Sandstone figure of Buddha protected by Naga Muchalinda

Vesak Day

A full moon day which falls around May (Gregorian calendar) offers Buddhists an opportunity to reflect on the life and teachings of the Buddha. It commemorates the Birth, Enlightenment and Final Nirvana of the Buddha. Most Buddhists across the world are familiar with the myth of the miraculous birth of the Buddha.

In Singapore

The Vesak Day is an extremely important occasion observed in Singapore. Huge crowds will usually assemble at various Buddhist temples around the city. Inside the Buddha temples the monks chant sacred hymns and a large number of devotees set caged-birds free. Setting the imprisoned birds free is considered as a graceful gesture which serves as a mark of respect to all living creatures in the world, or better known in Mandarin as 'fang sheng'. Buddhists in Singapore have long observed the practice of releasing animals into the wild, although this act is against the law. Some temples have come up with activities that aim to take the place of this practice, shifting towards family and youth-oriented activities. Buddhists visits temples, offerings of fresh fruits and flowers, and rituals such as Buddha-bathing, where water is poured onto a statue of the Buddha. Buddhist youths organize blood donation camps and distribute gifts to the poor people. Many Buddhists also take vegetarian meals on this day as they recall the teaching of universal compassion. During the evenings, candlelit processions are found walking across the streets of the city and this is how the festival is ended.

The Birth of the Buddha

The only son of Queen Maya & King Suddodhana of Kapilavatthu. Buddha was born in B.C. 560. Queen Maya delivered her baby while walking in Lumbini Park, near the city of Kapilavastu. While she was experiencing delivery pains, a branch of the Sala tree bent down to receive her hand. With her right hand holding the proffered tree branch, she gave birth to her baby in a standing position. The baby bodhisattva descended from her womb, handed down by Brahma gods before passing to the hands of Queen Maya's maids.

The baby strolled seven steps on the ground and at each step, a lotus flower bloomed up to receive his feet. Finally, on the seventh lotus, the baby was seen as a youth and said "I am the best in the world. This will be my last birth." Queen Maya died seven days after her son's birth. The child was brought up by Maya's sister Mahaprajapati.

Enlightenment

After training in meditation for six years he realized that he was very close to attaining full enlightenment, and so he walked to Bodh Gaya (now in north eastern part of India) where he seated himself beneath the Bodhi Tree (the tree of wisdom) in the meditation posture and vowed not to rise from meditation until he had attained perfect enlightenment. On the night of the full moon, after overcoming the attacks and temptations of Mara, “the evil one,” he reached enlightenment, becoming a Buddha at the age of 35. It was also on this day Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath, also in the North Eastern India.

Final Nirvana

The Buddha lapsed into the jhana stages, or meditative absorptions. Going from level to level, one after the other, ever deeper and deeper. Then he came out of the meditative absorption for the last time and passed into nirvana, leaving nothing whatever behind that can cause rebirth again in this or any other world. Buddha passed away on Vesak Full Moon Day under the two Sala trees at Kusinara, in India at the age of eighty. Lotus blossoms fell from heaven and covered his body.