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The Significance of Vesak Day

by Michael Teh

Vesak, also known as Buddha Jayanti, Buddha Purnima and Buddha Day, is the day when Buddhists and some Hindus commemorate the birth, enlightenment, and death of Siddharta Gautama, who is more commonly known as Buddha. Read on as I share further the origins and practices of this sacred day.

“And after spending many days eliminating the mind’s most subtle obstacles, Siddharta finally reached enlightenment during the full moon in the month of May – a week before his 35th birthday. Through enlightenment, he came to realize that living beings suffer because they lack to understand that they share one common ground with all beings”

Vesak, also known as Buddha Jayanti, Buddha Purnima and Buddha Day, is a sacred festival and one of the most important days for Buddhists and some Hindus as they come to commemorate the birth, enlightenment, and death of Siddharta Gautama, who is more commonly known as Buddha, and the founder of Buddhism.

Buddha was born as Prince Siddharta Gautama about 2,600 years ago in Lumbini, Nepal – which is situated near the border of India and is to believe as the incarnation of Lord Vishnu and was predicted that he would either become a great king or a spiritual leader. However, his parents wanted him to be a great king and averted him from seeing the sufferings of the commoners.

That said, he was surrounded by all kinds of pleasure, which include being surrounded by 500 beautiful and attractive ladies, given countless opportunities – where he won his wife, Yasodhara through an archery contest.

However, all of that came to a change when Siddharta was 29-years-old, he had witnessed suffering for the very first time during an outing from his luxurious palace. He saw an extremely sick person, a decrepit old man and a dead person and was upset to realize that he was unable to help them. He soon realized that every human would go through sickness, old age and death – which is unavoidable.

Through his realization, he met with a meditator and to learn that the perfection that he has been long searching in the material world can be found within the mind itself. So, he left his palace in secret alone and venture into the wilderness.

For six years, he learned and mastered meditation from talented teachers but he then realized that they showed him the mind’s potential but not the mind itself.

And with that, he was determined to remain meditating at a place called Bodhgaya, beneath a Bodhi tree, until he had come to realize the mind’s true nature.

And after spending many days eliminating the mind’s most subtle obstacles, Siddharta finally reached enlightenment during the full moon in the month of May – a week before his 35th birthday. Through enlightenment, he came to realize that living beings suffer because they lack to understand that they share one common ground with all beings.

Ignorance gives rise to a multitude of sorrows, confusions, and troubles meanwhile, greed, anger, arrogance, doubt, jealousy and fear all have their roots in ignorance.

That said, ignorance imprisoned us and the means to overcome ignorance are the Noble Eightfold Path.

On this very sacred day, Siddharta Gautama became Buddha, the Awakened One! And after attaining enlightenment, he did not stop there as he travelled on foot throughout North India and preached to all walks of life for 45 years.

However, at the age of eighty – in the month of May, Buddha left his body where his last words were “I can die happily. I have not kept a single teaching hidden in a closed hand. Everything that is useful to you, I have already given. Be your own guiding light.”

After his passing, Buddha’s teaching was then adopted as a religion – Buddhism – a guide for living beings to attain enlightenment and nirvana (being released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth).

Hence, in celebration of this sacred day, Vesak, it is the time for Buddhists to re-dedicate their commitments to Buddha’s teachings and practices. It is also to observe the important events of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death during the first full month in the month of May.

This year, we will be celebrating Vesak on May 26. It is the day where Buddhists from Malaysia as well as all over the world to visit the temples and participate in the many activities that will take place such as meditation, chanting and washing the Buddha statutes. There are some temples that will serve vegetarian meals. In addition, it is a custom on Vesak to light up lanterns which represent the light of Buddha’s teachings.

To conclude, Vesak day is a day where it reminds us not to be ignorant of our Buddha nature that is within each and every one of us. It is to remind us that there is a way out of sufferings. So long we are not ignorant, and are determined to purify our mind through our thoughts, speech, actions and emotions, we would come to realize Who We Truly Are. Meditation is a tool that can aid us in developing mindfulness and concentration. Through mindfulness, we develop wisdom and knowing that would guide us to live a life of higher potentials. Besides, self-realization is crucial in the evolution of Humanity, leading one to understand and live a life of purpose, fulfilment, contentment and joy. Knowing and realizing Who We Truly Are set the foundation towards actualizing our fullest potential in this lifetime.

This article is to be credited to Astro Ulugam, The Star and BBC.

Michael Teh, 26th May 2021.