Vesak

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Not to be confused with Vaisakhi.
Vesākha
Dharma Wheel.svg
Official name Vesākha, Buddha Purnima, Buddha Jayanti, Vaisakha, Vesak
Also called Buddha's Birthday or Buddha Day
Observed by All Buddhists sects
Type Religious
Significance The birth, enlightenment and passing away of Buddha
Observances Meditation, Observing the eight precepts, partaking of vegetarian food, giving to charity, "bathing" the Buddha
Date Full moon of the month of Vesākha, usually in May
2014 date
  • 13 May, Tuesday[1]
  • 14 May (India)[2]
  • 15 May (Indonesia)[3]
Frequency annual
Related to Buddha's Birthday

Vesākha (Pali;Sanskrit: Vaiśākha, Devanagari: वैशाख), Wesak or Vesak, also known as Buddha Purnima and Buddha Day, is a holiday observed traditionally by Buddhists on different days in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and the South East Asian countries of Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar and Indonesia, and other places all over the world.[4][5][6] Sometimes informally called "Buddha's Birthday", it actually commemorates the birth, enlightenment (nirvāna), and death (Parinirvāna) of Gautama Buddha in the Theravada or southern tradition.[7]

The exact date of Vesak is based on the Asian lunisolar calendars and is primarily celebrated in Vaisakha month of the Buddhist calendar and the Hindu calendar, and hence the name Vesak. In India and Nepal, which is considered the birth-country of Buddha, it is celebrated on the full moon day of the Vaisakha month of the Hindu calendar, and is traditionally called Buddha Purnima, Purnima meaning the full moon day in Sanskrit. In Theravada countries following the Buddhist calendar, it falls on a full moon Uposatha day, typically in the 5th or 6th lunar month. In China and Korea, it is celebrated on the eighth day of the fourth month in the Chinese lunar calendar. The date varies from year to year in the Western Gregorian calendar, but usually falls in April or May. In leap years it may be celebrated in June.

The name of the observance is derived from the Pali term vesākha or Sanskrit vaiśākha, which is the name of the lunar month in the Hindu calendar falling in April–May (see Vaisakha).[8] In Mahayana Buddhist traditions, the holiday is known by its Sanskrit name (Vaiśākha) and derived variants of it. Local renditions of the name vary by language, including:

  • Bengali: Buddho Purnima (বুদ্ধ পূর্ণিমা), Buddho Joyonti (বুদ্ধ জয়ন্তী) or Bhesak (ভেসাক)
  • Burmese: Kason Full Moon Day
  • Chinese: 佛陀誕辰紀念日 (Fótuó dànchén jìniàn rì), 佛誕 (Fó Dàn), 浴佛節 (YùFó jié), 衛塞節 (Wèisāi jié)
  • Filipino: Araw Ni Buddha
  • Hindi: Buddha Purnima (बुद्ध पूर्णिमा), Budhha Jayanti (बुद्ध जयन्ती), Vaishakh Purnima (वैशाख पूर्णिमा)
  • Indonesian: Hari Raya Waisak
  • Japanese: Hanamatsuri (花祭)
  • Khmer: Visak Puja (or Visak Bochea) (វិសាខបូជា)
  • Korean: Seokka Tanshin-il (석가 탄신일, 釋迦誕辰日)
  • Laotian: Vixakha Bouxa (ວິສາຂບູຊາ)
  • Malaysian: Hari Wesak
  • Nepal language: Swānyā Punhi (स्वांया पुन्हि)
  • Nepali: Buddha Purnima (बुद्ध पुर्णिमा), Budhha Jayanti (बुद्ध जयन्ति)
  • Sinhala: Vesak (වෙසක්) Full Moon Poya Day
  • Tibetan: Saga Dawa (*ས་ག་ཟླ་བ། )
  • Thai: Wisakha Bucha (วิสาขบูชา)
  • Vietnamese: Phật Đản

History[edit]

Enlightened Buddha with disciples - Traditional Image

The decision to agree to celebrate Vesākha as the Buddha’s birthday was formalized at the first conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists held in Sri Lanka in 1950, although festivals at this time in the Buddhist world are a centuries-old tradition. The resolution that was adopted at the World Conference reads as follows:[citation needed]

That this Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, while recording its appreciation of the gracious act of His Majesty, the Maharaja of Nepal in making the full-moon day of Vesak a Public Holiday in Nepal, earnestly requests the Heads of Governments of all countries in which large or small number of Buddhists are to be found, to take steps to make the full-moon day in the month of May a Public Holiday in honour of the Buddha, who is universally acclaimed as one of the greatest benefactors of Humanity.

