Today is Buddha Day – the birthday of the Buddha. In the eyes of some Buddhists, it also marks his enlightenment – the time when he discovered life’s meaning.
Buddha Day, also known as Visakha, is one of the most important Buddhist festivals. It is a time to reflect on Buddha’s teachings and on what it means to be Buddhist in today’s world.
Buddhists don’t believe in a single god who created the world and everything in it. As part of this belief, most Buddhists believe in the teachings of a man called Siddhartha Gautama. He later became known as the Buddha. Buddha is a title, rather than a name, and means the enlightened or awakened one.
Siddhartha is believed to have been a prince who was born into a wealthy family in what is now called Nepal in the 5th Century BC. It’s believed that Siddhartha Gautama realised that wealth and luxury didn’t guarantee happiness. So he travelled as a homeless holy man to learn more about the world. In doing this, he saw the suffering in the world. This, plus six years of studying and meditation on his travels, is what led to him to enlightenment – defined as becoming spiritually aware and finding meaning in life. His enlightenment is said to have happened when he was 35yo, and his ‘passing’ into Nirvana at the age of 80.
The date of Buddha Day changes each year, as it take places at the time of the first full moon of the ancient lunar month of Visakha. This is what gives it its alternative name of Visakha Puja.
Each Buddhist culture has its own traditions for the day, so it is celebrated in different ways in different countries. Usually, Buddhists will go to their local temple and some might even stay there throughout the day and night of the full moon. Many will do good deeds, take part in chanting and meditation, reflect on Buddhist teachings, bring offerings to the temple, and share food with people. Families often decorate their homes with lanterns, take part in processions and wear special white clothes to mark the occasion. Friends and family may also send cards to each other.
A ceremony called Bathing the Buddha is also be held in some places. This is when water is poured over the shoulders of the Buddha to remind people to clear their minds of negative thoughts like greed and hatred.
As a result of the current pandemic, Buddhists in most countries of the world have been invited to perform Visakha Puja activities at home.