What is Vesak

Vesak (Sinhalese), Vesākha (Pāli), Vaisākha (Sanskrit) is the name used for the 2nd month in Sri Lankan traditional Moon calendar (Lunar calendar) which corresponds with the month of May in the Gregorian calendar (Solar calendar).

It was on the full moon day in the month of Vesak, Prince Siddharta was born, became enlightened and attained Mahaparinibbāna.  The full moon day of Vesak is celebrated by Buddhists honouring these three important occasions of the life of the Buddha.

The significance of Vesak lies with the Buddha’s teaching of cessation of suffering and universal peace to all humankind.  It is a message to urge followers to do that which is good and to turn away from evil.  It is a message of peace and perfect harmony between human beings and nature.

Vesak is associated with three important locations of Buddhist history – Lumbini in Nepal, the birth place of Prince Siddharta, Bodh Gaya (Buddha Gaya) Bihar State in India where The Buddha attained the most exalted Enlightenment under a Bodhi Tree and Kushinagar (Kusinara) in Uttar Pradesh, India where The Buddha attained Mahaparinibbāna.

These three incidents in the life of Buddha is known in Sri Lanka as “Themagula f;u.=,” or the three Buddhist auspicious events – Birth, Enlightenment and Mahaparinibbāna of The Buddha and celebrated in large scale in Sri Lanka and other Buddhist countries.

The United Nations General Assembly accepted the importance of “Vesak” and in 1999 by its resolution 54/115 acknowledged that Buddhism as one of the oldest religions in the world contributing to the spirituality of humanity for over two and half millennia and is commemorated annually at the United Nations Headquarters and UN Offices.

In 2017, United Nations International Day of Vesak will be hosted by Sri Lanka under the theme “Buddhist Teachings for Social Justice and Sustainable World Peace”.  The events include an International Buddhist Symposium the participation of over 400 delegates from 100 countries.

Celebrating Vesak

Vesak is celebrated as a Buddhist event in many Buddhist countries.  In Sri Lanka, Vesak is celebrated on the full moon day in the month of Vesak and it is a two-day national holiday.  The celebrations include religious activities such as observing the 8 percepts, listening to religious discussions, meditations, religious rituals in temples, etc.  All Buddhists visit the temple dressed in white and make offerings of flowers, light and incense.  Temple bells herald the times of rituals and all temples are filled with devotees.

During Vesak all Buddhist homes, public space, temples, etc., are illuminated with lanterns, lamps, Pandals (illuminated picture stories) of the life of Buddha and Jātaka stories, etc., are created all over the island.  Religious groups, neighbourhood groups, associations and societies provide Free Alms (Dansel okaie,a) to people.  These Free Alms include lunch, dinner, snacks, drinks, ice creams, and various other food types and offered to people.  The night of the full moon day in the month of Vesak and the following day people travel to enjoy the lanterns, pandals and other Buddhist creative arts.

Buddhist Teachings for Social Justice and Sustainable World Peace

In the modern chaotic world, the discussion of Social Justice and Sustainable World Peace is a timely topic not only for the Buddhist World but for the World at large.  The multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic world of today, people are floundering in search of personal and universal peace and the Buddhist world view is relevant today as it was 2,600 years ago – all people are equal.

The Metta Sutta of the Pāli Canon explains the Buddhist concept of society, in the deepest ethical sense, includes all living things of the world – humans, fauna and flora.  The Vāsettha Sutta states that mankind is biologically the same and divisions in human society are mere conventional classifications.  It further clarifies that it is a person’s spiritual advancement which defines him or her as a “high” human being or a “low” human being and not birth.  The Kanhakatthala Sutta states that when people are given equal opportunities irrespective of their caste, creed or other social parameters, they will perform equally well.

The Noble Eight-Fold Path (Right Thought, Right Concentration, Right Mindfulness, Right Vision, Right Livelihood, Right Speech, Right Action and Right Effort) is not only the path to emancipation from Suffering but sets out all important guidelines for every aspect of human conduct.  It can be considered as one of the most comprehensive codes of human conduct to be compiled.  These guidelines cover every aspect of human behavior, both short term and long term will prevail to bring Social Justice and World Peace.

In 2017, Sri Lanka will host the United Nations Vesak Day with the theme of Social Justice and Sustainable World Peace through the teachings of the Buddha.

Further Information Links:

  1. Buddhist Path to World Peace” by Hon. Wijayadasa Rajapaksha, Keynote address at the International Conference of the United Nations Day of Vesak 2016, held in Thailand.

Noble Eight-Fold Path and the Judicial Process” by Justice C.G. Weeramantry (http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151108/sunday-times-2/the-noble-eight-fold-path-and-the-judicial-process-170842.html)