On Vesākha Day, Buddhists all over the world commemorate events of significance to Buddhists of all traditions: The birth, enlightenment and the passing away of Gautama Buddha. As Buddhism spread from India it was assimilated into many foreign cultures, and consequently Vesākha is celebrated in many different ways all over the world. In India, Vaishakh Purnima day is also known as Buddha Jayanti day and has been traditionally accepted as Buddha's birth day.

In 1999, the United Nations resolved to internationally observe the day of Vesak at its headquarters and offices.[9]

The celebration of Vesākha[edit]

May 2007 just had two full moon days, the 1st and the 31st. Some countries (including Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Malaysia) celebrated Vesākha on the 1st, while others (Thailand, Singapore) celebrated the holiday on the 31st due to different local lunar observance. This difference also manifests in the observance of other Buddhist holidays, which are traditionally observed at the local full moon.

Likewise, in 2012, Vesak or the birth anniversary of the Buddha was observed on 28 April in Hong Kong and Taiwan, on 5 May in Sri Lanka, on 6 May in India, on 28 May in South Korea and on 4 June in Thailand. (In 1999 the Taiwanese government set Buddha's birthday as the second Sunday of May, the same date as Mother's Day.[10][11]). In 2014, Vesak is celebrated on May 13 in Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand while it is observed on May 15 in Indonesia.

On Vesākha day, devout Buddhists and followers alike are expected and requested to assemble in their various temples before dawn for the ceremonial, and honorable, hoisting of the Buddhist flag and the singing of hymns in praise of the holy triple gem: The Buddha, The Dharma (his teachings), and The Sangha (his disciples). Devotees may bring simple offerings of flowers, candles and joss-sticks to lay at the feet of their teacher. These symbolic offerings are to remind followers that just as the beautiful flowers would wither away after a short while and the candles and joss-sticks would soon burn out, so too is life subject to decay and destruction. Devotees are enjoined to make a special effort to refrain from killing of any kind. They are encouraged to partake of vegetarian food for the day. In some countries, notably Sri Lanka, two days are set aside for the celebration of Vesākha and all liquor shops and slaughter houses are closed by government decree during the two days. Also birds, insects and animals are released by the thousands in what is known as a 'symbolic act of liberation'; of giving freedom to those who are in captivity, imprisoned, or tortured against their will.[citation needed] Some devout Buddhists will wear a simple white dress and spend the whole day in temples with renewed determination to observe the eight Precepts.

Young novice on Vesākha Day Parade

Devout Buddhists undertake to lead a noble life according to the teaching by making daily affirmations to observe the Five Precepts. However, on special days, notably new moon and full moon days, they observe the eight Precepts to train themselves to practice morality, simplicity and humility.

Some temples also display a small statue of the Buddha in front of the altar in a small basin filled with water and decorated with flowers, allowing devotees to pour water over the statue; it is symbolic of the cleansing of a practitioner's bad karma, and to reenact the events following the Buddha's birth, when devas and spirits made heavenly offerings to him.

Devotees are expected to listen to talks given by monks. On this day monks will recite verses uttered by the Buddha twenty-five centuries ago, to invoke peace and happiness for the government and the people. Buddhists are reminded to live in harmony with people of other faiths and to respect the beliefs of other people as the Buddha taught.

Bringing happiness to others[edit]

Celebrating Vesākha also means making special efforts to bring happiness to the unfortunate like the aged, the handicapped and the sick. To this day, Buddhists will distribute gifts in cash and kind to various charitable homes throughout the country. Vesākha is also a time for great joy and happiness, expressed not by pandering to one’s appetites but by concentrating on useful activities such as decorating and illuminating temples, painting and creating exquisite scenes from the life of the Buddha for public dissemination. Devout Buddhists also vie with one another to provide refreshments and vegetarian food to followers who visit the temple to pay homage to the Enlightened One.[citation needed]

Paying homage to the Buddha[edit]

Tradition ascribes to the Buddha himself instruction on how to pay him homage. Just before he died, he saw his faithful attendant Ananda, weeping. The Buddha advised him not to weep, but to understand the universal law that all compounded things (including even his own body) must disintegrate. He advised everyone not to cry over the disintegration of the physical body but to regard his teachings (The Dhamma) as their teacher from then on, because only the Dhamma truth is eternal and not subject to the law of change. He also stressed that the way to pay homage to him was not merely by offering flowers, incense, and lights, but by truly and sincerely striving to follow his teachings. This is how Buddhists are expected to celebrate Vesak: to use the opportunity to reiterate their determination to lead noble lives, to develop their minds, to practise loving-kindness and to bring peace and harmony to humanity.

