|WHAT VESAK MEANS TO BUDDHISTS |
|By Gamini Jayasinghe |
At the instigation of the late foreign minister, Lakshman Kadirgarmar, Vesak Full Moon Poya Day has been declared as an international religious day. This was done because it is the most important day for Buddhists due to a number of incidents which took place on this day.
The last birth of the Bodhisattva took place on the Vesak Full Moon Poya day two thousand five hundred and twenty two years ago. He was born as the son of King Suddhodhana of the kingdom of Kapilwasthu and Queen Maha Maya. The queen was on her way to her parental palace in Devdaha and while she was resting at Lumbini Park under a Sal tree with a mass of followers, Prince Siddartha was born. It is said that immediately after his birth the Prince had walked on seven lotus flowers which emerged before him. The queen had proceeded back to Kapilawattupura together with the new born child. King Suddhodhana’s teacher, saint Asitha of Kaladewala who visited the palace on the same day asserted that the blessed prince was to be the saviour of the universe and the teacher of every one in all the three worlds. He said that the Bodhisattva was to attain Buddha hood enabling him to direct the universe to the path of emancipation.
First Salutation by the father
The saint who had developed his meditation skills envisaged that he was due to die before the enlightenment of the Bodhisattva, worshipped the new born Prince. The king who watched the behaviour of his teacher realized that his son was superior to the saint and himself worshipped the Bodhisattva.
The prince was brought up in the royal palace in the lap of luxury leaving no room for him to realize the vanity of worldly life. The king was anxious to see his son becoming the universal king as envisaged by learned Brahmins at the naming ceremony. Consequently, his endeavour was to prevent the Bodhisattva from leaving the worldly life to attain Buddhahood in keeping with the worlds of saint Kondanna who said that the Prince was sure to attain the Buddhahood.
In spite of all precautionary measures taken by the king the Prince Siddartha came into direct contact with the stark realities of life -- “Satara Pera Nimithi”: a sick man, a decrepit old man, a corpse and a monk. After this exposure, Prince Siddartha became determined to become an ascetic. He left the palace leaving all the luxuries including the crown, princess Yasodhara and the newly born son, prince Rahula
As a seeker of total emancipation he struggled for seven years and ultimately with all his efforts he finally realized the “Truth” and attained Buddhahood on a Full Moon Poya Day --Vesak Day
He served the universe for more than half a century as the Exalted One, the Omniscient One and the Holiest of the Holy. He served all the three worlds; the world of gods, the world of men and the lower regions or the world of demons. All the inhabitants of these worlds are liable to passions.
The Exalted One led the universe to the eternal bliss with the highest knowledge realized by Him on His own without any guidance from any one. He gained this insight as a human being and he never posed Himself as a supernatural power. He did not want His followers to believe in the existence of an almighty creator -- God. He showed that man can save himself. According to the Enlightened One man himself can achieve ultimate salvation and happiness what is wanted is “Right Understanding.” So as a human being He served the universe and attained Parinibbana at Upavattana Sal Park in Kusinara on a Vesak Full Moon Poya Day.
Due to these three incidents; the birth of Prince Siddhartha, His Enlightenment and His Parinibbana, Vesak Full Mon Poya Day is of special significance for Buddhists in Sri Lanka and those living in many other countries in the world.
Niyatha Vivaranaya – Positive explanation of assurance of Becoming Buddha
“Niyatha Vivaranaya”-- the positive explanation of assurance of becoming Buddha was given to Gauthama Bodhisattva for the first time by Deepankara Buddha on a Vesak Full Moon Poya Day. In that birth, Bodhisattva was born as ascetic Sumedha.
Yama Maha Pelahara
It was on the Vesak Full Moon Poya Day exactly one year after the Enlightenment that Sakyamuni Gauthama Buddha performed the “Yama Maha Pelahara”-- twin or double miracle-- in order to dispel the arrogance of His relatives.
