"Waisak" is an official holiday in Indonesia dedicated to the life, death, and enlightenment of Buddha.
It might come as a surprise that Waisak is celebrated in Indonesia. The country has less than 1% Buddhists, but nevertheless, it's officially recognized.
History of the holiday:
Buddhism started with one person, Siddhartha Gautama. He was born as a prince in a royal family.
As a child, he showed kindness and compassion to every living being. From childhood, he was shielded from witnessing suffering, as Siddhartha's father wanted to prevent a dangerous prophecy that foretold the future prince would leave the kingdom and choose a spiritual path.
However, the prophecy came true, and Siddhartha set out to explore the world, seeking a way to alleviate human suffering.
After many years of traveling through India, Siddhartha realized that suffering is inevitable. He saw hungry people on the streets and witnessed people dying from illnesses. Upon realizing the inevitability of suffering, he lost interest in simple pleasures that had previously brought him joy.
As a homeless monk, he wandered and spread the teachings of peace. But he didn't stop seeking an answer to the question of how to eliminate problems in the world.
Siddhartha encountered a group of monk ascetics. They believed they could increase their pleasures in the afterlife through intense suffering in this life. Many of them starved themselves. Siddhartha thought that he too could try fasting to achieve enlightenment.
After nearly dying from starvation, Siddhartha stopped practicing asceticism and started eating normally.
Soon after, Siddhartha began meditating under a large tree. He cleared his mind and started reflecting on his life.
Through intense concentration, he remembered his previous lives. He learned that living beings reincarnate based on the principles of karma and actions throughout life.
It's believed that this happened in the year 588 BCE, precisely on the Vesak Purnima Siddhi month.
Siddhartha realized that all negative events in the world stem from desires and cravings. He discovered that eradicating desire could eliminate suffering on Earth.
After gaining this insight, Siddhartha achieved enlightenment. He reached Nirvana and experienced true peace.
Throughout the following years, Siddhartha shared his knowledge with his companions in India. And soon, he became known as Buddha or the Enlightened One.
At the age of 80, Buddha died or reached Nirvana in Kushinagar in the year 543 BCE.
Official recognition of Vesak Day.
The decision to celebrate Vesak as Buddha's birthday was made at the first conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Sri Lanka in 1950, although observing festivals during these dates among Buddhists had been a centuries-old tradition.
The declaration sounded as follows:
"The World Fellowship of Buddhists expresses its gratitude for the gracious act of His Majesty, the Maharaja of Nepal, in making the full moon of Vesak a public holiday in Nepal. And sincerely requests the Heads of State of all countries where a large or small number of Buddhists are living, to take the full moon of May as a public holiday in honor of the Buddha, who is universally acclaimed as one of the greatest benefactors of humanity."
The date of Vesak celebration was declared a national holiday in Indonesia based on the Presidential Decree of Indonesia No. 3 of 1983 on January 19, 1983.
The name of the holiday originates from the Pali word "vesaka" or Sanskrit "vaisakha." Vesak is the name of the lunar month that falls in April-May of our Gregorian calendar.
The celebration is associated with flowers, vibrant colors, and visits to beautiful landmarks. On this day, it's customary to release animals and birds, symbolizing liberation, which was the goal of Buddha's spiritual quest.
During Vesak, the spiritual struggle of Buddha, his achievements, and his enlightenment are celebrated in many countries of Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Singapore, Korea, Laos, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, India, Nepal, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
Shortly before dawn, Indonesian Buddhists gather in temples for ceremonies that praise Buddha and his teachings. At the end of the ceremony, Buddhist flags are raised, and Buddhist hymns are sung.
People make floral offerings to the temple statues of Buddha. Flowers are a symbol of life, they are beautiful but they will wither and die. Thus, flowers serve as a reminder for people that life is precious.
Many Buddhist monks release small animals from captivity. This symbolizes the Buddhists' desire to free beings from confinement and suffering.
On the night of Vesak, thousands of lanterns with candles are released into the sky.
Where to celebrate Vesak?
In Indonesia, the most popular place to celebrate Vesak is Borobudur. This is the largest Buddhist temple on the island of Java, which hosts the Vesak Day festival during these times. Borobudur is also open to visitors who do not practice Buddhism.
Every year, Buddhists from different parts of Indonesia make a pilgrimage to Borobudur. Devotees come to meet the temple monks who gather for a meditation ceremony. During the meditation, the monks chant mantras.
During the celebration of Vesak at Borobudur, several rituals take place:
- Gathering blessed water from the Jumprit spring area in Central Java.
- Lighting torches using the eternal flame.
- Offering Pindapatta, distributing food to monks.
- Conducting Samadhi practice at the peak of the full moon.
In addition to the main events, Vesak celebration is often enlivened with parades and artistic performances.
It's considered polite to leave a donation in the form of food or money for the monks on Vesak Day.
In Bali, there are several Buddhist temples that you can visit on Buddha's Day. Among the most notable ones are:
- Klenteng Ling Gwan Kiong - the oldest Buddhist temple in Bali, located in the old northern capital, Singaraja.
- Brahma Vihara Arama - in the northern part of Bali.
- Vihara Dharma Giri - also in the north of Bali.
- Satya Dharma Temple - in Denpasar at the entrance to the highway.
- Vihara Buddha Dharma - in Kuta.
- Vihara Buddha Guna - in Bukit, at the Five Temples Square.
In Nepal, Buddhists from all over the world visit Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, to pray at the temple.
In Thailand, Vesak Day is usually celebrated at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, where thousands of candles are lit around the Buddha statue.
In South Korea, the celebration of Vesak will begin in a week. South Korean Buddhists decorate temples and holy sites with colorful lanterns. During worship in the temples, South Korean Buddhists also practice the tradition of writing wishes and hanging them on lanterns.
How to greet?
If you have Buddhist friends in Indonesia and you want to greet them, you can say "Selamat Hari Raya Waisak" as a greeting.
Five extended Vesak greetings:
Selamat Hari Raya Waisak. Semoga berkah Waisak membawa kebahagiaan, kedamaian dan keadilan bagi kita semua. Sabhe Satha Bhavantu Sukitatha. Semoga semua makhluk hidup berbahagia. Selamat Hari Raya Waisak. Selamat memperingati hari besar Tri Suci Waisak untuk umat Budha di Indonesia, semoga mendapatkan berkah dan damai untuk semuanya. Selamat Hari Tri Suci Waisak. Semoga kita semua dan sekalian makhluk berbahagia. Swaha! Selamat Hari Raya Waisak. Sabbe satta bhavantu sukhitatta. Semoga semua makhluk berbahagia. Pada hari yang baik ini, marilah kita mengingat ajaran Sang Buddha dan menyebarkan pesan persaudaraan universal dan kasih sayang untuk semua orang. Salam hangat untuk Anda.