There is a very significant day approaching in the Buddhist calendar. It’s the day that celebrates the Buddha’s birth, death and Enlightenment. All three events occurred on the exact same day of the year, which makes this day very special and sacred to Buddhist followers. The day is known by different names depending on the country you reside, the language you speak and which Buddhist tradition you follow. Perhaps the three most common names for this day are Vesak, Buddha Purnima and Saka Dawa. And not only does the name differ, but different Buddhist traditions honor this day according to the calendars they follow, which can mean that sometimes they don’t even celebrate it in the same month! However, most countries this year (including India, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Nepal) are celebrating it on the same day, May 21st 2016. The exceptions are Thailand, which will celebrate Vesak one day earlier (20 May) and Indonesia on 22 May.
Vesak is by far the most important day of the year for Buddhists. It is a day when followers attend special pujas to honor the Buddha, spend more time meditating, and engage in other Dharma activities. Many lay followers will attend Buddhist temples, receive teachings and take the Eight Precepts for 24 hours. Being a full moon day, as well as such a special occasion, it’s believed the positive karma of good deeds performed on Vesak is increased exponentially. Any day is a good day to practice the Buddha’s teachings, but Vesak is considered even more special since it is the day that the Buddha chose to be born, pass away and attain Enlightenment (it isn’t considered a coincidence). So if there is one day of the year to set aside time for serious practice, Vesak is the day.
Traditionally on Vesak, lay devotees may bring offerings of fruits, flowers and incense to the temples as symbolic offerings to the Buddha. Others may make monetary offerings. The nature of the gift isn’t as important as the intention behind the gift. Ultimately though, when we make offerings to the Buddhist sangha, temples and projects, it’s considered the greatest of offerings, as we’re helping to facilitate the growth and spread of the Buddha’s teachings. While honoring the Buddha brings much merit, if we can honor his teachings by supporting how they are spread – through supporting the people, places and projects that bring the teachings to life – we can help the Buddha’s teachings and knowledgeable practitioners to flourish.
On a personal note, I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the generosity of past donors. When I sat in my little meditation hut during my retreat, I would think about all the people that helped make my retreat possible: the people who donated their time, money and effort to build a sacred space that I could use to go deeper into the Buddha’s teachings and experience them at a level previously unknown to me. I am indebted to all the people who made my retreat a reality and I would like to think that I am somehow repaying that kindness by teaching what I have gained from the Buddha’s profound practices and teachings.
If we can, it’s really wonderful if we can help in our own way to propagate the Dharma. I’m always inspired when I see new Dharma works being created, whether they are independent films, translation projects or statues being made. Knowing firsthand the commitment and work required, I always try to donate where I can. This year on Vesak, I’ll be contributing to a very special project I only learned about recently: The Grand Maitreya Project. In Mongolia, they are a building a 177 foot tall statue of Maitreya Buddha, the future Buddha. Behind the statue will be a 354 foot tall stupa which will include a large temple where His Holiness the Dalai Lama can teach, and allow space for other areas for Buddhist education.
The name Maitreya comes from the Sanskrit word maitri, meaning loving-kindness and it’s said Maitreya earned his name due his perfection in practicing loving-kindness. Apparently his unceasing practice of loving-kindness gave his meditation such power that when anyone came near him, they would receive the realization of great love. It is believed that Maitreya (known as Metteyya in Pali) will come to the world to become the next Buddha when the Dharma has declined in this world and nothing of Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings remain. This incredible statue of Buddha Maitreya (even taller than the Statue of Liberty, not including its base) is being constructed to shine as a universal beacon of loving-kindness and world peace. The Grand Maitreya Project’s website says:
The purpose of the project is to help create the needed awareness and conditions in the world for Loving – Kindness to manifest helping to create the causes for world peace. The historical Buddha taught that there is incredible benefit in creating holy objects as when one sees an image of Loving-Kindness and peace it makes one think of peace. At that time a positive seed is planted within the mind and that seed will soon grow into Loving – Kindness.
This project is well underway with the foundations already laid. I particularly love that not only will they build the largest symbol of world peace and loving-kindness with the Maitreya statue, but they also plan to plant thousands of trees around the Grand Maitreya Complex to combat desertification in Mongolia and fight climate change.
You can visit their website to see more about the Grand Maitreya Project. If you wish to make donations you can do that here. Pictures of the different rewards you can receive for your donation can also be seen on their website here.
Happy Vesak everyone! What special plans do you have to celebrate it? I’d love to read them in the comments below.
How to Meet Buddha Metteyya
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