Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Happy Vesak Day (韦塞节) 2014

Vesak Day (卫塞节) in Singapore is a holy day celebrated by Buddhists. It represents the birth, the Nirvana (enlightenment) and the Parinirvana (death) of Gautama Buddha and is the most significant day of the Buddhist calendar. Vesak Day usually falls in May, on the 15th day of the fourth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar.

On Vesak Day, temples are decorated with flags and flowers. Devoted Buddhists and many observers of the faith congregate at their temple before dawn, saffron-clad monks chant the sutras, the Buddhist flag is raised and the people sing hymns to celebrate the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings) and the Sangha (his disciples).

Worshippers bring offerings of flowers, candles and incense to lay at the feet of the statues. These offerings demonstrate that the believers accept that life, like the offerings, is subject to decay and destruction.

Buddhists believe that performing good deeds on Vesak Day will multiply merit and it is often a day when Buddhist youth organise mass blood donations at hospitals and other Buddhists perform acts of generosity that can include releasing of caged birds and animals, taking goods to the poor and needy, and making gifts to charity. These acts of generosity are also known as Dana.

The celebration concludes with a candlelit procession through the streets. Mahayana Buddhist temples in Singapore, like the Phor Kark, practise the “three-step, one-bow” ritual on Vesak Day. Devotees take steps on both knees, bowing at every third step as they pray for world peace, personal blessings and repentance. The exhausting two-hour procession actually begins 24 hours before, when many reserve a place in the procession.

The main theme of Vesak Day is to practice love, peace and harmony as taught by the Buddha.

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More than 15,000 commemorate Vesak Day
Venerable Kuan Yan (centre) bathes the Buddha during Vesak Day celebrations at Singapore Buddhist Welfare Services . Photo: Ernest Chua

Buddhists turned out in force yesterday to mark Vesak Day, with an estimated 15,500 visiting the Singapore Buddhist Welfare Services’ headquarters in Punggol Road for its Vesak Grand Assembly.

Vesak Day celebrates the birth, enlightenment and final nirvana of Buddha. By 2.30pm, the charity had distributed 14,000 goodie bags and held prayer services and a vegetarian lunch for devotees.

Some also took part in a Buddha-bathing ritual, in which scented water was poured over a figure of Buddha, a reference to the flowers and rain that fell during Buddha’s birth and a gesture symbolising purification

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Devotees release bugs instead of animals for Vesak Day
Mr Benjamin Wee of Petmart with the crickets he sells. He said crickets will not harm the environment as much as birds. -- ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Instead of terrapins, birds or fish, some Buddhist devotees are buying small insects such as crickets to release into the wild during the Vesak Day period.

But releasing insects into the wild is no less illegal than releasing the other creatures.

At least two pet shop owners have told The Straits Times that more are opting for insects.

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Buddha's Birthday: Fó Dàn Rì 佛诞日 (Simplified) 佛誕日 (Traditional)
A statue of the child Gautama Buddha as depicted in his apocryphal story of birth

Buddha's Birthday is a holiday traditionally celebrated in Mahayana Buddhism to commemorate the birth of the Prince Siddhartha Gautama, later the Gautama Buddha and founder of Buddhism. According to the Theravada Tripitaka scriptures (from Pali, meaning "three baskets"), Gautama was born in Lumbini in modern-day Nepal, around the year 563 BCE, and raised in Kapilavastu.

The exact date of Buddha's Birthday is based on the Asian lunisolar calendars and is primarily celebrated in Baisakh month of the Buddhist calendar and the Bikram Sambat Hindu calendar, and hence it is also called Vesak. In Nepal, which is considered the birth-country of Buddha, it is celebrated on the full moon day of the Vaisakha month of the Buddhist calendar.

In China, Hong Kong and Korea, it is celebrated on the eighth day of the fourth month in the Chinese lunar calendar. In Nepal and neighboring South Asian and Southeast Asian countries (Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore), Buddha's birthday Vesak Day (韦塞节) is celebrated on the 15th day of 4th lunar month.

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