Celebrating Buddha’s Teaching: “Tamed mind will bring solace”

As 2017 neared its end, the usual calendars and diaries published for the New Year were distributed. 

Unlike most other years, the 2018 calendars had some interesting and unusual features, January and March, for instance had two poya (the days of the full moon) days for the month, at the start and at the end.  But what was most unusual was that Vesak Poya Day was to be in April, rather than in May as it normally is.

People mentioned the unusual occurrence and went about their daily lives, while preparing to celebrate Vesak in April.

On April 20, the Buddhasasan Minister, Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, announced the Vesak celebrations would be held from April 26 to May 2, on the theme “Tamed mind will bring solace.” The aim this year, he told a media briefing was to promote a society that is righteous and pragmatic, through the temple-centred village concept that seeks physical and spiritual sustainability.

To ensure Vesak will be celebrated in a sombre manner, the public was informed that pandals (a hallmark of Vesak celebrations, depicting stories and teachings of the Buddha), could not be lit up on April 29, Vesak day, but only on the days following.    The government also moved the May Day celebrations, observed on the first of May each year, to the 7th, to safeguard the solemnity of Vesak. Yet, several political parties defied the government decree and held their May Day rallies and meetings on the May 1st.

Meanwhile, after staying silent for months Anunayake Thera of the Malwatte Chapter, the Ven. Rajakeeya Panditha Niyangoda Vijithasiri claimed the April Poya day was an “Adhi Poya” (additional poya), and that Vesak should be rightfully celebrated on the May 29 poya. He made this proclamation only a couple of weeks before the celebrations were to start.

While Sri Lanka continued to show amazing incompetence under the Yahapalanaya government, Buddhists in the rest of the the world will celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha as they have done for centuries- on Poya day in May,the 29th.

In Sri Lanka preparations for this great and important day begin soon after the Avurudu (New Year) celebrations.  Thoran, also known as Pandals are built and decorated at least a month ahead. As Vesak approaches homes are decorated with paper lanterns and oil lamps that cast a beautiful glow around buildings and gardens. 

Most Buddhists spend the day in Temples and observe “sil.”  This could be “ata sil” which means observing the Eight Precepts during a 24 hour period.  Devotees partake of only light liquid meals after the noon meal when observing “ata sil.” Some observe “pan sil”, which is five precepts.

Shop owners, community groups and affluent folk distribute free meals or beverages known as Dan Sal to passers-by while others donate food items to the needy.  Schools, businesses and various groups also organise the singing of Bakthi Gee.

Vesak is a time when the devout flock to temples to pray and give arms in memory of loved ones and gain merit.

This year Buddhism’s most important yearly event which allows for quiet reflection of the Buddha’s teachings, was marked with controversy and confusion.