VESAK

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Words : Lakmini Wijemanne

The month of May for the Buddhists in Sri Lanka is a very special month : a month that is dedicated to religious activities, meritorious acts and leading (as much as possible) a lifestyle in accordance with the teachings of the Lord Buddha.
Vesak is the celebration of the birth, the enlightenment and the parinirvana (death) of Gauthama Buddha who preached a religion that is more a philosophy of life than a mere religion. At best, it is a simple way of life, if practiced correctly. Buddhism teaches its followers to live a life according to the Noble Eight Fold Middle Path avoiding the two extremes of Self-Mortification and Self-Indulgence. It teaches that the middle path would allow you to lead a reasonably contented and happy life.
It was during the reign of the King Devanampiyatissa, that Arahath Mihindu , the son of Emperor Ashoka of India who was a great friend of our king, came to Sri Lanka to preach Dhamma to the king. Understanding the deeper meaning of the Dhamma that was preached by Arahath Mihindu, the king went on to become a devout Buddhist . Thereon, Buddhism became the religion practiced by the majority of Sri Lankans.
Vesak is celebrated in the country in many ways. It is most importantly a day of deep religious meaning to the Buddhist and thus venerated by the masses observing “sil” : a day of abstinence from the worldly activities of our everyday life, spending the day either at the temple or at home, observing the eight precepts to foster good conduct and develop self-discipline.
Vesak is without doubt the most significant and revered Buddhist religious festival in the island. During the two days set aside in the calendar for Vesak celebrations, people will gather at temples to engage in various religious activities observing sil, offering flowers, meditation, … Temples would be full of devotees, engaged in their various offerings in worship of Lord Buddha.
However, as night falls , houses, roads, designated areas would start to take on many vibrant hues with countless Vesak lanterns, pandals lit with colourful light bulbs, and many dansal offering food to any passerby. Making and lighting lanterns is a practice adored by both young and old alike. In homes, the preparations of making the lanterns begins at least a few days earlier and at most times, it is an activity which brings together everyone in the family. Lanterns are made in different shapes and get adorned in many different designs. Every house would have at least one lantern as a mark of paying homage to the significance of the day.
At a time when the whole world – without a difference of religion, race or creed – is suffering from the pandemic of the Covid 19 virus, it is more than ever a time for us to pray to spread Metta and to practice Karuna (kindness) towards all living beings to be safe from the illness…..May everyone be safe and not suffer.

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