Vesak Day is on May 21, 2016.
Vesak Day is a major festival celebrated by all Buddhists throughout the world. Considered the most important of the Buddhist festivals, it is a time for celebrating the Buddha’s birthday. In some traditions, the day also marks his enlightenment and subsequent passing from the physical plane. For most, the celebration is held during the first full moon of May.
On Vesak day, Buddhist temples are decorated with flowers and flags. Ceremonial rituals begin before dawn and last long into the night. In the evening, candlelit processions line the streets. The aim of this holiday is to honor Lord Guatama Buddha by practicing his teachings of love and peace.
During this time, adherents perform “noble deeds”, making charitable donations or helping those in need. It is important during this festival to focus on bringing happiness to others, and this joy is believed to be brought by performing charitable works.
In several cultures, a ceremony called “Bathing the Buddha” is also performed. Water is poured over the shoulders of the Buddha statue as a reminder of purification from evil thoughts of greed and ignorance. Gifts are often laid on the altar as offerings of gratitude and humility.
Homes are decorated, and gifts of food, candles and flowers are given to the Monks at local temples. Chanting, meditation and prayer are one of the most important elements of the Wesak observation. Most temples offer prayer services and teachings of the Buddha throughout the festival.
Different countries add their own unique cultural elements to the ceremony for Vesak Day. In China, for example, dancing dragons are a part of the celebration. In some countries, caged birds are released to symbolize the release of struggles and opening up to more joy. In Thailand, lanterns are made from paper and wood.
This festival offers the opportunity to share joy with others, while also engaging in personal, spiritual reflection. It embodies reverence for Buddha, gratitude for life, but also serves as a reminder to honor and respect the process of enlightenment and spiritual growth that occur throughout one’s own lifetime.
Birth and rebirth are common themes in many faiths around the world. It symbolizes a coming of age and sense of deeper meaning and responsibility. It offers the opportunity to seek growth consciously and to look for new opportunities with an open mind and heart.
Use this time to honor and celebrate your own life on Buddha’s birthday. Take time to reflect on the enlightenment you have attained on your own journey thus far. What lessons can you use going forward to create a better life for yourself and for those around you?