 25, as well as on Vesak eve and Vesak Day.

Ever wonder what Vesak looks like around the world? Check out this slideshow of photos, courtesy of the Huffington Post.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Comments: (0)
Categories: Buddhist

VESAK: Give and live by the Dharma on Buddha’s birthday

Buddhist monks gather before golden Buddha statue while on red carpet

Vesak Day in Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, MAY 25: 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). In India—the birthplace of Buddhism—Vesak is observed today, as it is in Nepal and Indonesia; some countries commemorated Vesak yesterday, and still others will observe Vesak Week through Monday. Specific dates are determined by various lunar calendars.

Despite varying dates, Vesak celebrations across the globe begin the same way: with adherents gathered at their 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. (Wikipedia has details.) 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.

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.

The government of Sri Lanka has selected “Live by the Dharma” as the theme for Vesak 2013.

Comments: (0)
Categories: BuddhistFaiths of East Asia