Friday May 24, 2013 is a very special day for those of the Buddhist faith. Whether you are a Buddhist, or like me and just identify and believe in the loving compassion teachings of the Buddha, this is a day to acknowledge and celebrate. Buddha Day, also known as Vesak, Vesakha or Wesak, is a celebration that encompasses the birth of the Buddha, his enlightenment Nirvana and his passing away, all on the same day. This day falls on the full moon of the 5th month of the lunar calendar, varying dates each year. This year it falls on May 24th. Most Buddhist celebrations occur during the full moon. This day is one of the most important observances and celebrations for Buddhists across the world. Vesak offers Buddhists an opportunity to reflect on the life and teachings of the Buddha and also highlights the potential for inner peace and happiness that lies within us all as well as a day for Buddhists to reaffirm their commitment to living a moral and compassionate lifestyle. As Eric reminds me, it is not how he died but it is a day to reflect on how he lived and the magnitude of his teachings, and that is the reason we celebrate.
“The significance of Vesak lies with the Buddha and his universal peace message to mankind.”
Most Buddhist countries declare this day a Buddhist Holiday and a day to remember the significant events in Buddha’s life. Many Buddhists acknowledge this event by visiting the Vihara, or Buddhist Monistary. This could also simply mean a secluded place in which to walk, reflect and meditate if there is no Monistary close to visit. During this visit to the Vihara, Buddhists would be dressed in white and bring flowers and incense or candles to pay respect to the Buddha. These symbolic offerings are to be a reminder that just as the beautiful flowers wither and die and the candles soon burn out, so too is life subject to decay and destruction. Many devout Buddhists would spend the day in the Vihara, from morning to night, taking a retreat from their daily schedule, meditating, chanting and participating in Dharma Talk or teachings of the Buddha. In many Buddhist countries selling and consuming of meat and alcohol is prohibited during the week of Vesak and the government will even closes down all liquor shops and slaughter houses. Birds, insects and animals are released by the thousands in a symbolic act of liberation, giving freedom to those in captivity and tortured against their will. This is considered an act of generosity, symbolic of generating good karma. The act also symbolizes the Buddha’s compassion for all things. While many sects of Buddhism typically calls for a vegetarian diet, there are also other sects which do not require this. During this time Buddhists who are not vegetarian refrain from eating meat. Buddhists make a special effort to refrain from killing of any kind and are encouraged to eat only vegetarian food for the day.
To celebrate this day and the life and teachings of the Great Buddha, it is not necessary to go to a temple and participate in rituals if you can’t, don’t have access or would rather not. Many would prefer a day or even a moment of solitary reflection. It is not about the specifics in how one celebrates this day or the rituals performed, it is the simple act of recognizing and expressing gratitude to the Buddha for the teachings he has given. It is really all about personal preference and what is best for you as an individual. Maybe some would prefer a simple ceremony in front of a small shrine at home, or maybe a brief reflection on the qualities and teachings of the Buddha along with meditation.
I have always admired and appreciated the teachings of Buddhism. However, it wasn’t until I met Eric that I personally started to participate in any rituals or celebrations. Prior to knowing him, I would only partake in my only my solitary teachings/readings and meditations and a occasional visit to Kalpa Bhadra Kadampa Buddhist Center in Wichita, KS where I first met my Buddhist Nun Kelsang Namdrol. Imagine my delight when I met Eric and found out he is Buddhist. I was able to introduce him to the Buddhist center I loved so much and it turned into an experience we could share together, rather than something I did in solitary on my own. Eric and I begun to discuss some of our Buddhist ideals and rituals and he taught me about the different days of celebrations as well as sharing his own personal rituals and ways to celebrate and give respect to the teachings with me. He is the one who taught me about Buddha Day and all other Buddhist holidays and from there i researched to find out more.
For Eric, he will acknowledge and pay respect to this tradition and lifestyle by refraining from eating meat for the whole month of the holiday, taking it a step further than just abstaining for the day before, the day of and the day after. On Buddha Day, we will have a special meditation in front of our shrine and read some of Buddha’s teachings together from our book. However, with our hectic schedules we will not actually have our traditional ritualistic celebration until Sunday. This is carried over from Eric’s rituals prior to knowing me. I am honored to have him share these rituals with me and let me be a part of it so we can celebrate together. We will have our Buddha Day feast consisting of Sushi (vegetarian sushi for me) and miso soup and green tea. Then we will have our ceremony of reading from our Buddhism books together and meditating in front of our shrine. I am so thankful, grateful and appreciative that Eric has shared his religion, tradition and rituals with me and we have incorporated this as part of our lifestyle together.
Even if you are not Buddhist or have never studied any of Buddha’s teachings, everyone can learn a lot from the Great and Wise Buddha. In today’s society we are killing each other, we are killing our planet in which we live. In my opinion, there is a huge lack of compassion and consideration in everyday human life. What can we learn from Buddha? That non-violent living is the way to go. That we need more peace, love and compassion to create the positive energy our society is lacking, and to help promote good Karma throughout our lives. We need to expel hatred, greed and stupidity from our lifestyles.
“He who lives only for pleasures, and whose soul is not in harmony, who considers not the food he eats, is idle, and has not the power of virtue — such a man is moved by mara (evil one), is moved by selfish temptations, even as a weak tree is shaken by the wind.” Buddha