Buddhism arose in the 6th Century BC and was founded by prince Siddartha Gautama, who was later given the name of Buddha. Over 488 million people practice Buddhism, nearly 99% of whom are located in the Asia-Pacific region. Of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama said: “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness .”
Buddha Day is a very special day in the year of Buddhists and certain Hindus too because the two religions agree on karma (the sum of a person's actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences) and dharma (cosmic law and order). Buddha Day celebrations are also known as Vesak/Wesak, Buddha Purnima or Buddha’s Birthday
Date of Buddha Day
Buddha Day is recognised annually, generally on the full moon of the 6th ancient lunar month of Vesakha, which usually falls in April, sometimes May, or occasionally early June. But due to the geography, local calendars and various cultures of the Buddhist tradition, Buddha day is celebrated on different dates across the globe. The day also tends to be observed with different rituals and celebrations, in accordance with various Buddhist teachings.
Across all types of Buddhism, Vesak or Buddha Day is regarded as the most important festival in the Buddhist calendar. In 2018 Buddha Day falls on:
29 April in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Sri Lanka (Boishakhi / Buddha Purnima)
22 May in Australia, South Korea and Hong Kong (Buddha Day)
29 May in regions such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore (Vesak)
Festivities and Traditions
Buddha Day brings Buddhists throughout the globe together in celebrations and festivities which are symbolic and commemorate the birth and enlightenment of the Buddha. Temples and Buddhist Centres tend to be central to festivities, but it is a time for reflection and celebration in homes too.
There is a distinct party feel to Buddha Day, and this is an intrinsic part of the proceedings, giving rise to a variety of activities. Celebrations are diverse and symbolic. In Taiwan, followers pour fragrant water over Buddha statues to symbolise a fresh start in life; in Singapore caged birds are set free to the same end. Temples and Centres hold celebrations which are usually community focused and encompass a range of Dharma talks, meditation and sharing of food. Families will traditionally bring pre-cooked dishes, candles and flowers to monks at monasteries.
Local festivities abound worldwide, and from an Australian perspective, there are plenty of events occurring regionally that both practising Buddhists and the layman alike are welcome to attend.
Operating since 1997, the Buddha Birth Day Festival is held annually at The Southbank Parklands in South Brisbane and this year it is celebrated its 22nd anniversary. Held across two days in May, it is a gala of traditional rituals, meditation, performances and cultural activities.
On a humbler scale, but no less welcoming or authentic, are the celebrations that are taking place at numerous regional centres such as that at the Sydney Buddhist Centre on 26 May. The community there will be celebrating with talks on Buddha’s life, sharing meals, undertaking meditation and delivering devotional verses.
Festivals of Light
Many celebrations which take place on Buddha Day, especially those in Eastern traditions, feature light, including the lighting of an intricate series of lanterns and the arrangement of electric light displays. Ceremonies such as this reflect Buddhist art which depicts rainbow light emanating from the head of Buddhas and Bodihisattvas. Buddhas are beings that have achieved enlightenment and are often depicted with halos or even flames over their heads. Bodihisattvas are individuals who have also achieved enlightenment but remain on earth to help others.
During the festival, light ceremonies are conducted to symbolise the inner light which is present within any enlightened being. Other faiths, (such as Christianity and Judaism) also have the concept of inner light, but it isn’t frequently represented on an individual basis - in these beliefs the inner light of a single God is usually depicted and the followers good deeds are as a consequence of this.
Some of the most beautiful light celebrations take place at temples across Asia, including lantern festivals in locations like The Gangaramaya Temple in Sri Lanka.
The Buddhist Flag
Buddhist flags are adorned in homes and temples throughout Buddha Day, they are colourful and are a way of adorning buildings to communicate happiness and celebration. The Buddhist flag is a relatively modern creation, but it has come to represent unison amongst Buddhists. It was produced in 1885 by the Colombo committee in Colombo, Sri Lanka and it comprises of the five colours of the aura which is believed to have shone around the head of the Buddha following his enlightenment.
The emphasis upon food on Buddha Day is quite significant. Many Buddhists are vegetarian or vegan and although this is not a decree in most traditions or regions, it is frequently observed since it is believed that every sentient being is capable of suffering, wants to be happy and wants to avoid pain and fear.. Traditionally, monks and nuns of the Theravaden way feed themselves through alms, and they must eat whatever food that is given to them, and this may include meat.
Some followers of Buddhism choose to adopt a vegetarian diet only during certain days of the lunar calendar, generally the first and fifteenth. In another tradition meat is permitted so long as an animal has not been specifically slaughtered in the name of the eater.
Later this week, we will be sharing a recipe kindly provided by The Sydney Buddhist Centre on our recipe page so be sure to come back and try it out.
For further information on Buddhism visit: