Significance of Buddha Purnima
24/05/2010 14:27:19 V.N. Gopalakrishnan
Buddha Purnima or Buddha Jayanti is celebrated in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Gautama Buddha is one of the greatest spiritual teachers of mankind. He is called the ‘Light of Asia’ and his message has captured the hearts and minds of millions of people the world. He has also been revered as an Avatar (incarnation) of God. He is the founder of Buddhism, the religion and philosophical system that produced a great culture throughout much of southern and eastern Asia. Buddhism has played an influential role in the spiritual, cultural and social life of much of the Eastern world. As Buddhism spread from India, it was assimilated into many foreign cultures. Traditionally, this annual festival is observed by Buddhists as Vesakha. Though it is called Buddha’s birthday, it encompasses his birth, enlightenment (Nirvana) and passing away (Parinirvana). The exact date of Vesakha differs according to various lunar calendars used in different traditions. The decision to celebrate Vesakha as the Buddha’s birthday was formalized at the first Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists held in Sri Lanka in 1950. In India Buddha Jayanti is being celebrated on May 27.
During Buddha Purnima, devotees refrain from killing of any kind and are encouraged to partake vegetarian food. Birds, insects and animals are released in thousands as a 'symbolic act to liberation'. Some devout Buddhists will wear a simple white dress and spend the whole day in temples with renewed determination to observe the eight Precepts. Celebrating Buddha Purnima means making special efforts to bring happiness to the unfortunate like the aged, the handicapped and the sick.
The pilgrims come from all over the world to Bodh Gaya in Bihar to attend the Buddha Purnima celebrations. Apart from Bodh Gaya, it is also celebrated in Lumbini, Kushinara and Saranath (U.P) as they are the holy places connected with Buddha. The day is marked with prayer, sermons, religious discourses, group meditation, processions, and worship of the statue of Buddha. The Mahabodhi Temple wears a festive look on the occasion.
Some temples display small images of Buddha in front of the altar and allow devotees to pour water over them symbolic of the cleansing of the bad karma of the devotees. The essence of Buddha’s early preaching was said to be the Four Noble Truths: i. life is fundamentally disappointment and suffering; ii. Suffering is a result of one’s desires for pleasure, power, and continued existence; iii. in order to stop disappointment and suffering, one must stop desiring and iv. The way to stop desiring and thus suffering is the Noble Eight-fold Path of salvation - right life, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mind and right concentration.
Devout Buddhists observe the Five Precepts of Buddha to train themselves to practice morality, simplicity and humility. Buddha's philosophical analysis of the basic problem of human suffering and misery helped to hold before the common man a purified and simplified path for salvation. Buddha denounced the animal sacrifices in the yajnas and yagas and he stood as the embodiment of compassion to all living beings.
Sidhartha, as he was known in childhood, was born in 563 BC. He was the only son of Shudhodana, the King of Kapilavastu situated at the foot of the Himalayas. Sidhartha grew of age without ever knowing what misery or sorrow was. One day the prince desired to see the city and he was taken in a chariot. He saw an old and crippled man by the roadside. On another occasion, he came across a sick man and a corpse being carried to the funeral ground. The prince was perturbed by the sights and was deeply engrossed in anxious thoughts. However on another occasion, he saw an ascetic who had triumphed over the worldly temptations and attained the highest bliss of life.
Sidhartha was hardly twenty-nine years then and was in the full bloom of youth. One day in the midnight, he bade good-bye to his parents, wife Yashodhara, child Rahul, all the royal pleasures and departed to the forest to seek for himself answers for the riddles of human misery. For seven years, Sidhartha underwent severe austerities. When he was an itinerant monk, he was known as Gautama and later on he became popular as Gautama Buddha.
It is said that once Buddha had camped in the kingdom of Bindusara. The king, a disciple of Buddha honored his Guru with chariots-load of royal presents and offerings. The other disciples also, many of them rich, made offerings to the best of their ability. At the end, an old and poor woman offered a small pomegranate and collapsed at the feet of Buddha. Buddha ordered the bell of honor to be rung in her name for that day, to the utter surprise of the king and his subjects.
The supreme light of realization dawned on Buddha on the Vaishakha Purnima Day, and he attained Enlightenment or Buddha, beneath the Bodhi tree at Bodha Gaya. Buddha passed into eternity after completing his Sahasra Chandra Darshana (80th year) on the full moon day of Vaishakha. Buddha Gaya where he attained enlightenment is one of the most sanctified places of pilgrimage.
Buddha's overflowing love for the downtrodden and the destitute people acted as one of the factors for social harmony and justice to the weaker sections of the society. The spiritual and moral forces generated by Buddha have strengthened and enriched Hinduism. As days passed, the effect of Buddha's teachings not only influenced the people of India but spread over a vast region of the globe.
(The author is a social activist and Director, Indo-Gulf Consulting. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)