Buddha’s Third Visit to Sri Lanka
Apart from the above incidents, Vesak Full Moon Poya Day is of special significance to Sri Lankans because of the Enlightened One’s third visit to the country. In the eighth year after Enlightenment, Gauthama Buddha visited Sri Lanka at the invitation of Naga King Maniakkhika of Kelaniya. Naga King Maniakkhika made this invitation when the Enlightened One visited Sri Lanka for the second occasion to quell a dispute between two groups of Nagas led by Chulodara and Mahodara. King Maniakkhika who had gone to Nagadeepa to support his nephew, Mohodara had embraced Buddhism after listening to the Dhamma preached by Buddha and had invited the Buddha to visit his kingdom, Kelaniya. In response to this invitation Buddha had visited Kelaniya.
Invitation by God Sumana Saman to Sri Pada
This took place on a Vesak Full Moon Poya day. God Sumana Saman who brought Kiripalu tree from Seveth Nuwara Devram Vehera to provide shelter to the Buddha during his second visit to Sri Lanka had accompanied Him to Lanka during His third visit. On his invitation Buddha proceeded to Samanthakuta where He placed His foot print which remains in full sanctity and being worshipped by us with faith and devotion. Buddha set His foot on various other places including Dighavapiya and Anuradhapura during this visit. In Selalilhini Sandesaya a mention is made of King Maniakkhika offering a seat made of gems to the Buddha.
Origin of the Sinhala Community
Further more Vesak Full Moon Poya day is regarded as the day of the origin of the Sinhala race. According to chronicles the eldest son of King SinhaBahu, the then ruler of Latarata in India and Sinhaseewalee had come to Lanka on a Vesak Full Moon Poya day. Prince Vijaya and his followers, seven hundred in number had disembarked at Thammanna. A coincidence is that Vijaya had set foot on Lanka land on the very day on which the Enlightened One attained Parinibbana.
King Devanampiyatissa was anointed for the second occasion on a Vesak Full Moon Poya day. Although he had been anointed as the king of Lanka earlier after embracing Buddhism, Emperor Dharmasoka anointed him and installed him again as the King of Lanka.
According to chronicle Mahavamsa, King Dutugemunu initiated the construction work of Ruvanveli Mahaseya on a Vesak Full Moon Poya day. Ruvanveli Mahaseya is one of the “Solosmasthana” sixteen most important places of worship.
Vesak festival in Lanka has a long history. It is believed that Vesak had been celebrated from the time of King Devanampiyatissa during whose time Buddhism was established in Sri Lanka. Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka on Poson Full Moon Poya Day during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa who began celebrating Vesak. This is good reason to presume that it was the beginning of Vesak celebrations in Lanka. According to the Mahavamsa, celebrations had begun during the reign of King Dutugemunu who is said to have conducted twenty-four religious festivals annually. There is a mention in chronicles that King Wasabha also had twenty-four religious festivals annually, Vesak being the most important one. Presumably all the kings who succeeded him had continued to provide royal patronage in the conduct of the Vesak festival.
Amisa Puja and Pratipatti Puja
Vesak day observations take two forms – Amisa Puja and Pratipatti Puja. Amisa Puja includes alms of food and other offerings to Buddha and His followers -- the Maha Sangha and lay devotees -- Upasaka Upasika. This is done byway of Dansal -- public places for the distribution of alms. Food donations are made also to paupers, travellers, and animals. In addition to food other items such as medicinal drugs, clothes and money are included in Dana.
Illumination is another form of celebrating Vesak. Vesak lamps are lit in almost every house in addition to special illuminations in the places of worship. Erection of pandals in important public places is another form of celebrating Vesak. It is also customary to send Vesak greetings to friends, relatives and well wishers.
All these are undoubtedly meritorious acts bringing up Buddhalambana Preethiya -- the pleasure connected with the Buddha but it should be mentioned that it is Prathipatti Puja including Seela and Bhavana-- meditation, which leads all beings to total emancipation -- the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path enunciated by the Buddha- the Enlightened One, the Exalted One and the Eminent One who pointed out that purification of mind is the way to Nibbana -- Mano Pubban Gama Dhamma -- mind is the forerunner.