Tomorrow is Vesak Day, also known as Buddha Purnima or Buddha Jayanti, is a significant holiday in the Buddhist calendar. It commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. The holiday is celebrated on different days in different countries, but it usually falls on the full moon day in May.
The day of Vesak is considered the most sacred day to millions of Buddhists around the world. The origins of Vesak Day date back to ancient India, about two and a half millennia ago, in 623 BC, when Buddha was born in Lumbini, a small town in present-day Nepal. According to Buddhist tradition, Buddha was born on the full moon day in May, attained enlightenment on the same day several years later, and passed away on the same day at the age of 80. These three events are celebrated as Vesak Day.
The celebration of Vesak Day varies from country to country and even within different schools of Buddhism. However, some common practices are observed by most Buddhists on this day.
One of the most important practices on Vesak Day is the offering of alms to monks and nuns. This practice is called dana, which means giving or generosity. Buddhists believe that offering food and other necessities to monks and nuns is a way of accumulating merit, which can lead to a better rebirth or even liberation from the cycle of rebirths. In some countries, such as Thailand, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, it is customary for laypeople to wake up early and line up along the streets to offer alms to the monks.
Another important practice on Vesak Day is the recitation of the Buddha’s teachings, or sutras which contain the wisdom and teachings of the Buddha, and Buddhists believe that reciting them is a way of showing respect and gratitude to the Buddha. In some countries, people gather in temples to recite sutras together. The lighting of lanterns is also a common practice on Vesak Day as Buddhists believe light symbolises wisdom and enlightenment, and lighting lanterns spreads this wisdom to others. In some countries, such as South Korea and Vietnam, people hang colourful lanterns at home and in public places. Buddhists also engage in acts of kindness and compassion on Vesak Day including donating to charities and volunteering at local hospitals or orphanages.
Vesak Day is a public holiday in many countries with significant Buddhist populations, including Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia. In many of these countries, Vesak Day is celebrated with elaborate ceremonies and processions, which often involve the participation of government officials and other prominent figures.
Some common practices observed during Vesak Day include the gold gliding of Buddha statues, the consumption of vegetarian meals, the lighting of oil lamps, the performance of charitable deeds or volunteering, as well as the participation in religious talks by venerable monks. Devout Buddhists will go to temples to attend activities such as chanting scripture, listening to sermons, the three steps one bow and bathing of the Buddha ceremony. The celebration also includes the practices of Giving, Virtue and Cultivation and the doing of good and meritorious deeds.
In Singapore, devout Buddhists will visit their nearest temple, prepare their offerings and engage in many rituals. One of the most popular rituals is the bathing of the Buddha. Worshippers crowd around basins or pools decorated with garlands of flowers and dominated by a small central elevated statue of the child Siddhartha. Ladlefuls of water are scooped from the basin and poured over the statue, in remembrance of the Buddha’s birth. Other common practices include monks chanting and acts of generosity by Buddhist organisations and temples like the freeing of caged birds and animals, and visiting and giving alms to the poor and needy. Silent marches or meditations in the evening end the daylong celebration.
In Sri Lanka, Vesak Day is celebrated as a three-day festival, during which the streets are decorated with colourful lights and people gather in temples to meditate, listen to sermons, and offer alms to monks. In Thailand, people celebrate by visiting temples and offering food and other necessities to monks.
The Four Noble Truths, the cornerstone of Buddhist teaching, include the reality of suffering, which teaches that pain is an intrinsic aspect of life and is produced by the impermanence and instability of all things. The cause of pain is explained as craving and attachment in the truth of the reason of suffering. Attachment to things, people, and ideas, according to Buddhists, causes misery since everything in the world is ephemeral and prone to change. The reality of the cessation of suffering provides hope by teaching that suffering may be terminated by letting go of craving and attachment, the ultimate goal of Buddhist practise, which is attained by gaining Nirvana, the state of perfect peace and liberation from the cycle of rebirths.
The Four Noble Truths, which make up the core of Buddhist doctrine, include the truth of suffering, which believes that all things are ephemeral and unstable and that suffering is an inevitable component of life. The cause of suffering is explained as craving and attachment through the truth of suffering. Buddhists believe that as everything in the world is fleeting and prone to change, attachment to objects, people, and ideas leads to suffering. By demonstrating that suffering could be terminated by letting go of craving and attachment, the ultimate objective of Buddhist practise, and realised by achieving Nirvana, the state of perfect peace and freedom from the cycle of rebirths, the reality of the cessation of suffering offers hope. When considered collectively, the four Noble Truths offer a guide to leading a life that is meaningful and rewarding, free from pain and brimming with wisdom and compassion.
Vesak Day is a day for introspection and contemplation as well as festivity. The deeply significant day is a chance for Buddhists to ponder the Buddha’s teachings and how they might be applied to daily life. It is a time for reflection, renewal, and rededication to the teachings of the Buddha, as well as an opportunity to express gratitude, compassion, and generosity towards others. Vesak Day reminds us that the Buddha’s teachings are still relevant and inspiring today, offering a path towards greater compassion, mindfulness, and inner peace.