Vesak Poya: A threefold celebration | Sunday Observer

Vesak Poya: A threefold celebration

 

Vesak Poya signifies the Birth, Enlightenment and Parinibbana (the Passing away) of the Buddha. It is the most important festival in the Buddhist calendar.

Prince Siddhartha (the Buddha’s lay name) was born on this day and attained Enlightenment at the age of 35 on Vesak Poya day. At the age of 80 the Buddha attained Nirvana (the passing away and attaining the State of Supreme Bliss where there is no re-birth).

Vesak Poya falls on the first full moon day in the month of May annually though the date varies with the year. The month of Vesak is May according to the Gregorian calendar which is the calendar we normally use. Buddhists the world over celebrate Vesak with much pomp and pageantry while giving the foremost place to religious observances and acts of charity. Pandals, processions and decorative lanterns are a part of Vesak celebrations.

Thousands throng temples to observe sil, listen to Dhamma preaching and conducts Bodhi poojas.

The Birth

King Suddhodana was the King of the Shakyas (the Buddha’s clan) and ruled over the Kingdom of Kapilavasthu, the land of the Shakya’s within the state of Kosala, on the northern border of ancient India. Though some say Kapilavasthu is in Northern India, others say it is Rummeindai in the Terai region of Southern Nepal, about 10 km from Lumbini , the birth place of Prince Siddhartha. It is not very far from the Indian-Nepal border.

King Suddhodana’s Chief Queen was Mahamaya Devi, a Koliyan Princess, whose birth place was Devadaha where her father was the monarch. Her younger sister, Prajapathi Devi was also a consort of King Suddhodana.

King Suddhodana and Queen Mahamaya Devi were the parents of Prince Siddhartha, who later became the Gautama Buddha.

Prince Siddhartha was born on a Vesak Poya day in 623 B.C.

When she was heavy with child birth Queen Mahamaya Devi set off to her parents’ home. On the way to her home in Devadaha she saw a beautiful Sal Uyana (Sal park) at Lumbini and wanted to go there. The Sal trees were in full bloom and many birds and bees hovered over the flowers. The Queen gave birth to Prince Siddhartha here.

It is said that the prince took seven steps at his birth itself and that seven lotus flowers sprang from the earth to receive each step. Standing on the seventh lotus Prince Siddhartha had said:

I am the greatest in the world

There is no one equal to me

This is my last birth

There shall be no rebirth for me.

(Aggo hamasmi lokassa

Jettohamasmi lokassa

Settho hamasmi lokassa Aya mantima jati

Natthi dani punabhavo)

After the birth of the Prince instead of going on to Devdahapura, Queen Mahamaya Devi and her retinue returned to Kapilavasthu.

The Enlightenment

Seven days after the birth of Prince Siddhartha Queen Mahaymaya Devi passed away. She is supposed to be born again in the Tusitha Dev Lova (Thusitha abode of the Gods) and is known as the Mathru Divya Rajaya. Her younger sister Prajapathi Gothami, was elevated to the position of Chief Queen and brought up Prince Siddhartha.

For 29 years of his life Prince Siddhartha lived in the lap of luxury. He married Princess Yasodhara .

While touring the city the Prince saw an old man, a sick man, a dead body and a ascetic. The first three made him disillusioned with lay life while the ascetic made him realise that the life of a ascetic is better. Prince Siddhartha decided to leave the Royal Palace and become an ascetic and search for the truth. He left the same night his son Rahula was born .

His went riding his horse Kanthaka and his trusted aide Channa accompanied him. On arriving at the banks of the river Anoma the Prince discarded his royal raiments and donned the robes of a ascetic. He gave his clothes to Channa and asked him to take the message that he had given up lay life to the Palace. Channa wanted to go with him but the Prince did not allow it. Later, the horse Kanthaka died of sorrow.

Prince Siddhartha became the ascetic Gautama to find the truth but failed to do so. For six years he performed difficult tasks but failed to find the truth he was seeking. Finally, he came to Gaya on an evening before Vesak Poya and sat under a Pipal tree (Ficus Religiosa) and vowed not to leave it until he found the truth. (The Pipal tree is known as the Bodhi or Bo tree as it was here that the Buddha attained Enlightenment).

That whole evening and night the ascetic Gautama concentrated and meditated and with the dawn of the Vesak Poya he attained Enlightenment.

For a week after he became the Buddha, The gazed unblinkingly at the Bo tree to express his gratitude to the tree under which he attained Enlightenment.

Parinirvana

For forty-five years after attaining Buddhahood, The Buddha preached the Dhamma and helped many to reach the sublime states of Sovaan, Sakrudhagami, Anagami and Arahath. At eighty years of age the Buddha attained Parinirvana (passed away).

He told Ananda Maha Thera that three months hence he would attain Parinirvana.

On a Vesak Poya in the garden of Upavartana, on a makeshift seat between two sal trees by Ananda Maha Thera, The Gautama Buddha attained Parinirvana.

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