Dates of observance[edit]

Year in AD Thailand[12] Singapore Laos Myanmar Sri Lanka Cambodia Indonesia Nepal & India China Malaysia
2001 7 May 2544BE 7 May 6 May 2545thBE 7 May 2545thBE 7 May 2545thBE 7 May 2545thBE 30 May 7 May
2002 26 May 2545BE 27 May 26 May 2546thBE 26 May 2546thBE 26 April 2546thBE 26 May 2546thBE 19 May 26 May
2003 15 May 2546BE 15 May 15 May 2547thBE 15 May 2547thBE 15 May 2547thBE 16 May 2547thBE 8 May 15 May
2004 2 Jun 2547BE 2 Jun 3 May 2548thBE 4 May 2548thBE 3 May 2548thBE 3 Jun 2548thBE 3 May 26 May 2 Jun
2005 22 May 2548BE 23 May 22 May 2549thBE 23 May 2549thBE 22 May 2549thBE 24 May 2549thBE 23 May 15 May 22 May
2006 12 May 2549BE 12 May 11 May 2550thBE 12 May 2550thBE 12 May 2550thBE 13 May 2550thBE 13 May 5 May 12 May
2007 31 May 2550BE 31 May 31 May 2550BE 30 April 2551thBE 1 May 2551thBE 1 May 2551thBE 1 Jun 2551thBE 2 May 24 May 31 May
2008 19 May 2551BE 19 May 18 May 2551BE 19 May 2552thBE 19 May 2552thBE 19 May 2552thBE 20 May 2552thBE 20 May 12 May 19 May
2009 8 May 2552BE 9 May 8 May 2552BE 8 May 2553thBE 8 May 2553thBE 8 May 2553thBE 9 May 2553thBE 8 May 2 May 9 May
2010 28 May 2553BE 28 May 28 May 2553BE 27 April 2554thBE 27 May 2554thBE 28 April 2554thBE 28 May 2554thBE 27 May 21 May 28 May
2011 17 May 2554BE 17 May 17 May 2554BE 17 May 2555thBE 17 May 2555thBE 17 May 2555thBE 17 May 2555thBE 17 May 10 May 17 May
2012 4 Jun 2555BE 5 May 5 May 2555BE 5 May 2556thBE 5 May 2556thBE 5 May 2556thBE 6 May 2556thBE 6 May 28 April 5 May
2013 24 May 2556BE 24 May 24 May 24 May 2557BE 24 May 25 May 2557 BE 25 May 24 May 24 May
2014 13 May 2557BE 13 May 13 May 14 May 15 May 2558 BE 14 May 13 May
2015 1 Jun 2558BE 2 Jun 2559 BE 1 Jun
2016 20 May 2559BE 21 May
2017 10 May 2560BE 10 May
Vesak is celebrated in Jetavana, India, 2011

In Japan[edit]

In Japan, Vesākha or hanamatsuri (花祭) is also known as: Kanbutsu-e (灌仏会), Goutan-e (降誕会), Busshou-e (仏生会), Yokubutsu-e (浴仏会), Ryuge-e (龍華会), Hana-eshiki (花会式). It is not a public holiday. It is based on a legend that a dragon appeared in the sky on the Buddha's birthday and poured soma over him.

It used to be celebrated on the 8th day of the fourth month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar, based on one of the legends that proclaims the day as Buddha's birthday. At present, the celebration is observed on 8 April of the Solar Calendar since the Meiji government adopted the western solar calendar as the official calendar. Since the 8th day of the fourth month in the lunar calendar commonly falls in May of the current solar calendar, it is now celebrated about a month earlier.

In Japan, Shinbutsu shugo is common so Buddhist temples celebrate Buddha's birthday by pouring ama cha, a sweet tea made of Hydrangea on statues. In Buddhist temples, monasteries and nunneries, more involved ceremonies are conducted for practising Buddhists, priests, monks and nuns.

Vesak In Nepal[edit]

Vesak, commonly known in Nepal as "Buddha Jayanti" is widely celebrated all across the country, predominantly, Lumbini – the birthplace of Buddha, and Swayambhu – the holy temple for Buddhists, also known as "the Monkey Temple". The main door of Swayambhu is opened only on this very day, therefore, people from all over Kathmandu valley are stimulated by the event. Thousands of pilgrims from various parts of the world come together to celebrate Buddha's birthday at his birthplace, Lumbini. In Nepal, Buddha is worshipped by all religious groups, therefore "Buddha Jayanti" is marked by a public holiday. People donate foods and clothes to the needy and also provide financial aid to monasteries and schools where Buddhism is taught and practised.

