Celebrating the Birth of the Virtuous

Shiwali Sethiya

Over the ages, many pursuits of faith and devotion have been developed, all instructing lives with identical tenets. To lead these denominations, there have been some inexplicable people who did not only bring the dawn of the righteousness, but also gave real definitions to live and to cherish our lives. One such person was Gautama Buddha who taught the world about the noble truths and the virtuous paths to follow. Buddha Purnima is celebrated to mark the day of his birth. Buddha Purnima or Buddha Jayanti is celebrated with traditional religious fervor. Buddha Purnima falls on the full moon day in the Hindu month of Vaisakh, which falls in April or May. Buddha was born on the Full Moon day in the month of Vaisakh in 563 BC. Here, it is interesting to note that Buddha achieved enlightenment and nirvana (salvation) on the same day (the Full Moon day)after living for eighty years. Thus, Buddha Purnima also marks the death anniversary of Gautama Buddha.

Being the son of the King of Kapilvastu, Shuddhodhan, he was brought up in a royal manner and was given the name Siddhartha. Siddhartha’s father kept him unaware of the tragedies of life for a long time because of the warnings of a notable ascetic. It was only when Siddhartha insisted his charioteer to take him out of the palace that he became aware of the problems and tragedies of life and people. After this he left the palace at night and set out to learn the real meaning of life. He sacrificed his life of luxury and wandered many places in search of truth. He is said to have meditated for years under a Banyan tree and was enlightened there. This tree is in Bodh Gaya, India. Only after this he was given the name of Gautam Buddha.

Sarnath, near Varanasi, holds an important place in Buddhism as Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath. On the occasion of Buddha Jayanti, a large fair is held at Sarnath and the relics of the Buddha are taken out for public display in a procession. Followers from Thailand, Tibet, Bhutan and various other places visit Sarnath on this day for blessings. Besides Sarnath, the Buddha Purnima is also celebrated with religious fervor at Bodh Gaya and Kushinagar and other parts of India and the world. The Buddha Purnima celebrations at Sarnath attract large Buddhist crowds as Buddhists offer prayers in different Buddhist temples at Sarnath on this day. Prayers, sermons, recitation of Buddhist scriptures are other important religious activities performed by the Buddhists at Sarnath. Monks and devotees meditate and worship the statue of Gautam Buddha.

Buddhists observe Buddha Purnima with contemplation, reflecting on the moral precepts laid down by Lord Buddha, ruminating on the events of his exemplary life. The Buddhists offer fruits, flowers, candles etc. to statues of Lord Buddha. Group meditation is done and people worshipping the statue of Buddha fill in the environment with complete devotion and dedication. The temples are decorated with flags and flowers and the Mahabodhi temple at Bodh Gaya wears a festive and elegant look that day. People recite the preaching of Lord Buddha that day and try to make resolutions to follow them as much as they can. Special religious programs religious programs including ‘bhajan’ and ‘aarti’ are held. As a part of rituals, devotees pour milk and scented waters on the Bodhi tree and place diyas around it. Since purity is one of the hallmarks of this day, ‘Kheer’, a sweet-dish made with rice and milk is prepared. Meat eating is totally abstained from. Devotees generally prefer to dress in white. The temple premises and adjoining locality are lit up in equal measure and decorated with colorful flags in yellow, white, red and blue at various places. A Buddha statue is also worshipped which stands near the consecrated ‘Vajrasana’ or the ‘Diamond Throne’, which exists from King Asoka’s age. The government of India announces holiday on this day.

In the other regions also like in Sikkim, scriptures are read before the Buddha statue throughout the day. Devotees gather in huge numbers to listen to discourses on the life and teachings of the Buddha. In Nepal, traditionally, this day witnesses a large congregation around Buddhists stupas. Likewise, Lumbini, the sacred birthplace of Lord Buddha, also sees mass participation of Buddhists from everywhere. In Sri Lanka, homes are brightly illuminated. In Japan, April 8th marks the Buddha’s birthday, and a traditional way of worshipping is using spring flower for shrines and placing small Buddha idols on them. In Myanmar, Buddhists water and worship the Bodhi trees.

Birds are freed from cages at many places. People give alms, fruits, food and clothes to poor and needy. People reaffirm their belief in the five principles which is called Panchsheel:

  • Not to take life
  • Not to steal
  • Not to tell lie
  • Not to consume liquor or any other intoxicant
  • Not to be disloyal.

It is saidthat Lord Buddha’s teachingsare more relevant today in these centuries than that they were at the time he preached people and his followers. Buddha tried to explain people that all the sufferings of this world are simply because of our attachment to these things. It is our desires that lead us to the sufferings. The primary teachings of Gautama Buddha are the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and the Precepts.

Four Noble Truths: The Four Noble Truths are the foundation of Buddhism. The Buddha’s first sermon after his Enlightenment centered on these Four Noble Truths –

  • All human conditions lead to suffering.
  • Suffering has a cause.
  • That cause is craving or desire.
  • There is a path for the cessation of suffering.

The Eightfold Path: The Fourth Noble Truth is the Eightfold Path, or eight areas of practice that touch all aspects of life.

  • Right Belief (in the Truth)
  • Right Intent (to do good rather than evil)
  • Right Speech (avoidance of untruth, slander and swearing)
  • Right Behavior (avoid blameworthy behaviors)
  • Right Livelihood (some occupations e.g. butcher, publican, were disparaged!!!)
  • Right Effort (towards the good)
  • Right Contemplation (of the Truth)
  • Right Concentration (will result from following the Noble Eightfold Path)

These are his preaching that we must follow so that we can be away from the common sufferings of life and living. The incredible part is that he in such a premature time made everyone realized the real balance between extravagance and asceticism as well as luxury and simplicity. But we ought not to choose these paths stewing our very own avarices. These noble facts canbe extremely useful in the present day scenario where most of the populace is hung in doldrums over pity issues without fronting the real and the ultimate substance of life.

Pursuing her engineering, the writer likes to write about Indian customs
and is a 
self-confessed travel lover.

(Published in The Lucknow Observer, Volume 3 Issue 26, May 2016)

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