As the most popular celebration in the Buddhist calendar gets underway, Richard Jones from London Buddhist Vihara, explains the significance of Buddha Day and how it will be commemorated in the capital.
Vesak, also known as Buddha Day, is a festival observed traditionally by Buddhists of the Theravada tradition to commemorate the birth in Lumbini, the enlightenment in Buddha Gaya and the death in Kusinara of Gautama Buddha who lived approximately 2,500 years ago.
All these events occurred on the full moon day of the lunar month of Vesak. This usually falls in the month of May in the Gregorian calendar.
The Buddha’s birth is, naturally very important; without his coming into existence, the world would never have been able to hear of his teachings.
His Enlightenment marked the attainment of the goal he had been seeking for so long and with so much difficulty.
On the night of his Enlightenment the Buddha gained profound knowledge and insight into the true nature of existence, thereby achieving the complete eradication of dukkha (suffering) and the cessation of cyclic existence.
As a consequence of this attainment, he was able to formulate a body of teaching from which countless numbers of people have benefited – both at that time and during the 25 centuries which have elapsed since then.
Although his death was a profoundly sad event, we understand that this is the inevitable result of birth and we give thanks for the life which he lived and from which the world has gained so much.
Vesak is a time for joyful celebration and gratitude for the message which the Buddha taught. It is the most popular event in the Buddhist calendar.
In 1999, the United Nations resolved to observe the day of Vesak internationally at its headquarters and offices. Many devotees wear white clothing and come to the Vihara to participate in traditional ceremonies.
Many of them spend the whole day in the temple and reaffirm their determination to follow the teachings of Buddha.
At the London Buddhist Vihara, the celebration is always held on a Sunday, starting at 9.00am with the traditional raising of the Buddhist flag, lighting of oil lamps and administration of eight precepts.
Then follows a full day of talks and other activities.