Vesak (Sinhalese) is the most holy time in the Buddhist calender. In Indian Mahayana Buddhist traditions, the holiday is known by its Sanskrit equivalent, Vaisakha. The word Vesak itself is theSinhalese language word for the Pali variation, “Visakha”. Vaishākha is the name of the second month of the lunar Hindu calendar. Vesak is also known as Visakah Puja, Buddha Purnima or Buddha Jayanti in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, Visakha Bucha in Thailand, Phat Dan in Vietnam, Waisak in Indonesia, Vesak (Wesak) in Sri Lanka and Malaysia, and Saga Dawa in Tibet. The equivalent festival in Laos is called Vixakha Bouxa and in Myanmar is called Ka-sone-la-pyae meaning Fullmoon Day of Kasone which is also the second month of the Myanmar Calender. Vesak is a public holiday in many Asian countries like Sri lanka, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapor, Vietnam, and so on.
The exact date of Vesak, informally “Buddha Birthday”,” is in the fourth month in the Chinese lunar calendar (typically May), coinciding with the first full moon of that month. The date varies from year to year in the Western Gregorian calendar and actually encompasses the birth, enlightenment Nirvana, and passing (Parinnivana) of Gautama Buddha.
M/S issued by Sri Lanka during 1981
The decision to agree to celebrate Vesak as the Buddha’s birthday was formalized at the first Conference of the World Fellowship Of Buddhists (W.F.B.) 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, “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 Vesak Day, Buddhists all over the world commemorate events of significance to Buddhists of all traditions: The birth, enlightenment and the passing away of Gautam Buddha. As Buddhism spread from India it was assimilated into many foreign cultures, and consequently Vesak is celebrated in many different ways all over the world.
M/S issued during1994
The celebration of Vesak
On Vesak 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 Vesak 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 to liberation’; of giving freedom to those who are in captivity, imprisoned, or tortured against their will. Some devout Buddhists will wear a simple white dress and spend the whole day in temples with renewed determination to observe the observance of the Eight Precepts.
Devout Buddhists undertake to lead a noble life according to the teaching by making daily affirmations to observe the eight Precepts. However, on special days, notably new moon and full moon days, they observe additional disciplines to train themselves to practice morality, simplicity andhumility.
The Eight Precepts are:
- Not to kill
- Not to steal
- Not to engage in improper sexual activity
- Not to indulge in wrong speech
- Not to take intoxicating drinks and drugs
- To abstain from taking food at unreasonable times
- To refrain from sensual pleasures such as dancing, singing and self-adornment
- To refrain from using high and luxurious seats in order to practice humility.
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 had taught.
M/s issued in 1998
Bringing happiness to others
Celebrating Vesak 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. Vesak 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 devotees who visit the temple to pay homage to the Blessed One.
M/S issued in 1999
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 thinga (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.
Contributed By:-Mathew Kochummen