Vesak celebrations are coming up! Let’s find out what it’s all about.
Vesak is one of the most important Buddhist festivals held around the world. It’s a celebration of the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. Other names for Vesak are Wesak or Buddha Day.
Who was the Buddha?
Well, first let's talk about who the Buddha is not. Westerners and people who aren’t familiar with the Buddhist religion, often think of the happy, chubby robed figure. He wasn’t the Buddha.
He’s called the “Laughing Buddha.” Budai (or Hotei in Japanese) is a figure that is associated with Buddhism.
The Happy Buddha story came from a monk named Ch’i-t’zu. Folktales grew around him in the 10th century and he became legendary. He is recognized as the protector of children and the weak or sick. Budai is also a symbol of prosperity and abundance.
So Who Was The Real Buddha?
The original Buddha was a man named Siddhartha Gautama, believed to have been born somewhere between 567 BC and 310 BC. No one really knows for certain what year he was born as records aren’t very clear.
The story tells that Siddhartha Gautama was a prince in what is now Lumbini, Nepal. From his birth, his parents kept him rather isolated. They wanted to protect him from seeing things like suffering, and illness, and death, thinking that would keep him very happy.
About the time Siddhartha turned 29, he and one of his servants went for a carriage ride through the town. For the first time, he saw a person who was very ill. He didn’t understand it and asked his servant what was wrong with the person.
His servant explained that people did get sick.
The next day, they went out again. This time Siddhartha saw someone who was very old. Again, because his parents had sheltered him from the happenings in the world, he didn’t understand it.
His servant explained that people did get old. It was a part of life.
The next day, on another carriage ride, the young man saw a body prepared for burial.
His servant, once again, provided an explanation. It was true, that’s what happened at the end of one’s life.
From Prince to Buddha
Siddhartha was very upset by all that he had learned. He came to the conclusion that living as a prince, in wealth and luxury, didn’t mean he’d be happy forever. He wanted to understand more. So, he left home and went to learn about life from the world beyond what he had known.
He wandered through towns and villages. He fasted-went without food-for days. He learned how to meditate to calm his mind.
After six years of his searching, he sat down under a bodhi, or fig, tree to meditate. Soon, the answers he was looking for came to him. He understood the meaning of life.
Here is a picture of the Bo Tree in Bodh Gaya, India, which is a descendant of what is said to be the very tree where Siddhartha sat to meditate.
He got up from his meditation and began sharing this with everyone he could. People heard his teaching and began to refer to him as Buddha, which means “one who is awake.” In Buddhism, it’s called enlightenment.
In Buddhist cultures all over the world, Vesak is celebrated in honor of Siddhartha Gautama and his teachings.
The celebrations begin on the day of the first full moon in the fourth month of the lunar calendar.
People take part in chanting, prayer, and meditations at Buddhist temples. They practice doing good deeds for others. They also enjoy vegetarian meals in the company of friends and family.
Parades take place in many countries, like Sri Lanka, China, and Japan.
Lotus blossoms are a part of the celebrations, as well. In Buddhism, the lotus blossom is a symbol. It grows in muddy water, which is said to represent people going through life, and then the bloom opens above the water. That represents coming through the muck and reaching enlightenment.
The beautiful flowers adorn homes and buildings. Lotus lanterns are hung or set out to float on lakes and rivers. They are brought to the temples and hung from trees.
Another part of Vesak is the tradition of Bathing the Buddha. Fragrant and blessed water, or a tea called ama-cha made from a type of hydrangea bush, is poured over the shoulders of a small reclining Buddha statue.
It’s a symbolic ritual for people to remember things that Buddha taught.
Getting rid of bad thoughts, doing good deeds for others, and helping to save all living things.
You can enjoy your own vegetarian meal on Vesak with our eat2explore vegetarian boxes!