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Vesak or Saga Dawa - Celebrating the Buddha
Vesak is a Buddhist holiday celebrated on the first full moon day in the fourth lunar month of the year within many Buddhist countries, which falls on May 27th in 2010. It goes by different names in different countries - Visakah Puja (India), Phat Dan (Vietnam), and Saga Dawa (Tibet), just to name a few. It is the largest celebration of the year within most Buddhist cultures, incorporating a celebration of the Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and death. Some Buddhist cultures celebrate Vesak earlier in the spring, or have a separate holiday for the Buddha's birth in April or early May (see the Buddhist holidays article for more information on that).
Vesak is celebrated differently in each culture and branch of Buddhism, but the emphasis is always on the life and lessons of the Buddha himself. A common practice is for Buddhist practitioners - both lay and monastic - to gather in the early morning of Vesak and honor the three refuges or jewels of the Buddha, dharma, and sangha through songs and scripture. Monks, lamas, or priests will usually give dharma talks on the Buddha's life and teachings.
In some traditions, Buddhists will renew their commitment to the five precepts of Buddhism - to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and intoxication. A review of the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha's first teaching, is also common. At temples and monasteries, opportunities to make offerings to a Buddha statue or image are made available, and in some countries offerings to the poor and other needy causes are common as well, as a way of honoring the Buddha's message of compassion.
In some countries such as Sri Lanka, Vesak is part of a week-long celebration, during which the consumption of alcohol and meat is prohibited, and various rituals and festivals are held each day. In Tibetan culture, Saga Dawan festivals are also quite elaborate, with celebrations throughout the month. Prayers issued during this time are believed to have a special significance.
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