Wesak Day

Wesak Day is a holiday to celebrate the birth of Buddha, his enlightenment, and his eventual death. It is celebrated on the Sunday that is closest to the full moon of May. It is one of the most important festivals that Buddhists celebrate and is known by a variety of different names in different countries. For instance, in Indonesia, it’s known as Waisak; In Japan, it’s known as Vesākha; In Korea, it’s known as “The Birthday of Buddha” and everywhere else it’s known as Vesak.

History of Wesak Day

Buddhism began about 500 B.C and was started by Siddhartha Gautama – a member of a wealthy family which lived in Nepal. Before he started Buddhism, he lived an extravagant life and was very privileged. However, that all came to an end when he realized that everyone eventually gets old, sick and dies. This is when he set his life of luxury aside and decided to wander his country looking for the meaning of life.  He studied yoga extensively and thought that perhaps fasting was his path to enlightenment. That didn’t help him achieve enlightenment, though. What helped him achieve it was the idea that neither self-indulgence of fasting would help him on his path. Eventually, he attained the enlightenment he sought and became known as Buddha – the enlightened one.

Wesak Customs & Traditions

Wesak begins when the Buddhists gather in their temples at the break of dawn. While they are at the temple, they meditate on all of the precepts that make up the religion of Buddhism; precepts which include embracing celibacy, speaking wisely, honoring life and showing generosity to their fellow citizens. During this time, they are encouraged to also eat only at prescribed hours and to abstain from alcoholic beverages of any kind. Participants are also told not to listen to music, not to sleep too much and to avoid adorning one’s body during this time.

During the next 3 days, participants will attend religious services, pray and make donations. They also may make offerings of candles and flowers – gifts which show everyone that life is fleeting. After all, candles eventually melt down or burn out and flowers wilt and die. During the festivals that are held on this day, people hang and give away flags of Buddha. Another tradition that is practiced during these festivals is the symbolic washing of the statue of Buddha. It is believed that this ritual washing will cleanse their souls and purify their spirits. The end of the festivities usually begins with a parade that consists of many flower decorated floats and statues of Buddha. People often walk alongside these processions carrying lotus flowers and candles.

In other parts of the world, this holiday is often celebrated in other ways. However, while the celebration of this holiday differs from region to region, some of the same precepts are emphasized in all of them. These precepts include bringing happiness to other people, the ceremonial washing of a Buddha statue, paying homage to Buddha and giving to the poor or underprivileged.