Wesak (or Vesak)

Wesak is an important time of the year for Buddhists, like Christmas is to Christian religions. At Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of their lord and saviour, Jesus Christ.  At Wesak, Buddhists celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death (entry into Nirvana) of Buddha Shakyamuni (also known as Gautama Buddha, and Siddartha Gautama).  It is a very important celebration, and just like Christmas has become a national holiday in Christian societies, Wesak is similarly celebrated in southeast Asia (Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Thailand) as well as in Singapore and other parts of Asia.    

During Wesak, Buddhists clean their homes, wear white clothing, and observe the 8 precepts (the Five Precepts, along with abstaining from taking food at the wrong time, abstaining from earthly pleasures/temptations/desires, and abstaining from sleeping in a high place). Buddhists will attend ceremonies at their Temples, and bring offerings to celebrate Buddha Shakyamuni. At the Chin Yin temple, we have the traditional bathing Buddha ceremony, in which a beautiful statue of the baby Buddha is presented, and people line up to ladle water over the statue. This bathing of the baby Buddha is used to symbolize purification of the disciple’s negative karma. 

When Buddha was near death, he found his loyal disciple, Ananda, weeping.  Ananda asked, what would happen should the Buddha enter Nirvana, and how would his teachings continue? Buddha reminded Ananda that everything is impermanent, including life and physical form, and the only the truth of the Dharma is eternal. Therefore, the best way to pay homage was to truly and sincerely follow his teachings. 

Wesak is a time for happiness, and to remind ourselves that in order to be a good Buddhist, that we not only offer flowers, incense, lights and other offerings to the Buddha, but to truly practice Buddhism, by following the Buddhist precepts and practicing compassion.  Some disciples also make special efforts to bring happiness to those who are suffering with acts of charity (monetary or time-based).  Following the 8 precepts reflects a similarity to the Christian tradition of Lent, in which disciples abstain from something they are attached to, or desire greatly.  Wesak represents a time of giving to others, and not selfishly pursuing one’s own desires.  

Wesak is of great importance to Buddhists and we are blessed in Edmonton to have Chin Yin Temple provide a place where a Buddhist of any type (Mahayana, Theravada) can come and celebrate the life of Buddha. In the future, we even hope to devote a Great Hall, or a Shakyamuni Hall, to Wesak events. 

Come June 5th, I hope to see you at the temple! 

By Yvonne Wong, Ph.D.