Living in America, I’ve found practicing Buddhism to be a fairly solitary endeavor. Part of that is my own fault—I need to make a stronger effort to find a sangha and attend regularly. But part of it is the inevitable effect of participating in a minority belief system in this country. As such, I’ve found myself inspired by the traditions of the Jewish people. It’s always seemed to me that holidays are a touchstone for my Jewish friends—an opportunity for them to come together and celebrate their own beliefs in the midst of a culture where another religion is ubiquitous. I felt that might work for me as well. Buddhist holidays might offer me an opportunity to strengthen my commitment to the Dharma and share it with those close to me.
This is why I celebrate Vesak. Vesak, or Vesākha, is the observance of the Buddha’s birth, awakening and death. It’s primarily a Theravada tradition, though there are similar holidays among Mahayana Buddhists. This year was my first Vesak and I established what I hope will be traditions for years to come. I’m already a vegetarian so to remind myself of my commitment to ahiṃsā, I went fully vegan for the day. To cultivate compassion, I invited friends over and cooked them a large meal. And, of course, I meditated. I even watched the PBS documentary on the life and teachings of the Buddha. It was a wonderful day and I’m looking forward to next year.
(The picture above depicts a Buddha-shaped lantern from a Vesak celebration in Southeast Asia)
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