World Council of Churches

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Celebration of Vesakh

As Buddhists in some countries of the world celebrate Vesakh and others prepare to celebrate Vesakh the Office of Interreligious Dialogue of the World Council of Churches reached out to the Venerable Dhammanandha Bhikkuni, the first fully ordained female Bhikkuni in the Theravada tradition in Thailand for her reflections on Vesakh. Venerable Dhammananda, previously known as Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, was previously a Professor at Thammasat, a prestigious university in Thailand. She is currently the Abbess of Songdhamkalyani monastery in the outskirts of Bangkok. We are grateful to Ven Dhammnandha for her reflections.

29 April 2018

By Dhammananda Bhikkhuni

As Buddhists in some countries of the world celebrate Vesakh and others prepare to celebrate Vesakh the Office of Interreligious Dialogue of the World Council of Churches reached out to the Venerable Dhammanandha Bhikkuni, the first fully ordained female Bhikkuni in the Theravada tradition in Thailand for her reflections on Vesakh. Venerable Dhammananda, previously known as Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, was previously a Professor at Thammasat, a prestigious university in Thailand. She is currently the Abbess of Songdhamkalyani monastery in the outskirts of Bangkok. We are grateful to Ven. Dhammnandha for her reflections.

 

The Ven. Dhammanandha Bhikkuni
Photo: Peniel Rajkumar/WCC

What is Vesakh? The festival of Vesakh gets its name from the sixth month in the lunar calendar. The festival is centered around Gautama Buddha, who was born as prince Siddhartha. Upon witnessing the reality of old age, sickness and death among his people by chance on a chariot ride through his kingdom Siddhartha left his palace in search of an answer to how one could overcome suffering of old age, sickness and death. He spent 6 years undergoing a variety of spiritual trainings that were available at that time but to no avail.  On the full moon of the month of Vesakh, 2600 years ago, sitting under the Bodhi tree, he found the spiritual answer to his quests and  became the fully Enlightened One. Since then he is known as the Buddha.

 

What did the Buddha discover through his enlightenment? The Buddha discovered that in order not to suffer one has to attain Nirvana. Nirvana which is the spiritual goal of the Buddhists is to free oneself from clinging to birth in the new existence and this is a real freedom from suffering.

What is the significance of Vesakh and how is it celebrated across the world?

Buddhists in South East Asian countries believe that the Buddha was born, enlightened and passed away on the day of Vesakh. Hence the importance of Vesakh is tripled. Vesakh is declared a public holiday in all Buddhist countries. Even in Malaysia, a Muslim country, Vesak is made public holiday.

Vesakh is celebrated in full scale in Colombo, Sri Lanka. In Thailand, apart from being a public holiday, the members of the royal family also play important role in leading people to perform the light offering by circumambulating a stupa or the temple. It is celebrated at all government levels.

Vesakh reminds all the Buddhists of the enlightenment that the Buddha discovered on that full moon day. They celebrate Vesakh by observing the precepts of Buddhism and offer candles and incense. The real meaning of Vesakh, however, is the fact that enlightenment is real. It was real for the Buddha and the Buddha set an example for all the Buddhists to follow. It is also a statement that suffering is real, and overcoming suffering is also real and accessible to all, provided each individual strives to gain that enlightenment on their own following the eightfold path of right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

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