Your Full Guide To Wesak: What Is It And What Does It Mean To Budhists
Wesak, also known as Vesak or Buddha Day in some countries, is one of the most important festivals for Buddhists and is celebrated by millions across the world to commemorate the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.
Considering Buddhism is one of the largest religions in the world with around 400 million followers, you may be wondering why Wesak is celebrated, what it means to Buddhists and when it’s taking place this year.
If so, we’ve done our research and put together this full guide so you’ll know everything you need to know about this traditional holiday!
When Is Wesak Celebrated?
The date of Wesak varies depending on different traditions and countries, but it is usually held on the full moon day in May according to the Buddhist calendar, although it can sometimes fall in June.
Religious ceremonies and celebrations take place across South Asia and Southeast Asia as well as Tibet and Mongolia for up to a week after Wesak Day.
This year, Wesak will be celebrated on Friday 5th May so we’re getting close to the date of the most important Buddhist festival.
If you want to find out what Wesak, otherwise known as the Vesak festival, means to Buddhists then carry on reading.
What Does Wesak Mean To Buddhists?
Wesak is a sacred time for Buddhists as it is a time to reflect on the teachings of the founder of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha.
The story of Wesak or Vesak dates back to more than 2,500 years ago in northeastern India when Prince Siddhartha, otherwise known as Siddhartha Gautama, saw poor and dying people and came to the realisation that human life is suffering.
At the age of 29, Gautama left his Royal Palace and luxury lifestyle to begin a quest for understanding the nature of suffering and the meaning of life.
After six years of searching for the answers to his questions, Buddhists believe Gautama found enlightenment upon meditating under a Bodhi tree.
To find out more about the origins of Buddhism you can head to the Asia Society website.
Unlike other major religions, Buddhists do not worship a god, instead they see the founder of Buddhism Gautama Buddha as an extraordinary being, with his teachings laying the foundation of Buddhism.
Buddhists believe that human life is one of suffering, and that meditation, spiritual and physical labour as well as good behaviour are the ways to achieve enlightenment.
Today Buddhism is practised by millions of people worldwide, and many practices in Western Culture such as yoga and meditation originate from Buddhism.
How Is Wesak Celebrated?
Wesak is a colourful and joyful festival celebrated across the world to honour the life of the Buddha and his teachings, with different traditions and celebrations taking place from country to country.
Below we’ve listed a number of different traditions and celebrations for Wesak!
Visiting Buddhist Temples
In many countries, Buddhists will visit their local temple early in the morning and meditate for Wesak as well as attend religious ceremonies and teachings. They will also bring offerings of flowers, candles and joss sticks to the temples.
Buddhists may chant sutras, recite prayers, or sing hymns within the temples to honour the Buddha and his teachings.
The ritual called “Bathing of the Buddha” is also performed on Vesak day every year, which involves pouring water over a statue of a Buddha to show respect for his teachings, and to celebrate new beginnings.
Many of these temples will serve vegetarian food during Wesak, as it is a time to honour all living creatures, and many Buddhists abstain from eating meat.
Followers may also abstain from drinking alcohol during Wesak, and in some countries like Thailand, there is a ban on alcohol sales for 24 hours.
Wesak is not only a time to honour the enlightenments of the founder of Buddhism, but it’s also a time for focusing on their own spiritual awareness.
Meditation is a very important Buddhist practice, and many followers will spend time in meditation throughout Wesak.
This is done to focus on the Buddha’s teachings and his life, as well as cleanse the negative thoughts and energies within their own life.
Processions and Parades
After visiting Buddhist temples, Wesak celebrations will vary from each country, with countries such as South Korea and Indonesia lighting paper lightings and releasing them into water.
Other cultures celebrate Wesak by lining the streets with candlelight processions and carrying statues of the Buddha, the fact that candles burn down is meant to signify to worshippers that all things decay and eventually pass away.
In countries such as Sri Lanka and Thailand where Wesak is recognized as a public holiday, it is celebrated with large processions, parades, and street fairs.
Remember, each country does things differently so no two Buddha Jayanti celebrations will be the same!
Giving To Others
Acts of kindness and good deeds are important aspects of Wesak, with many Buddhists using the holiday as an opportunity to donate to charity, or provide food, clothing or medical care to those in need.
Followers of Buddhism may also visit orphanages and hospitals during Wesak or take part in other charitable acts like giving blood.
Some East Asian countries also release caged birds into the air during Wesak to symbolise that all living creatures should be free and happy.
Wesak involves giving offerings to monks of food, candles and flowers as well as giving family and friends cards for the occasion.
Whilst Buddhist countries all celebrate Wesak differently, in all places it is a time for celebration, reflection and gathering together to focus on the Buddha’s birthday, enlightenment and death.
With this joyous occasion taking place this May, hopefully you’ve learnt more about why Wesak is celebrated and the origins behind the most important day in the Buddhist calendar!
For those living in our student accommodation, host your own event for Wesak by using our residents app KLIQ!