Friday, April 8, 2016

When is the Buddha's Birthday? (various)

Barbara O'Brien (, 1-30-16); CC Liu, Crystal Quintero, Wisdom Quarterly
Buddha's Birthday, Thailand - Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
People walk around a Buddha statue at sunset holding candles for prayers at Buddhist Park on Vesak Puja Day in Nakhon Pathom, Thailand (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images).

Buddhism is an important part of Cambodia's cultural and commercial life (Peter Denton).
On what day is the Buddha's Birthday? That's simple. Calculate thus:
  • the first full moon day of the sixth month of the lunar calendar
  • which would be the fourth month of the Chinese calendar
  • except in years in which there's an extra full moon
  • and then the Buddha's birthday falls on the seventh month
  • except where it starts a week earlier
  • while in Tibet it's usually a month later
  • but in Japan, the Buddha's birthday is always on April 8.
The Buddha's Birthday in South Korea
Buddha's Birthday South Korea - © Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images
These costumed ladies are taking part in the gala Buddha's Birthday parade and pageant held annually in Seoul, South Korea (© Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images).
In South Korea, the Buddha's birthday is a gala week-long celebration that ends on the first full moon day of the lunar month Vesakha, which usually falls in May. This full moon day is the most commonly observed date for the Buddha's birthday. Dates for upcoming celebrations of the Buddha's birthdays are:
  • 2016: May 14
  • 2017: May 3
  • 2018: May 22

Throughout South Korea, city streets and temples are decorated with lanterns. At Jogyesa Temple in Seoul, the first day begins with religious ceremonies, followed by a street fair near the temple. In the evening a gala lantern parade stretches for miles through the heart of Seoul.

The Buddha's Birthday in Southeast Asia

Theravada is the dominant form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Thailand (Siam), Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, and Laos. Theravadins combine the observance of the Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and final nirvana into one holiday called Vesak, Visakha, or Wesak (the name of the month on the ancient Indian calendar of this thrice blessed day) sometimes "Buddha Day."
Vesak is the most joyous day of the year for Theravada Buddhists because in ancient times all three events occurred on the same day, with the same full moon overhead (on different years of course). It is marked by visits to temples, monasteries (viharas), candlelight processions. and observance of Uposatha Precepts. Dates for upcoming Vesak observances are:
  • 2016: May 20
  • 2017: May 10
  • 2018: May 21 or 22
For more about this holiday, see Vesak.

The Buddha's Birthday in Tibet
Saka Dawa pilgrims, Lhasa - China Photos/Getty Images
Pilgrims at Thousand Buddhas Hill, Lhasa, Tibet, during Saka Dawa (China Photos/Getty).
Saga Dawa is the entire fourth month of the Tibetan calendar, which usually begins in May and ends in June. The seventh day of Saga Dawa is the date of the historical Buddha's birth for Tibetans.
However, the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and entry into nirvana at his passing are observed together on the 15th day of Saga Dawa, called Saga Dawa Duchen. This is the single most important holiday for Tibetan Buddhism [Vajrayana], usually observed with pilgrimages and other visits to temples and shrines.
  • 2016: May 21
  • 2017: June 9
  • 2018: May 29
The Buddha's Birthday in Japan
Hana-matsuri (Flower Festival) on the birthday of the Buddha in Kanpuku Temple, Katori City, Japan. Visitors to the temple can pour water over the figurine of baby Buddha with a ladle to re-enact the bathing of the newborn. - Alvis Upitis/Stockbyte/Getty Images
(Alvis Upitis/Stockbyte/Getty Images)
In Japan, the Buddha's birthday is called Hanamatsuri, or “Flower Festival." On this day people bring fresh flowers to temples in remembrance of the Buddha's birth in a grove of blossoming trees. In Japan, the Buddha's birthday is observed every year on April 8. For more about Buddhism in Japan, see Buddhism in Japan: A Brief History.

The Buddha's Birthday in China and Elsewhere

Vesak Baby Buddha - © Kaikai |
Baby Siddhartha at his birth, bathed like the devas bathed him (© Kaikai/
In most of China as well as most other parts of Asia, the Buddha's birthday coincides with the dates for Vesak in South and Southeast Asia (see above).
However, most Mahayana Buddhists celebrate the day as only the Buddha's birthday. They observe the Buddha's enlightenment and parinirvana (passing away into "final nirvana") on other days. More

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