Wesak (Buddha Day)First Full Moon in MayWesak (Vesak) is known as the Thrice-Blessed Day because it commemorates thebirth,...
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  1. 1. Wesak (Buddha Day)First Full Moon in MayWesak (Vesak) is known as the Thrice-Blessed Day because it commemorates thebirth, enlightenment, and passing away of the Buddha. It is observed by Buddhists allover the world on the full moon day in the month of Visakha, from which it derives itsname and which usually corresponds to May. Variations of the name are Wesak,Vaisakha, and Vesakha. Vesak (or Vesakha) is the Pali form and Vaisakha is theSanskrit form of the name of a month in the Indian lunar calendar.Buddhists who follow the Mahayana tradition observe the birth, enlightenment andpassing away of Gautama Buddha on separate days. For example in China, Taiwanand some South-East Asian countries like Malaysia, the birth is celebrated on the 8thday of the 4th Moon, the enlightenment on the 8th day of the 12th Moon and thepassing away on the 15th day of the 2nd Moon according to the Chinese lunarcalendar. In Japan, Buddha Day (the birth) is observed on 8th April, the enlightenmentis marked at Jodo-e in December and the passing away at Nehan-e (15th) in February.During Wesak, Buddhists celebrate the life of the Buddha and his teachings. Theyremember the night of his enlightenment and his insights into his previous lives, aswell as his revelations about the nature of death, karma and rebirth, suffering anddesire.Wesak is celebrated with great joy and vivid colours. Homes are cleaned anddecorated in preparation. Celebrations begin before dawn, when devotees throng thetemples early in the morning to meditate and take the Five Precepts. Sutras arechanted by monks.Celebrations vary from one country to another. ‘The Bathing of the Buddha’ oftentakes place. Water is poured over the shoulders of statues of the Buddha as areminder of the need to purify the heart and mind. Offerings are made to the monksand the temples, and may be laid on the altar as a sign of respect for the Buddha andhis teachings.In China, called Guanfo (bathing the Buddha) or yufo (Buddha’s birthday celebrationfeaturing washing Buddha image with perfumed water), traditional elements fromChinese culture, such as dancing dragons, are incorporated into celebrations. InIndonesia, Wesak lanterns are made from paper and wood. Another popular custom insome countries is the release of caged birds, symbolising letting go of troubles andwishing that all beings be well and happy. Buddhists in some parts of the world makeorigami paper cranes which are used as decorations or sometimes floated down riversto symbolise the same thing.Many Buddhist temples serve vegetarian food (as many Buddhists avoid eating meat).Special lectures on the teachings of the Buddha are given, and candle lit processionstake place through the streets. Observers are made welcome, both in processions andat temples.Are presents given on Wesak?Giving to others is an important part of Buddhist tradition. Gifts may be exchanged aspart of the festivities on Wesak. There is also emphasis on giving to the needy.Devotees may visit orphanages, welfare homes, homes for the aged or charitable
  2. 2. institutions, distributing cash donations and gifts. Some youth organisations organise mass blood donation to hospitals. Donations are also made to monks and nuns. What are the Five Precepts and how do they influence Buddhist celebrations? All Buddhists live by the Five Moral Precepts which are refraining from: • harming living things • taking what is not given • sexual misconduct • lying or gossip • taking intoxicating substances e.g. drugs or drink Samaneras (novice monks) live by ten precepts, while Buddhist monks actually keep 227 rules of the order. The ten precepts are the five precepts plus refraining from the following: • taking substantial food after midday (from noon to dawn) • dancing, singing and music • use of garlands, perfumes and personal adornment like jewelery • use of luxurious beds and seats • accepting and holding money, gold or silver Therefore on celebration days, Buddhists will often eat vegetarian food and will not drink alcohol. Gifts will be simple, especially those given to monks. Monks in particular will not dress up, and people will not eat to excess. However, Buddhist celebrations are also very joyful, colourful occasions. Why is Wesak celebrated on different days and why does it have different names? Buddhists, apart from the Japanese, use the lunar calendar to define when dates of festivals should take place. Dates when there is a full moon are used often.The Significance of Vesak - Buddha DayThe significance of Vesak lies with the Buddha and his universal peace message to mankind.As we recall the Buddha and his Enlightenment, we are immediately reminded of the unique andmost profound knowledge and insight which arose in him on the night of his Enlightenment.This wisdom and light that flashed and radiated under the historic Bodhi Tree at Buddha Gaya in thedistrict of Bihar in Northern India, more than 2500 years ago, is of great significance to humandestiny. It illuminated the way by which mankind could cross, from a world of superstition, or hatredand fear, to a new world of light, of true love and happiness.Venerable Mahinda