What Vesak means to Buddhists – By Gamini Jayasinghe
Source : dailymirror
- Niyatha Vivaranaya: the positive assurance of attaining Buddhahood was given to Gautama Bodhisattva for the first time by Deepankara Buddha on a Vesak full moon poya day. In that birth Bodhisattva was born as ascetic Sumedha
Advocated by the late foreign minister Laksman Kadirgarmar, Vesak full moon poya day has been declared as an international Observance day. This was done because it is the most important day for Buddhists due to a number of incidents that took place on this day.
Birth of Prince Siddhartha
The last birth of Bodhisattva took place on the Vesak full moon poya day two thousand five hundred and thirty three years ago. He was born as the son of King Suddhodana of the kingdom of Kapilawasthu. It is said that immediately after his birth the prince had walked on seven Lotus flowers which emerged before him. The queen Maha Maya Devi had proceeded back to Kapilawasthu together with the new born child. King Suddhodana’s teacher, saint Asitha of Kaladewala who visited the palace on the same day asserted and blessed prince Siddhartha to be the saviour of the universe and the teacher of every one in all three worlds, He said that the Bodhisattva was to attain Buddhahood enabling him to direct the universe to the path of emancipation.
First salutation by the Father
The king who had developed his meditation skills and envisaged that he was 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 worshipped the Bodhisattva. The prince was brought up in the lap of luxury in the royal palace leaving him no chance 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 words of saint Kondanna who said that the prince was sure to attain Buddha hood,
In spite of all precautionary measures taken by the king, the prince 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 exposition Prince Siddhartha determined to become an ascetic. He left the palace leaving all the luxuries including the crown, queen 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, and 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 higher knowledge realized by Him on His own without any guidance from anyone. 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 all mighty creator – God. He showed that man can save himself. The Enlightened One 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 at Kusinara on a Vesak full moon Poya day.
Due to these three incidences; the birth of prince Siddhartha, his Enlightenment and His Parinibbana Vesak Full Moon poya day is of special significance to Buddhists in Sri Lanka and to those living in many countries worldwide.
Niyatha Vivaranaya; The positive assurance of attaining Buddhahood
Niyatha Vivaranaya: the positive assurance of attaining Buddhahood was given to Gautama 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 Perahera
It was on the Vesak Full Moon Poya day exactly one year after the Enlightenment that Sakyamunu Gautama Buddha performed the “Yama Maha Perahera”- 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 us in Sri Lanka because of the Enlightened One’s third visit to the country. In the eighth year after the Enlightenment, Gautama Buddha visited Sri Lanka at the invitation of Naga king Maniakkhika of Kelaniya. Naga king Maniakkhika made the invitation when the Enlightened One visited Sri Lanka for the second occasion to quell the dispute between two groups of Nagas led by Culodara and Mahodara. King Maniakkhika who had gone to Nagadeepa to support his nephew Mahodara had embraced Buddhism after listening to Dhamma preached by the Buddha and had invited the Buddha to visit his Kingdom in Kelaniya. In response to this invitation Buddha had visited Kelaniya. This took place on a Vesak full moon poya day.
Invitation by God Sumana Saman to Sri Pada
God Sumana Saman who brought the Kiripalu tree from Sevethnuwara Devramvehera to provide shelter to the Buddha during His second visit to Sri Lanka, had accompanied Him to Sri Lanka during His third visit. On his invitation Buddha proceeded to Samanthakuta where he placed His foot print which remains in full sanctity and is worshipped by us with faith and devotion. Buddha set His foot in various other places including Deeghavapiya and Anuradhapura during this visit. In Salalihini Sandesaya a mention is made of king Maniakkhika offering a seat made of gems.
Origin of the Sinhala Community
Furthermore Vesak full moon poya day is regarded as the origin of the Sinhala race. According to chronicles, the eldest son of Sinha Bahu, the then ruler of Lalata in India and Sinhaseevalee had come to Sri Lanka on a Vesak Full moon poya day. Prince Vijaya and his followers, seven hundred in number, had disembarked at Tammanna. A coincidence is that Vijaya had set foot in Lanka land on the very day on which the Enlightened One attained Parinibbana.
Anointment of King Devanampiyatissa for the second occasion
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 king of Lanka.
Initiation of Ruwanweli maha Seya Construction Work
According to chronicles Mahawansa king Dutugemunu initiated the construction work of Ruwanweli Maha Seya on a Vesak full moon poya day . Ruwanweli Maha seya 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 a 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 Mahawansa, 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 Vesak festival.
Amisa Puja and Prathipaththi Puja
Vesak day observations take two forms: Amisa Puja and Prathipaththi Puja. Amisa Puja includes alms of food to Buddha and His followers – Maha Sangha and lay devotees – Upasaka upasika. This is done by way of Dansal, public places for the distribution of food (alms). Food distributions 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.
Illuminations – A form of Vesak Celebrations
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.
Religious acts bringing up Buddhalambana Preethiya
All these are undoubtedly meritorious acts bringing up Buddhalambana Preethiya. The pleasure connected with Buddha. However, it should be mentioned that it is Prathipaththi Puja including Seela and Bhavana – meditation which lead all beings to total emancipation – Four Noble Truths and the eightfold path enunciated by the Buddha.- the Enlightened One, Exalted One and the Eminent One who pointed out that the purification of mind is the way to Nibbana -Mano Pubbangama Dhamma – Mind is the forerunner.