13 May 2014 – On this sacred day for Buddhists, just over two millennia ago, Buddha was born. It was also on this day that he attained enlightenment, and on this day in his eighteenth year that Buddha passed away. His message of peace, compassion and love for all beings has attracted followers from around the world and resonates in today’s religious and cultural milieus alike.
The Day of “Vesak”, or the Day of the full moon, in the month of May is sacred to all who follow the teachings of Buddha. The dates of the celebration of Vesak, and Buddha’s place in this date, are calculated using the Asian lunisolar calendar. The celebration is always marked at the full moon though the dates (April or May) can shift, especially if there is a leap year (June).
The celebration of Vesak in Buddhist tradition is began by the faithful gathering before dawn at various temples to hoist the Buddhist flag and sing hymns in praise of the “triple gem”. The triple gem is: Buddha, his teachings and his disciples. On this day the devout eat only vegetarian foods and killing of any kind is prohibited. The manner of celebration depends on the country. While in Japan there is no official holiday, in Sri Lanka it is an official weeklong religious and cultural celebration. In all the different regions around Asia, celebrations are carried out in honour of Buddha.
One of the oldest religions of the world, Buddhism has attracted hundreds of millions of followers and can be found anywhere in the world, though its most prevalent in Asia. Yet, beyond the realm of the religious devout, the teachings of Buddha have permeated even western culture. His teachings of karma and rebirth have captured imaginations and led to the word and concept of karma being adopted, even outside of Buddhist ideology. Other concepts of Buddhism adopted into other cultures are meditation and yoga as a way to balance the mind and body.
The contribution Buddhism has made to spirituality in the world, and continues to make everyday, is commemorated by the UN on this day. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in his statement today said of Buddha’s teachings, “They can inspire our efforts to address many of the broader challenges confronting our world -- in peace and security, in development and in the protection of our environment. In each of these areas, we have to rise above narrow self-interest, and think and act as members of one global community.”
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