Victorian United Nations Day of Vesak

Commemorating the Lord Buddha's Birth, Enlightenment and Passing

About Vesak

Sometimes informally called "Buddha's birthday", Vesak Day is regarded by all Buddhist traditions as the anniversary of the birth of the Buddha. Some traditions regard it as a time to also commemorate the enlightment and passing of the Buddha.

The exact date each year varies according to the lunar calendars used in different traditions.

Buddhists observe the occasion in a range of ways - meditation and prayer, observing precepts (no killing, no stealing, no lying, no sexual misconduct, no intoxicants, etc.), fasting, partaking of vegetarian food, giving to charity, and "bathing" of the baby Buddha ceremonies.

Celebrating Vesak also means making special efforts to bring happiness to the unfortunate like the aged, the handicapped and the sick.

While this day has been celebrated for many centuries in Asian cultures, it was only in 1950 that it was formally recognized at the first Conference of the World Fellowships of Buddhists held in Sri Lanka.

The Life of the Buddha

Siddhartha Guatama, the founder of Buddhism, was born in the city of Lumbini around the year 485 BCE.

 

Moments after birth, according to the scriptures, he performed the first of several miracles, taking a few steps and proclaiming, "Supreme am I in the world. Greatest am I in the world. Noblest am I in the world. This is my last birth. Never shall I be reborn."

Shortly after, a wise man visited his father, King ?uddhodana. The wise man said that Siddhartha would either become a great king (chakravartin) or a holy man (sadhu) based on whether he saw life outside of the palace walls.

Determined to make Siddhartha a king, ?uddhodana shielded his son from the unpleasant realities of daily life. Years after this, Gautama married Yasodhara, with whom he had a son, Rahula, who later became a Buddhist monk.

At the age of 29, Siddhartha ventured outside the palace complex several times, despite his father's wishes. As a result, he discovered the suffering of his people through encounters with an old man, a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. These are known among Buddhists as "The Four Sights", one of the first contemplations of Siddhartha.

The Four Sights eventually prompted Gautama to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest to free himself from suffering by living the life of a mendicant ascetic?a respectable spiritual practice at the time. He found companions with similar spiritual goals and teachers who taught him various forms of meditation, including jh?na.

One day, after almost starving to death, Gautama accepted a little milk and rice from a village girl named Sujata. After this experience, he concluded that ascetic practices such as fasting, holding one's breath, and exposure to pain brought little spiritual benefit. He abandoned asceticism, concentrating instead on meditation, thereby discovering what Buddhists call the Middle Way, a path of moderation between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.

After discovering the Middle Way, he sat under a sacred fig tree, also known as the Bodhi tree, in the town of Bodh Gaya, India, and vowed not to rise before achieving Nirvana.

At age 35, after many days of meditation, he attained his goal of becoming a Buddha. After his spiritual awakening he attracted a band of followers and instituted a monastic order.

Shakyamuni Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching the Dharma, travelling throughout the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent. He died at the age of 80 in Kushinagar, India.

Upcoming Events

7 May 2016 - UN Vesak celebrations

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