Articles Taken from LUMBINI magazine, May 1998, volume 1:
Buddha Jayanti in Nepal
Vesakha full-moon day is a very sacred day for all Buddhists. On this day Buddhists everywhere commemorate the Buddha who is the great son of Nepal with their devotion and veneration. In many parts of the world Vesakha full-moon day is celebrated as Buddha Day, marking the three major incidents his life.
2622 years ago (623 B.C.) on the full-moon day of Vesakha constellation, Siddhartha Gautama was born in the beautiful and peaceful Lumbini garden of Sala trees (Shorea robusta), situated in the Rupandehi district in Nepal. It is said that immediately after his birth, Buddha took seven steps towards the north and said raising a finger in the air, ‘Supreme am I in the world and this is my last birth’. At the time of his birth flowers showered from the sky. Prince Siddhartha was given a bath at the nearby pond in the Lumbini garden which is known nowadays as ‘Siddhartha kunda’. Mayadevi shrine was built at the very spot where Siddhartha was born.
To affirm the birth of the Buddha to all mankind Emperor Asoka had erected a stone pillar indicating his birth place which still stands in Lumbini today. It is said that from his birth it was foreseen by the great sage Asita that if Prince Siddhartha concentrated on spiritual cultivation instead of the monarchy he could help to bring benefit and happiness to all beings in the world.
Sadden by birth, decay, sickness, death and suffering, which make up the very nature of this physical world, the Buddha started meditating since his childhood, left the palace at the age of 29 in search of the path that will release all beings from suffering. By careful examination and analytical thinking he found the path of liberation which can emancipate people from birth, decay, sickness, death and suffering. With that discovery he was enlightened, attained Buddhahood and became the Buddha.
On the cool and peaceful full-moon night of Vesakha, obtaining knowledge of remembrance of past lives, at the first hour of the night Prince Siddhartha attained ‘Pubbenivasanus-satiñana’. Respectively, at the second hour of the same night he achieved ‘Cutupapatañana’ by obtaining knowledge of the death and rebirth of beings. And on the third hour of the night by understanding the nature of the chain of phenomenal cause and effect and the knowledge of the destruction of mental intoxication, he attained ‘Asavakkhayañana’. Thus by obtaining the wisdom which led him to achieve Nirvana he became the Buddha. Hence is the significance of Vesakha full-moon day as the sacred day for all Buddhists.
After attainment of the Buddhahood after six years of severe practices, Prince Siddhartha, the Buddha, remained for seven weeks to reflect upon his enlightenment and enjoyed the bliss of liberation. Afterwards, he went on search of disciples in order to share the sweetness of the noble wisdom which he had obtained. He arrived at Saranath in Isipatana of that time to meet with his five former disciples. The Buddha travelled from place to place to deliver his knowledge for the benefit and happiness of all beings for 45 years. He established hundreds of thousand of communities of Order (Bhikkhu Sangha) in different places. With regards to professing religion the Buddha says, ‘do not accept anything just because it is said by someone or written somewhere. Accept it only after one’s skilful investigation.’ In another occasion, the Buddha told the Subhadra, a wandering religious mendicant who came to seek him to be his last disciple that ‘it is normal for all to claim that their religion is the best but whichever religion has Four Noble Truths is supreme.’
Finally, at the age of 80 on the Vesakha full-moon day having laid down between two Sala trees at Kusinagara, the Buddha passed away while cultivating his mind through the first, second, third and fourth absorption (Jhanas). He manifested the truth of impermanence that all beings are destined to death. Leaving his physical body behind, he attained Nirvana. This is called ‘Mahaparinirvana’ -- the Great Decease of the Buddha. Significantly, these three major incidents of the Buddha’s life occurred on the very same day, the Vesakha full-moon day.
Buddha Jayanti reminds us of three other things: First, the noble truth of impermanence, the truth of suffering that every birth ends in death. Second, human life is short and fragile, therefore we should realise that we have to obtain noble wisdom within that short period. And third, the inspiration of attaining enlightenment which leads to ultimate peace i.e. nirvana. We should value our birth as humans on earth. In fact, Buddha Jayanti is to contemplate the virtues of the Buddha, to purify one’s mind once again by contemplating his teachings. And to be industrious in generating loving-kindness and compassion for the sake of harmony, brotherhood, and peace. This is the real meaning of taking refuge in Triple Gem.
Gautama Buddha is the national hero of Nepal. Therefore, Buddha Jayanti which is celebrated on the Vesakha full-moon day is our national festival. As the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and final decease all happened in the Vesakha full-moon day it is celebrated as the victory day because it is the day when the Buddha attained wisdom. It is also celebrated as a meritorious day because it is the day when the Buddha left his temporal body behind and attained supreme nirvana. For Nepalese what honour could be greater than this? Therefore, it is the main duty and responsibility of all Nepalese to celebrate this national festival widely and magnificently.
