What are Buddhist Holidays

Vesakh festivalThe most important holiday for Buddhists

"The Buddha's birthday is celebrated on Vesakh Day. It is the most important holiday in all Buddhist countries."

Says the Buddhist nun Dhammananda from Bangkok.

"But here in Thailand we believe that everything happened to Buddha on the same day: Buddha's birth, his enlightenment, his death. Buddhists in some other countries, on the other hand, only celebrate his birthday on that day."

Buddha was born in Lumbini, in present-day Nepal, in the 6th century BC. He was named Gautama and was the son of a country nobleman. Gautama experienced a well-sheltered youth. Anything that might worry him was kept away from Gautama. However, once, during an excursion, he saw a dead man surrounded by weeping relatives. The encounter with an old, frail man also depressed Gautama.

Gautama's path to enlightenment

The encounter with a completely withdrawn ascetic is different. Gautama realized: This monk is carefree. Deeply impressed by the ascetic, he decided to want to live the same way. Gautama became a wanderer and sought enlightenment. He was so celibate that he continued to lose weight. Near death he recognized: This path does not lead to salvation. He started eating again and went to Bodh Gaya. There he sat under a tree to meditate.

"Should my body dry up here on the square, let my skin, bones and flesh shrivel up before I have reached the enlightenment that is difficult to attain in many world ages, I will not move from this seat."

A Buddha statue at the Kotoku-in Temple in Kamakura, Japan. (picture alliance / dpa / Toru Kawata)

Then Gautama experienced what Buddhists call enlightenment. He became a Buddha, an "awakened one." Some time later he went to Sarnath. There he gave his first discourse. Some students joined him. In the following years he wandered with his followers through northern India and proclaimed his teaching. Gautama Buddha died at the age of 80. How someone who was 80 years old is supposed to have been born and died in one day cannot be explained scientifically, but only with categories of religion, says Professor Sirikanchana, religious scholar at Thammasat University in Bangkok.

"The fact that Buddha's birthday, his enlightenment and his death all fall on one day can only be understood as a miracle. That these three events happened on the same full moon day in the month of Vaisakha, according to Buddhists, must have been due to the special person of Buddha . "

Buddha is everywhere

In Thailand, more than 90 percent of the population are Buddhists and the Vesakh festival is celebrated across the country. Most Buddhists go to their temples to meditate. Bathing the Baby Buddha is an important ritual on this holiday. The believers draw perfumed water from a basin decorated with flowers and pour it over a Buddha figure. On Vesakh day, the monks recite the words of the Buddha and give lectures. And they are given plenty of donations.

"On this day, the monks receive a particularly large amount of food, far more than they really need. Everyone brings something to the monks. But in my opinion, on Buddha's birthday one should do something that not only helps others, but also benefits oneself."

Many Buddhists take the Vesakh festival as an opportunity to rethink their religious life. Vesakh is a day of good intentions and good deeds. The poor should be helped. And it is tradition at the Vesakh festival to be particularly careful with animals. Birds that are sold on the side of the road in Bangkok are released from their cages and released into the wild.

"I believe that it is not important for Buddhists to attend a ceremony on that day. What really matters is to live according to the teachings of the Buddha. I make my promise on Vesakh Day to be less selfish in the future and to do good . Providing the needy with food on Vesakh is very common. But advancing religiously even on this day is much more important. "

In many cities, especially in Southeast Asia, processions pass through the streets on the Buddha's birthday. Buddha statues are driven through the streets on carts decorated with flowers and colored fairy lights.

Women on a procession for the Vesakh festival in Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia. (imago / ZUMA Press)

The nun Dhammananda from Bangkok does not take part in any procession. Instead, she talks about the life and teachings of the Buddha in her temple.

"At Vesakh there is a lot of activity: the temples are being adorned and the people decorating their houses. The believers go to the temples and make offerings. In the evening, many people with burning candles come into the temples and use them to go around the stupas three times. I concentrate I reminded me of Vesakh to talk to people about Buddhism, and I remind them that every person, like Buddha, can become indestructible and immortal, and that on this very day one should go inside to establish this connection with Buddha to feel."