The Day of Vesak occurs annually on the day of the full moon in May. This year, it takes place on May 23. It is celebrated as the day that Buddha was born, the day he was enlightened, and the day that he passed away. The exact date of the Day of Vesak is based on Asian lunisolar calendars and is primarily celebrated in Vaisakha, a month of both the Buddhist and Hindu calendars. Buddhism is one of the oldest religions in the world, and millions of people around the world follow the teachings of Buddha.
On Vesak, followers assemble in their temples before dawn for the ceremonial hoisting of the Buddhist flag. Followers will also sing hymns in praise of the holy triple gem: the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings), and the Sangha (his disciples).
History of Day of Vesak
Buddhist celebrations and festivals are century-old traditions. As Buddhism spread from India to the rest of the world, it was assimilated into many foreign cultures. As a result, the Day of Vesak is often celebrated in various ways all over the world.
Siddhartha Gautama was born in Nepal and lived during the 5th Century BC. He is the founder of Buddhism. He was born into a wealthy family but decided to give up his lavish lifestyle. Still not fulfilled, he promoted the idea of the “Middle Way,” which means existing between two extremes; a life without indulgence but also without deprivation. After many years of searching, he found enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree. He dedicated his life to teaching others how to achieve this spiritual state. He passed away in around 483 B.C. After his death, his teachings became the foundation for what would develop into Buddhism.
Occasionally, the month of May may have two full moons as there are 29.5 days between each full moon. When this occurs, some countries such as Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Malaysia celebrate the Day of Vesak on the first full moon, while others like Thailand and Singapore celebrate it on the second full moon.
Buddhists bring offerings to the temple, usually flowers or joss sticks on the Day of Vesak. Birds, animals, and insects are released, representing the gift of freedom to those who are held in captivity or imprisoned.
A small statue of the Buddha might be displayed in the front of the altar. It usually sits in a basin filled with water and decorated with flowers, allowing devotees to pour water over the statue. This symbolizes the cleansing of bad karma and a reenactment of the events following Buddha’s birth when he was showered with sacred waters by the gods and spirits.
Day of Vesak timeline
Siddhartha Gautama is born.
Gautama passes away.
Ashoka the Great makes Buddhism the state religion of India.
The Western world becomes more aware of Buddhism through colonial servants, administrators, and Christian missionaries.
The first-known modern Western conversions to Buddhism occur.
Large-scale immigration of Chinese and Japanese to the U.S. and Canada leads to the growth of Buddhism in the West.
Buddhists such as D.T. Suzuki, Hsuan Hua, Hakuun Yasutani, and Thích Nhất Hạnh are influential in teaching Zen Buddhism in the West.
Day of Vesak FAQs
Is Vesak always in May?
Yes, but the dates of the Day of Vesak change based on when the full moon occurs in May.
Why is it called Vesak Day?
The term ‘Vesak’ has origins in the Pali term ‘vesākha’ or Sanskrit ‘vaiśākha’ for the lunar month of Vaisakha.
What do you eat on Vesak?
Those who observe Vesak Day eat vegetarian meals.
How to Observe Day of Vesak
Reflect on Buddha's teachings
Spend the day reflecting on the teachings of Buddha. Even if you are not a Buddhist, you can learn a lot of things from Buddhist philosophy, such as the value of balance and moderation in life.
Perform the Bathing the Buddha Ceremony
Hold a Bathing the Buddha ceremony by pouring water over the shoulders of a Buddha. This is done to remind people to clear their minds of negative thoughts. If you have differing religious beliefs, you may also take the ritual metaphorically and try to cleanse yourself of bad emotions and habits.
Dress in white
Wear special white clothes to mark this occasion and try to eat a vegetarian diet for the day. Buddhists are vegetarian because they believe in reincarnation and that all meat was once someone’s father, mother, or child; even as a non-Buddhist, it is a reminder that we should value the life of all living beings.
5 Interesting Facts About Buddhism
Buddhists don't call their religion “Buddhism”
The term was coined by Western scholars in the 1830s.
The fourth-largest religion in the world
There are approximately 360 million followers of Buddhism.
There is no single holy book or god
In Buddhism, there is no single holy book, and Buddhists do not believe in a supreme being or creator.
Anyone can be a Buddha
A Buddha is not a person but is the name for a person who has reached Nirvana, the state of enlightenment.
There are several teachings of Buddhism
There are three branches of Buddhism: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.
Why Day of Vesak is Important
It is one of the world's oldest and most followed religions
We love learning about the long and interesting history behind religion. Its teachings have survived through the ages. It has affected many aspects of culture and different systems of philosophy.
It is a day centered around kindness and good deeds
Many Buddhists will do good deeds, bring offerings to the temple, and share food with people. Buddha placed much value on life, and many of his most important teachings revolve around compassion.
It is celebrated globally
Buddhism is the fourth largest religion, and people around the world will observe this day. Even believers of other religions can take part in their celebrations and practice some of their teachings, such as those related to moderation, compassion, and self-awareness.
Day of Vesak dates