Buddha Jayanti is celebrated with great devotion and significance in many Asian countries like Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Japan and Korea etc. in their own traditional and unique style. In Nepal, some celebrate it by worshipping Buddhist stupas and Buddha images, others by visiting Swayambhu, Anandakuti and other Buddhist shrines and Viharas in the early morning and observing precepts, doing the Buddha puja, and giving Dana. On this day there is a Buddhist congregations at Anandakuti Vihara to celebrate Buddha Jayanti at the national level. Here the celebration is held every year by observing precepts, Buddha puja, listening to sermons, and paying homage to the Buddha’s holy relic which is put on display just for that day.
At Patan, the living museum of Buddhist arts and culture, Buddha Jayanti is celebrated by Buddha Jayanti Trust in traditional Buddhist monasteries. Each year the central place of celebration changes according to which Buddhist temple’s turn it is. In the Kathmandu valley and all over the country there is a week long celebration of Buddha Jayanti. This includes organising Buddhist sermons, Buddhist quiz contests, Buddhist art exhibitions, Buddhist seminars, blood donation, and distribution of food and medicine in jails and hospitals etc. There are also devotional processions preceded by the image of Buddha.
The Swayambhu Gyanmala Bhajan Khala (Swayambhu Buddhists hymn choir) organise the singing of Buddhist hymns every evening during the week long celebration. The hymn singers believe that Buddhist devotional songs can help to concentrate one’s restless mind.
We can see that the teachings of compassion and peace improve morality and help people to purify their minds as well as their behavior and fill their minds with loving-kindness and virtues. Therefore, it is necessary to give Buddhist education to students of today who are our future generation in order to raise awareness, peace, compassion and harmony in them.
On Buddha Jayanti day Swayambhu and other Buddhist monasteries are bustling with Buddhist devotees from early morning. They commemorate the Buddha, the guru of the world with great devotion with fragrant garlands, bouquets and scented incenses in their hands. They express their devotion by lighting lights, symbolising the illuminating wisdom of the Buddha. They remember Buddha wishing to obtain the noble wisdom which will enable them to understand the ultimate truth of suffering of birth, decay, sickness, and death.
Swayambhu is the most sacred place for Nepalese Buddhists. They worship it as Adi Buddha. It is believed that a very long time ago the Kathmandu valley was a huge lake. Vipassi Buddha, meditating on the top of Jamacha mountain which lies at the west of the lake, predicted that the lake would be significant in the future. He planted a seed of lotus in the lake and predicted that this seed will make a lotus flower with a thousand petals and on the top of the lotus will be born Swayambhu Adi-Buddha. After a long time, there appeared the beautiful thousand petal lotus with brilliant light of wisdom beaming out from its centre. Further it is said that all former Buddhas--Sikhi Buddha, Vishvabhu Buddha, Krakuchanda Buddha, Kanakamuni Buddha, and Kasyap Buddha--came to pay homage to this Swayambhu, the self-emerged light of wisdom.
On Buddha Jayanti day most Buddhists fly five coloured Buddhist flags at their houses. In every house the picture of the Buddha is beautifully decorated with garlands and Buddhist flags. The main parts of the city and monasteries are decorated with small Buddhist flags and fly flags inscribed with the Buddha’s teachings. Thus the Buddha Jayanti is celebrated throughout Nepal as a National celebration.
On this auspicious occasion of the Buddha Jayanti Theravadian Bhikkhus, nuns, and lay devotees congregate at Anandakuti Vihara and other Theravadian monasteries to celebrate the day with Buddha puja, listening to sermons, recitation of Jayamangala gatha and by offering sweets, fruits and donation etc. Buddhist devotees clean stupas and Buddha statues in their own localities and decorate them with Buddhist flags before venerating them as the part of Buddha Jayanti celebration.
Likewise, venerable Lamas of Swayambhu Karma Gumba, Khasti Baudha, other Buddhist Gumbas and Ghyangs also celebrate the day by various activities such as reciting Choy puja, lighting oil lamps, listening to sermons etc. Annually at Cabahil on Buddha Jayanti day there is a traditional custom of worshipping the stupa of the Licchavi period and installing Buddha’s statue on an elephant to take towards the Baudha Khasti after the procession in the town. At the Khasti stupa there is another grand celebration; like stupa puja, Pelamhmu, and worshipping Ajima goddess. There is also a procession, taking a Buddha image on a decorated elephant through the town before its termination at Cabahil.
On this day, there is also a special custom of attaining merits by offering Kheer or rice pudding, giving away sweets and fruits to sick people in hospitals, and donating clothes to the poor etc.
On Vesakha full moon day thousands of men and women go to Swayambhu and Anandakuti Vihara to pay homage to the sacred relic of the Buddha. This reflects the Buddha’s teachings of impermanence that one day our bodies will also change to bones as well. This reminds us that one must escape from unwholesome acts of life like lust, greed, anger, craving etc. and should practice the Noble Eightfold Path instead. This is inspired by enlightenment which overcomes suffering of birth, decay, sickness and death and achieves ultimate peace, so that like the Buddha, one does not have to reborn again.
The Buddha Jayanti culminates with the observance of Buddha’s teachings for world peace harmony and happiness for all. The celebration ends by wishing loving-kindness, compassion, harmony, worldly brotherhood and Buddhist unity for all beings.
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