Saturday, May 25, 2013

The World's Greatest Holiday: VESAK

Seven, Kalyana, Ashley Wells, CC Liu, Wisdom Quarterly (VESAK CELEBRATIONS IN L.A.)
The Buddha-to-come will also be reborn on Earth, have a great awakening, and pass into the final peace of nirvana, like the universal friend Maitreya, Thiksey Monastery, Ladakh, India.
Old European Xmas card with magic mushroom motif and Scandinavian elves
The original red-and-white gifts under pine
Xmas is pretty good, all those red-and-white wrapped gifts, dead trees in the living room, magic mushrooms drying in stockings over the fireplace as the Scandinavian history books show.

But what does it celebrate? Global capitalism and the rise of the Hallmark corporation? The real reason for the season is, of course, Pagan in origin.
Long ago pre-Christian Europeans, like everyone else, needed a Festival of Lights to ward off the winter gloom.
Issa legends owe much to Prince Sid's story
Enter mistletoe, nog, yule tide logs, decking the halls with boughs of holly, of lots of glittery things. Then the Church took it over, usurped the merriment, and so we have what we have today, which is largely commercial in nature with a nod to St. Issa and a little angel worship. Japan excels in this celebration.

(FBM) Christmas in Japan! (日本語字幕)

Imagine instead a holy-day that centered on the Light of the World, the Light of Asia, possibly the Light of this entire World-System -- the Enlightened One, the Buddha Shakyamuni. Sure, no one mows down pine trees or sprays fake snow on glitter, or runs up credit cards fulfilling social obligations or face plants on a dead turkey covered in sugar on fine China... but there is merit (Sanskrit, punya) to be accrued. It's an exalted form of profitable karma that will come in handy as we tread more or less greedily, hatefully, fearfully, and ignorantly through this interminable round of rebirths called samsara.

Vesak celebrations (Sri Lanka Theravada), Los Angeles Buddhist Vihara (WQ)
Buddha in the ancient West (WQ)
Vesak is a big deal because it commemorates three spectacular events. Buddhists throughout India and the countries of South East Asia, further north, in small pockets in Central Asia, and the Far East all already celebrate.

Buddhist countries include India, China, Kalmykia (Europe), Siberia, Japan, North Korea, Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Mongolia, Tibet, South Korea, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Singapore, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sumatra, and the former country of Hawaii, now a part of the U.S.
(Central Asian countries were also once Buddhist, namely, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indo-Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, portions of Russia, once the USSR, in the Caucasus region adjacent to the expansive ancient India or Bharat).
Gold Buddha (Hereward J Bunch/flickr)
It is sometimes informally referred to as "Buddha's Birthday" or "Buddhist Xmas." But more than the birth of a universal teacher of peace and freedom, it actually commemorates the final birth, great enlightenment (maha bodhi), and final peace (parinirvāna) of the Buddha Gautama.
It is tempting to say "birth" when rebirth is meant, or "enlightenment" when great enlightenment is meant, and "death" when final nirvana is meant. But while Siddhartha was an ordinary human, the Buddha is something spectacular and rare, worthy of the highest respect and admiration. We were all born, and nearly all of us will be reborn; a Buddha is not reborn.
We may all day win enlightenment by our efforts (both leaving ill things undone and doing what is beneficial) or we may not, but very very few will experience a great-enlightenment, one that benefits the world and this entire world-system (galaxy, cosmos, universe) as a rediscoverer of the path to complete freedom. We may one day glimpse nirvana and thereby set off on the path to arhatship and nirvana, which will not be "death" (which always entails rebirth) but a final freedom from all rebirth and suffering.
Imagine a day that celebrated all three of these marvelous events for the universal teacher of our times. It was aeons before a fully accomplished teacher arose in the world, and there are times of darkness when no such fully-awakened teacher or Teaching exists for humans and devas. Then it is possible that one, striving by effort and a long history of effort, may arise. It is a great blessing rather than a certainty we can take for granted.

Vesak celebrations program (Sri Lanka Theravada), Los Angeles Buddhist Vihara (WQ)
Long have we traveled, wandering from birth to birth through misery and ecstasy, with no escape, no teaching of a path to actual liberation, no way to control what goes on in our lives. The teaching of karma-vadin is rare; rarer still is the teaching of the Path of Purification and awakening. That day is Vesak.

Glorious full moon (
The word comes from the ancient name of the month, Vesākha in India, when these momentous events took place. When it falls on any given year varies according to the lunar calendars used in different traditions. 

Theravada countries following the Buddhist calendar celebrate on the full moon observance (uposatha) day, typically in the fifth or sixth lunar month. 
  • [As Wisdom Quarterly has gone to great lengths to discuss, the world used to run according to the Moon (Chandra), with Moondays (Mondays) during a Moonth (Month) marking time. There are 13 full moons in a year, when a week has seven days, and a month has 28, so that 13x28=364 plus a renewing New Year's Day; this is the natural cycle set up with the positioning of the Moon, which someone sought to disrupt by instituting an awkward Sun calendar that took away our natural cycles. Not only Vedic knowledge but also Mayan calendars and synchronaries ran this way with cycles within cycles of cosmic time, many of which were of more use to devas visiting Earth than to ordinary earthlings keeping the counting. The truth is much stranger than the fictions we imagine, and all those pyramids and stone monuments meant something profound.]
Vesak Day in China and Korea is on the eighth of the fourth month in the Chinese lunar calendar. The date varies from year to year in the Western Gregorian [commerce] calendar, but usually falls in April or May. In leap years Vesak is celebrated in June.

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