Buddha Jayanti, Buddha Purnima or "Vesak", the Day of the Full Moon in the month of May, is the most sacred day to millions of Buddhists around the world. It was on the Day of Vesak two and a half millennia ago, in the year 623 B.C. in Lumbini, situated at the foothills of the Himalayas in modern Nepal, that the Buddha was born. It was also on this day that the Buddha attained enlightenment at the age of 35, in the year 588, B.C. at Buddhagaya in modern day Bihar state, and on this day the Buddha passed into Mahaparinibbana (the great demise) at the ripe age of 80 in the year 543 B.C. at Kusinara (a district of the eastern Uttar Pradesh). Therefore, this day is also known as the thrice blessed day.
According to the above-mentioned dates, to be precise this year it is the 2639th Birthday, 2604th Enlightenment and 2559th Mahaparinibbana of the Buddha.
Buddhism is a world universal religion for the religionist, a philosophy for the philosophers and for practitioners a way of life. This has been acknowledged and appreciated by millions of followers around the world. Even the most prestigious world organization like the UN has acknowledged the Buddha’s greatest contribution for humankind. His teachings are timeless and universal in nature based on unconditional love, compassion, and altruism.
On 15th December 1999, at 54th conference of the United Nations General Assembly, acknowledged the great contribution of the Buddha to the whole humanity, and Vesak Day was officially recognized as United Nations (UN) holiday and was called the UN day of Vesak celebration and considered as the UN day of religious cultural festival and all the UN offices were told to observe this day.
Whenever the Buddha spoke, his words were full of practical wisdom. At all the main events of his Birth, Enlightenment and Mahaparinibbana (the great demise), the Buddha made an important proclamation.
Reading and understanding them enlightens us to the greatness of his discovery of the truth. It is said, the Buddha, just after his birth took seven steps and made this proclamation.
Supreme am I in the world;
Greatest am I in the world;
Noblest am I in the world;
This is my last birth;
Never shall I be reborn.
From this, we can understand that the Buddha for aeons has been fulfilling his Paramis or perfections and that he has come to the end of his search.
At the end of his 45 years of rigorous teachings, the Buddha while passing into Mahaparinibbana at Kusinara gave two valuable pieces of advice to his disciples.
The Buddha spoke to Venerable Ananda, his personal attendant, and cousin. “It may be, Ananda, that some of you will say, 'without the Buddha, the Sublime Teacher, there is no teacher for us'. No, Ananda, you should not think in this way. Dhamma and Vinaya (the doctrine and discipline) taught and made known by me will be your teacher when I am gone."
Then the Buddha addressed all the monks once more, and these were the very last words he spoke:
"Behold, O monks, this is my last advice to you. All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own liberation (enlightenment)."
After the Buddha passed into Mahaparinibbana, his teachings spread throughout the world in every direction. After the third Buddhist Council, the emperor Ashoka sent nine Buddhist missionaries to nine directions. To the south till Sri-Lanka, to the west till Greece, Eastern Europe, and Southern Russia and to the north up to the Himalayas and China, to the east upto Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Today the Buddha Dhamma is practiced in various denominations under various teachers and traditions.
According to the current statistics published in Buddha.net (the first Buddhist e-library), 56% (185,000,000 adherents) of the Buddhist population practices Mahayana Buddhism, 38% (124,000,000 adherents) practices Theravada Buddhism and 6% (20,000,000 adherents) practices Vajrayana Buddhism.
Today it is estimated that Buddhists population in the world is at around 350 million (6% of the world's population). This makes Buddhism the world's fourth largest (in terms of number of adherents) religion.
On this important day, Buddhist devotees visit temples, light candles, and make offerings and pray before the statue of Lord Buddha.
Birds are freed from cages at many places; people give alms, fruits, food and clothes to the Sangha, the poor and needy. People reaffirm their belief in the five principles which is called Panchsheel, the five basic principles, 1. Not to take life, 2. Not to steal, 3. Not to engage in sexual misconduct, 4. Not to tell a lie, and 5. Not to consume liquor, or any other intoxicants.
The Buddha truly was destined to be one the most prominent personalities in the history of mankind. His life was the teaching and his teaching was his life. No wonder the Buddha said, “I teach what I practice and I practice what I teach”. On this Vesak day it’s time to take a moment and think seriously, revisit the Buddha’s life and teachings and analyze them and examine if we are truly walking on the path as shown by the supremely Enlightened Buddha and are we really benefiting from his teachings. Are we really trying to live the teachings or are we using Buddhism as labels?
If we are really living the teachings, then each passing day our three poisons should become lesser and lesser and our wisdom or right understanding of the impermanence, suffering and non-self should become deeper and deeper. If this is not happening, then probably we haven’t yet understood the Dhamma. We need to critically study, analyze and practice it in our day to day life.
Buddhism over the years has become very rich in its approach to the practice. The Buddha himself taught using various methods and wisdom depending on each and every individual state of mind and levels of understanding. In every school or approach, there are all the four Ariyas, the noble ones. It is our moral duty and responsibility to respect each school and just choose whatever style of practice fits our temperaments, maintaining the utmost respect for the other approaches; after all we are the Buddha’s family members.
Buddha always advised saying that the each individual must thoroughly learn, cultivate, develop, and frequently practice the Dhamma that the life of purity may be established and may long endure, for the welfare and happiness of all sentient beings, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, well-being, and happiness of gods and men.
If we really want to make Ladakh a true heaven on earth, progress in life, live happily, helping and respecting each other, then search for the Buddha amongst people, not in the Gompa, statue, or in the mountains. You will never find him. He is very much amongst us, and we never know in which disguise he is, so the best thing is respect each other because any one of us could be the Buddha who knows! We might not have the eye to see, but we have the mind to at least think and act positively.
Let the Buddha Jayanti be an awakening of Buddha-hood in all of us.