Vesak in Sri Lanka[edit]

A Vesak pandal or thorana in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Vesak is celebrated as a religious and a cultural festival in Sri Lanka on the full moon of the lunar month of Vesak (usually in the Gregorian month of May), for about one week. During this week, the selling of alcohol and fresh meat is usually prohibited, with abattoirs also being closed.[13] Celebrations include religious and alms-giving activities. Electrically lit pandals called thoranas are erected in locations mainly in Colombo, Kandy, Galle and elsewhere, most sponsored by donors, religious societies and welfare groups. Each pandal illustrates a story from the 550 Jataka Katha or the 550 Past Life Stories of the Buddha. In addition, colourful lanterns called Vesak kuudu are hung along streets and in front of homes. They signify the light of the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha. Food stalls set up by Buddhist devotees called dansälas provide free food and drinks to passersby. Groups of people from community organisations, businesses and government departments sing bhakti gee (Buddhist devotional songs). Colombo experiences a massive influx of people from all parts of the country during this week.

In Vietnam[edit]

Vesak Day was recognized as an official holiday in South Vietnam, started in 1958 by the government of Ngo Dinh Diem, and was ceased by unified Vietnam after the end of Vietnam War.[14]

In 1963, the South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic, and the younger brother of Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc banned the flying of the Buddhist flag. This led to a demonstration and flag-waving in defiance of the ban. Diem's forces opened fire on the Buddhist crowd, killing nine, sparking the Buddhist crisis, a period of civil disobedience against religious discrimination.

Wesak In Malaysia[edit]

Celebrated by Buddhists to mark three momentous events in Buddha's life – his birth, enlightenment, and his departure from the human world, the Wesak celebration in Malaysia begins at dawn when devotees gather at Buddhist temples nationwide to meditate on the Eight Precepts. Donations - giving food to the needy and offerings of incense and joss sticks - and prayers are carried out. The sutras are chanted in unison by monks in saffron robes. The celebration is highlighted by a candle procession. Wesak Day in Malaysia is a national public holiday.

Waisak In Indonesia[edit]

Pilgrims following the Dharma wheel in Indonesia, 2011

This significant and traditional holy day is observed throughout Indonesia where it is known as Waisak Day. At Borobudur, thousands of Buddhist monks will join together to repeat mantras and meditate as they circuit the temple in a ritual called "Pradaksina". This is a form of tribute to the temple. Monks celebrate the special day by bottling holy water (which symbolises humility) and transporting flames (which symbolize light and enlightenment) from location to location. The monks also took part in the "Pindapata" ritual, where they received charity from the people of Indonesia.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:Message on Vesak Day". United Nations. 12 May 2014. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  2. ^ "Marathi Kalnirnay month of May 2014". Kalnirnay. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  3. ^ "Keputusan Bersama Menteri Agama, Menteri Tenaga Kerja dan Transmigrasi, dan Menteri Pendayagunaan Aparatur Negara dan Reformasi Birokrasi Republik Indonesia Nomor 5 tahun 2013, Nomor 335 tahun 2013, Nomor 05/SKB/MENPAN-RB/08/2013 tentang Hari Libur Nasional dan Cuti Bersama Tahun 2014". Kementerian Agama, Kementerian Tenaga Kerja dan Transmigrasi, dan Kementerian Pendayagunaan Aparatur Negara dan Reformasi Birokrasi Republik Indonesia. 21 August 2013. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  4. ^ Fowler, Jeaneane D. (1997). World Religions: it is celebrated to mark the birth, enlightenment and the passing away of the Lord Buddha. An Introduction for Students. Sussex Academic Press. ISBN 1-898723-48-6. 
  5. ^ The World Buddhist Directory
  6. ^ https://thebuddhistcentre.com/tags/buddha-day
  7. ^ "Visakha Puja". Accesstoinsight.org. Retrieved 20 March 2012. 
  8. ^ "Vesākha". The Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary. Retrieved 7 February 2012. 
  9. ^ "RESOLUTION ADOPTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY: 54/115. International recognition of the Day of Vesak at United Nations Headquarters and other United Nations offices". United Nations. Retrieved 6 February 2012. 
  10. ^ Camaron Kao (14 May 2012), "Thousands of believers mark Buddha's birthday", China Post 
  11. ^ Ko Shu-Ling (9 May 2011), "Sakyamuni Buddha birthday celebrated", Taipei Times, "The legislature approved a proposal in 1999 to designate the birthday of Sakyamuni Buddha — which falls on the eighth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar — a national holiday and to celebrate the special occasion concurrently with International Mother’s Day, which is celebrated on the second Sunday of May." 
  12. ^ "International VisakhaBuja Date Collection". เมื่อนานาประเทศ ต่างหันหลังให้ (วันวิสาขบูชา) ไทย. Retrieved 2 February 2012. 
  13. ^ Vesak Festival in Sri Lanka
  14. ^ Niên biểu lịch sử Phật giáo Việt Nam

External links[edit]