Vesak, also known as Buddha Day or Buddha’s birthday, celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. Some Buddhists celebrate Vesak by going to a temple before the sun rises to raise the Buddhist flag (below.) They then sing hymns about the holy “triple gem”, which is made up of the Buddha, his teaching and his disciples. Vesak usually takes place in May.
Some Buddhists may bring flowers and candles to put at the feet of their teacher. This is meant to remind Buddhists that as the beautiful flowers decay after a few days and the candles burn out, life also has decay and destruction. Buddhists are asked to pledge to avoid killing of any mind. In Vesak, some eat vegetarian food for the day in order to carry out this pledge. In some countries, slaughter houses are closed by the government for two days.
Birds, insects and animals are released in a symbolic act of freedom to those who are in captivity, in prison and being tortured. This is banned in some countries as it may damage local habitats.
Celebrating Vesak can also mean trying to bring happiness to old people, the disabled and the sick. Many Buddhists give money to charities that help the less fortunate. It is also a great time of happiness, which is expressed by decorating temples and painting moments from Buddha’s life. Some Buddhists provide vegetarian food and drink to those who visit the temple to pray to Buddha.
The 8 precepts
A few Buddhists will wear a simple white dress and spend the day in temples in order to carry out the eight precepts. They are a list of rules that are followed by Buddhists on religious festivals, which are:
- To observe the rule of abstinence from taking life.
- To observe the rule of abstinence from taking what is not given.
- To observe the rule of abstinence from unchastity.
- To observe the rule of abstinence from false speech.
- To observe the rule of abstinence from intoxicants which cause a careless frame of mind.
- To observe the rule of abstinence from taking food at the wrong time.
- To observe the rule of abstinence from dancing, music, visiting shows, flowers, make-up, the wearing of ornaments and decoration.
- To observe the rule of abstinence from a tall, high sleeping place.