Guest Author - Jeanette Stingley
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, this is the day to celebrate the birth and life of Buddha. It is celebrated on the full moon of May. We celebrate his birth and on this day when he was 35 years old he came to enlightenment then 45 years after this he passed away. To celebrate this day, Buddhist give thanks and show gratitude for Buddha for his teachings and his goodness.
There are many different ways that Buddhist mark this day. Buddhist sacrifice the day by showing generosity, doing extensive study, spending time in the Triple Gem. Buddhist may also fast on this day or only eat one or two meals. Simple dress, no jewelry, cologne, etc. are also done. We are also encouraged to refrain from killing of any kind especially on this day. Nearly all Buddhist will partake of vegetarian meals on this day. In Sri Lanka, the government has the liquor shops and slaughter houses closed by law for 2 days.
Amisa-puja (material homage) can be displayed by offering flowers, burning candles and incense. The placing of flowers, candles and incense remind us that just like as the flower wilts and the candle and incense eventually burn out and die, so does all life susceptible to decay and destruction. Patipatti-puja (practice homage) is done through spending most of your day in meditation and contemplating the teachings of Buddha. The Buddha spent many years in a state of meditation, sacrificing one day of our life like him will bring us closer to him and closer to enlightenment.
Another way to mark this Holy Day is by making people happy. This can be done by serving food to the hungry, visit a nursing home and spending time reading to the residents, help clean and decorate the temple, clean up neighborhood parks, etc.
Buddha was also very specific about how we are to pay homage to him. On his death bed, one of his students was crying because he was sad that Buddha was on his path to passing away. Buddha taught that day not to weep and be mournful of a passing on. This day everyone was to regard Buddha as their teacher from that day forward not only should they pay homage to him through candles, incense, flowers, and acts of generosity to make others around you happy but to also declare again that they will strive to the best of their ability to follow his teachings, to stable their minds, and to strive to bring peace and harmony into the world around them.