Vesak - lights and peace


To my dearest non-Buddhist friends, a conversation with a Hindu friend opened my eyes to how some non-Buddhists might view the ‘celebration’ of Vesak at such a critical time. It never occurred to me that Vesak would be viewed in a negative light, because for us Buddhists, there is no better way to mark the current situation; to ‘celebrate’ Vesak is to commemorate peace, impermanence and non-violence, which form the very essence of Buddhism. This is why the commemoration of Vesak would bring solace in this critical situation.

Vesak marks the Birth, Enlightenment and Passing Away of the Buddha – but it is not the Buddha that we celebrate. We celebrate the birth and progress of a new peaceful philosophy in the world. So Vesak is more a day for worship for us than festivity. It's not like, for example, avurudu.

You must be wondering – then why the lanterns and lights if not for festivity?

Light is indicative of enlightement, wisdom engulfing the being. We have lights all over as if to dispel darkness entirely, with illumination in the form of lights, candles, lanterns or buckets. Also, ‘darkness does not drive out darkness; only light can drive out darkness’ is a basic premise of Buddhism – hate cannot be fought with hate.

The colours used, are usually the colours of the Buddhist flag, which represent Universal Compassion, the Middle Path, liberation, purity, wisdom and truth of the Buddha’s teaching. Even the structure of lanterns is symbolical – after a while they get exposed to sunlight and rain and start disintegrating. This shows that even the most beautiful aspect of life is impermanent.

Vesak is also about charity and goodwill – dansals are about generosity and selflessness: which is why there is free food, and now there are free three wheeler hires and bus rides etc. Vesak is also about justice and liberation – which is why 762 prisoners were released on aPresidential pardon. Many caged birds and animals too are released on this day.

As you can see, for us, Vesak represents everything that Buddhism does – peace, tolerance, balance and liberation. This is why we are determined to bring justice to the true spirit of Vesak.



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