UN Vesak Day SPLENDOUR IN SRI LANKA | Sunday Observer

UN Vesak Day SPLENDOUR IN SRI LANKA

The United Nations Vesak Day will be celebrated in Sri Lanka this year with the participation of Buddhist leaders from around the world. The three day celebration will begin on May 12 in Colombo and the closing ceremony will be held in Kandy. Vesak marks the birth, enlightenment and the attaining nibbana of the Buddha.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Nepali President, Bidya Devi Bhandari have confirmed their participation at the UN Vesak Day celebrations. “We are happy that we were able to get the confirmation from two of the most important leaders for the celebrations. Of 85 countries, 72 have confirmed their participation at this event,” Minister of Buddha Sasana and Justice Wijayadasa Rajapakshe said.

“The Indian Prime Minister will grace the opening ceremony, while the closing ceremony will be attended by the Nepali President. There have been 13 such events so far and this is the first time that the UN Vesak Day celebration is being held in Sri Lanka. It had been held 11 times in Thailand and twice in Vietnam,” the Minister said.

The Committee which organizes the UN Vesak Day celebrations has taken into consideration the request and submissions made by the government of Sri Lanka prior to giving the opportunity to the country.

“All the arrangements have been finalized and we are ready to have the celebrations,” the Minister said.

Parallel to the Vesak Day celebrations, there will be a Diyawanna Vesak Zone on May 12 and a full day seminar on May 13. There will also be a cultural event with the participation of three to four countries including Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.

Special exposition

The Buddhist channel will be celebrating ten years and they will mark the anniversary with special programs. A colourful pageant will be held in front of the Nelum Pokuna. A special exposition of the Sacred Tooth Relic will also be held for foreign dignitaries, on May 14 in Kandy.

“This is the first time that a festival of this nature is being organized in Sri Lanka. The publicity activities of the UN Vesak Day celebrations are currently under way and we expect this international event to be a big success,” the Minister said.

There is a plan to set up a Shakya Kingdom in Kahapola Piliyandala, before the Vesak full moon day, with all the places of religious importance. The first two places, namely, Suddhodana palace and Lumbini gardens will be constructed and opened on May 11. Facilities will be provided for over 10,000 to meditate there. There will also be e-library facilities and a media network among the other religious activities to mark Vesak Poya Day. Apart from the UN Vesak Day celebrations, there will be a state Vesak festival at the Vattana Raja Maha Viharaya in Kegalle on May 9. Plans are underway to develop 100 temples and 100 Dhamma schools. Over 500 children will be ordained to mark the event. The Vesak Poya Day was recognized as a holiday as a result of a proposal made by Prof. G.P. Malalasekera at the World Buddhist Forum. In 1999 then Foreign Minister late Lakshman Kadirgamar moved a motion again, and it was adopted in 2001. This is the first opportunity we received to organize UN Vesak Day in Sri Lanka, Minister Rajapakshe said.

Vesak Full Moon Poya Day, gained significance for the first time over two thousand and six hundred years ago with the birth of Prince Siddhartha in a sal grove in Lumbini. Legend has it that the newborn had walked on seven Lotus flowers that bloomed in his path.

Reaching maturity and after coming into contact with the stark realities of life, the Satara Pera Nimithi or the four omens, he observed – a sick man, a decrepit old man, a corpse and an ascetic – the prince was determined to renounce all worldly pursuits and seek the truth and become an ascetic. On a Vesak night, seated under a Pippala (Bo) tree at Buddha Gaya, he attained enlightenment- and became Samma Sambuddha.

Leftovers

According to Buddhist history, Buddha’s third visit to Sri Lanka also took place on a Vesak Day. Buddha visited Kelaniya at the invitation of Naga King Maniakkhika of Kelaniya.

At the age of eighty, Gautama Buddha had his last meal offered to him by a blacksmith, Cunda Sukara. He rested on the couch placed between two sal trees in the Upavattana Sal grove and attained Parinibbana on a Vesak Full Moon Poya Day.

When the Buddha and his disciples arrived at Pava, the son of the village goldsmith, whose name was Cunda, invited the party to a meal called sukaramaddava. The Buddha advised Cunda to serve him only with the sukaramaddava that he had prepared. The other food that Cunda had prepared could be served to the other monks. After the meals were served Buddha told Cunda, “Cunda, if any sukaramaddava is left over, bury it in a hole. I do not see anyone in the world other than the Blessed One who could digest the food if he ate it.”

“So be it, Lord,” Cunda replied, and buried the leftovers in the ground. He went to the Buddha and, after paying homage to him, sat down at one side. Then the Buddha taught him the Dhamma. The Buddha also praised Cunda for the meal that had refreshed and strengthened him after his journey. But soon after this, the Buddha suffered an attack of dysentery he had had earlier, and sharp pains came upon him. By an effort of will he was able to bear the pain. Though extremely weak the Buddha decided to continue to Kusinagar, immediately, a little more than six miles away. After a painful struggle, he reached a grove of sal trees just outside the town.

The Buddha took his last bath in the Kakuttha river. After resting a while, he said, “Now it may happen that some people may make Cunda regret having given me the meal that made me sick. Ananda, if this should happen, you should tell Cunda that you have heard directly from the Buddha that it was a gain for him.

Tell him that two offerings to the Buddha are of equal gain; the offering of food just before his Supreme Enlightenment and the offering of food just before he passes away. This is the final birth of the Buddha.”

Then he said, “Ananda, please make a couch ready for me with its head to the North between two big sal trees. I am tired and I want to lie down.”

Now, on that occasion, those two sal trees were covered with blossoms through the influence of the devas, though it was not the season. They scattered and sprinkled the Buddha with the falling blossoms, out of respect for him. Then the Buddha said to Venerable Ananda, “Ananda, the two big sal trees are scattering flowers on me as though they are paying their respects to me. But, this is not how I should be respected and honoured. Rather, it is the monks or nuns, or the men or women lay followers, who live according to my teaching, that should respect and honour me.” 

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