Although May/ late spring celebrations in Buddhism go back centuries, it was only in 1950 that the Buddhist world agreed to celebrate Vesākha Puja together, on the full moon day in the month of May. In other words, May 25th this year.
In other Buddhist communities, the holiday celebrating the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha is known as Vesak, Visak, Wesak, and even Waisak. And if there are two full moons in May — as there were in 2007 — some countries will celebrate on the first full moon day, and others will choose to celebrate the 2nd full moon day.
I love this. It is absolutely Buddhist to me. I can’t imagine any other religion being so … liberal in its celebratory rites. Christian denominations have SPLIT over whether Easter is this Sunday or that Sunday… Given how the calendar has changed? A lunar calendar, geared to the seasons, is probably the most accurate metric we have. And the freedom to decide it according to local tradition? How wonderful!
Besides: what does it matter when we celebrate the important events of our faiths & traditions? As long as we do.
Buddhists celebrate Vesākha Puja in several ways, as the license to choose which full moon might suggest. If you’d like to prepare, here are some suggestions: Buddhist followers take flowers and offerings to the temples they attend, giving them to the teachers there, or to the temple. The thought is that as the flowers & offerings wither & die, so will life. The basis of Buddhism… Everything passes.
It’s a primarily vegetarian holiday — killing of even food is discouraged. Animals, insects, & birds often are set free, a symbolic ‘setting free’ of all those in captivity or imprisoned. I like to think, too, that it’s like the freeing of caged finches I saw as a child in Thailand: symbolic of the way following the path of Buddhism sets us free from the cycle of samsara, the cycle of birth, death, sorrow, and rebirth (for those Buddhists who believe in reincarnation; not all do).
It’s also a holiday of remembering the less fortunate through alms, as well as celebrating the teachings of Buddha. So tomorrow, make an online donation. Or do your own boxing day, cleaning out closets to donate. Spend a bit of time being grateful for your precious human life. And remember: everything passes ~