Buddhist festivals

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Wesak Wesak

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Page 1: Buddhist festivals


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Wesak is the Therevadin festival

that takes place on the Full moon of the month

of Vesakha (May), to celebrate the Birth Enlightenment, and

death of the Buddha.

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Light is an important symbol of

Wesak – some Buddhists think of the Buddha and his teachings as a light that illuminates the

darkness of Samsara – and of

course there is the idea of


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Lights are offered to images of the Buddha,

as a symbol of the enlightenment that he achieved, and to which

every Buddhist aspires.

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In many Therevadin Countries, people

celebrate by lighting special lanterns, and hanging them from

their houses, or taking them on


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Special, floodlit

processions take place.

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This float commemorates the Buddha’s


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Some Viharas

are brightly


Buddhists may circumambulate them carrying lanterns – to symbolise their desire to be enlightened, and to keep the Buddha at the centre of their lives.

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Some Buddhists perform a simple ritual of washing a “Baby Rupa”, to symbolise welcoming

the Buddha after his birth.

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Wesak is a time when the laity make

a special effort to give donations to

the bhikkus.

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As well as the normal offerings of food, it is traditional

to give special candles, as symbols

of the Buddha’s enlightenment.

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Lay buddhists also express their determination by taking on the

extra five precepts that are usually only taken by Bikkhus

for the duration of Wesak!

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Wesak is seen as an important day

to study the dharma – so

people will read texts, attend lectures, and

visit their local temple.

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Some Buddhists mark Wesak by taking part in merit- making activities demonstrating compassion to all beings.

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The three month rainy season retreat.

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The Buddha preached his first

sermon to five ascetics in the deer park at Varanasi.

This is commemorated on Dhamma Day –

when bikkhus chant the Dhamma

Cakka Sutta – the text of the first

sermon.This marks the

beginning of Vassa – the three month long rainy season


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The first viharas were established in the

Buddha’s time for the bikkhus to rest in during

the monsoon rains. It was seen as an opportunity to

reflect, study and meditate intensively. This is still the case, and Vassa

is an important time for bikkhus.

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The end of Vassa is marked by Pavarana day, when the bikkhus

reflect on their behaviour during the

rains retreat. This is an opportunity to get

strained relationships out in the open!

“Venerable ones, I invite reprimand from the Sangha. According to what has been seen, heard or suspected of my actions,

may the Venerable ones correct me out of their compassion. Recognising it is my

fault, I shall make amends”

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During Vassa the Bikkhus and the Laity have had little to do with one another. The end of Vassa is marked by a festival of Unity called Kathina. The Bikkhus are congratulated on their retreat, as it is

believed that they have created merit for the whole community. Lay believers give the Bikkhus new

robes, and other essentials for the Vihara.

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Giving robes to the Sangha is a great source of Merit for

the donors.

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Uposatha days.Uposatha days.

Uposatha days happen on the full and new moons. The Bikkhus gather

together to chant the 227 Patimokkha rules of the Sangha. This is seen as an opportunity for

Bikkhus to recommit themselves to their lifestyle, and to clarify the