Wesak Day (Vesak), honoring the three significant events of the Buddha’s life — his birth, his Enlightenment and his Paranirvana (passing away) — is celebrated today in most countries, depending on the Lunar Calendar (Western calendar May 10 in 2017). On the full moon of May, Buddhists around the world celebrate Wesak (or Vesak) with simple, and sometimes, elaborate ceremonies. Today, Buddha’s Birthday, is a day to bring happiness to others.
“Today people are remembering the ideals of Gautama Buddha and his noble thoughts will continue to guide generations,” Indian Prime Minister Modi wrote on Twitter.
Vesak Day celebrations in Borobudur Temple Indonesia for 2017.
“Buddha Day” is a day for peace and kind acts. Elaborate ceremonies aside, the important celebration is in one’s own heart. Buddhist focus on celebrating Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, remembering the kindness of others, putting aside negative thoughts and remembering compassion for all sentient beings. Today, is the day to exemplify, in our own lives, Buddha’s teachings.
It is said that good acts — and also negative acts — are multiplied karmicly on this important day of peace, generosity, kindess and compassion. It’s not a good day to have an argument at home, to criticize people on Facebook, or to get furious with the boss at work. It is the perfect day for charitable giving, celebrations, helping others, performing dana for monks and lamas, and attending pujas and ceremonies at temples.
In Malaysia, streets will be busy with parades, rituals, flower and candle ceremonies, and the bathing of the Buddha (statues).
In many countries— notably in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore and Thailand — it is usually a public holiday. In most temples and homes, Buddhists offer incense, flowers and candles — together with important offerings of vegetarian meals to the impoverished.
Bathing the Buddha is an important Wesak Day tradition, reminding us to purify our own karma.
A Day to Celebrate
The celebrations remind us of the Buddha’s teachings. Bathing of the Buddha, a tradition on Wesak, reminds us to purify ourselves of negativities such as greed, attachment, impure thoughts, and to practice morality and loving kindness.
In India, the government formally honours the 2017 Vesak day: “The messages preached by Tathagatha, of compassion, non-violence and equality serve as beacon-lights for humanity in its path towards spiritual emancipation,” President Mukherjeeof India said. “Lord Buddha’s profound teachings of equality, love, kindness and tolerance are of increasing relevance in the present times.”
Buddhists around the world by the millions today will light incense and candles, or cut flowers, to remind us that life is impermanent and our refuge is the Three Jewels.
Celebrating at Home
Typically, Buddhists of most traditions, will begin Wesak (Vesak) Day as early as possible with offerings for the Buddha, Dharma Sangha (Three Jewels). It would be unheard of to eat or drink until after these offerings. They are often as simple as a praise,
“Namo Buddhaya, Namo Dharmaya, Namo Sanghaya”
Which translates as, “Praise to the Buddha, Praise to the Dharma, Praise to the Sangha.” Usually three incense sticks (one for each of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) would be offered at home in front of a Buddha statue or Dharma text (or shrine if the home has one).
Temple statue of Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha, with offerings and decorations for celebrating Wesak, the Buddha’s Birthday.
Often, a vegetarian fest might be offered as a symbolic giving. (Meat would be inappropriate for the Buddha.) The food can be taken outside for nature to consume (birds and animals) after the offering. Other perfect acts of giving include:
- reciting Sutras for the benefit of all beings
- as many prostrations as possible to the Three Jewels
- as many mantras as possible, especially Shakyamuni Buddha’s mantra:
Shakyamuni Buddha’s mantra.
Om Muni Muni Maha Muni Ye Svaha
Om Muni Muni Maha Muni Shakyamuni Ye Svaha (video below)
Other acts to consider on Vesak day:
- performing sadhanas, if authorized by a teacher, or attending a temple for pujas
- charitable giving
- giving food and dana to monks and lamas
- wishing friends Happy Wesak Day and good fortune (either in person, or, for the online social crowd, on social media.)
Respectful full-prostration bows are a traditional act of reverence. On Wesak Day, it is helpful to do as many as possible. It is considered a purifying act, a remedy for human pride.
More elaborate home celebrations might include a large vegetarian breakfast with family (after the offerings), and celebrations. In Buddhist majority countries, today will likely be a holiday, perfect for longer celebrations. In traditional homes, the Buddha Statue might be bathed.
We wish all people everywhere happiness, peace, and prosperity.
Other Names for “Buddha Day”
• Assamese: বুদ্ধ পূর্ণিমা Buddho Purnima
• Bengali: বুদ্ধ পূর্ণিমা Buddho Purnima, বুদ্ধ জয়ন্তী Buddho Joyonti, ভেসাক Bhesak
• Dzongkha: སྟོན་པའི་དུས་ཆེན་༥ འཛོམས་ Dhüchen Nga Zom
• Burmese: ကဆုန်လပြည့် ဗုဒ္ဓနေ့ “Full Moon Day of Kason”
• Chinese: 佛陀誕辰紀念日; pinyin: Fótuó dànchén jìniàn rì, 佛誕 (Fódàn, Birthday of the Buddha), 浴佛節 (Yùfójié, Occasion of Bathing the Buddha), 衛塞節 (Wèisāi jié)
• Hindi: बुद्ध पूर्णिमा Buddha Pūrṇimā, बुद्ध जयन्ती Buddha Jayantī, वैशाख पूर्णिमा Vaisākh Pūrṇimā
• Indonesian: Hari Raya Waisak
• Japanese: 花祭 Hanamatsuri (Day of Flowers)
• Khmer: វិសាខបូជា Visak Bochea
• Kannada: ಬುದ್ಧ ಪೌರ್ಣಮಿ Buddha Pournami
• Hangul: 석가 탄신일; Hanja: 釋迦誕辰日; RR: Seokka Tanshin-il (Birthday of the Shakyamuni Buddha)
• Lao: ວິສາຂະບູຊາ Vixakha Bouxa
• Malay: Hari Wesak (هاري ويسق)
• Mongolian: Бурхан Багшийн Их Дүйцэн Өдөр (Lord Buddha’s Great Festival Day)
• Newar: स्वांया पुन्हि Swānyā Punhi
• Nepali: बुद्ध पुर्णिमा Buddha Purnima, बुद्ध जयन्ति Buddha Jayanti
• Sinhalese: වෙසක් Vesak
• Tamil: விசாக தினம் Vicāka Tiṉam
• Telugu: బుద్ధ పౌర్ణమి Buddha Pournami or alternatively Telugu: వైశాఖ పౌర్ణమి Vaisakha Pournami
• Thai: วิสาขบูชา Wisakha Bucha
• Tibetan: ས་ག་ཟླ་བ།, THL: Sa Ga Dawa
• Vietnamese: Phật Đản (Birthday of the Buddha)