Vesak May 23, celebrates Buddha’s birth, along with his enlightenment and death in some traditions. The holiday has been officially celebrated since 1950, when the World Fellowship of Buddhists formalized it as Buddha’s birthday.
Buddhism is practiced by around 500 million people across the globe, in dozens of countries. Vesak is a holiday common to all Buddhists, but is celebrated differently according to local customs. Because Vesak is based on the Asian lunisolar calendar, the day usually falls on the full moon in the Gregorian month of May, but this varies widely according to each country’s traditions.
When is Vesak 2024?
Buddha’s birthday and his teachings are celebrated on Vesak on April 8. The date is subject to change as it follows the lunar calendar.
History of Vesak
Vesak, also known as Wesak, Sanskrit Vaishakha, and Pali Vesakha, is one of the most important Buddhist festivals, as it celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and passing away of Buddha to Nirvana. The date of the holiday changes depending on when the full moon falls in the lunar month of Vesakha, usually in April or May. Devotees spend the day in services and practicing deeds and rules set by Buddha, such as distributing food or releasing birds from captivity.
In 490 B.C., Gautama Buddha, or Prince Siddhartha Gautama as he was named at birth, was born in Nepal to a tribal leader. Upon reaching adulthood, Gautama created a sect of ascetics, which flourished into an entire religion after his death. It is a common misconception that Gautama’s name was Buddha, but it is actually a title, meaning ‘the enlightened one.’ Throughout his life, he focused on teaching and spreading messages about peace, compassion, and kindness towards others. Millions of devotees around the world practice Buddha’s teachings today. Vesak is a special day to honor Buddha’s birth, his teachings, enlightenment, and death.
In 1999, the United Nations acknowledged Vesak Day internationally and recognized the contributions of one of the oldest religions in the world, Buddhism, in promoting peace for over 2,500 years. Vesak is also commemorated at the U.N. offices and headquarters annually, alongside other organizations and Buddhist communities worldwide. Traditions on this day include cultural song and dance performances, public messages delivered by community leaders, and the decoration of temples. Acts of kindness and charity are also practiced more so than normal on Vesak Day.
Siddhartha Gautama is born in Nepal.
Gautama leaves home at the age of 29 to find a solution to end suffering.
Realizing that the only way to free himself was through his thinking, Gautama achieves enlightenment and becomes the Buddha.
Buddha passes away after almost 45 years of preaching in Northern India.
Is a Buddha a god?
The founder of Buddhism, Buddha was an ordinary man who achieved the extraordinary but he is not a god.
Was Buddha a real person?
Buddha, born with the name Siddhartha Gautama, was a teacher, philosopher, and spiritual leader who went on to create his teachings as Buddhism.
What are the five rules of Buddhism?
The five key rules of Buddhism are:
- Refrain from taking life.
- Refrain from taking what is not given.
- Refrain from the misuse of the senses.
- Refrain from wrong speech.
- Refrain from intoxicants that cloud the mind.
How to Observe Vesak
Learn about international traditions
The Japanese pour amacha, a sweet tea made from hydrangea flowers, over statues. Sri Lankans hang colorful lanterns in front of homes and along the streets. Indonesian Buddhist monks join in repeating mantras and meditating together as they circle around their temples.
Prepare (or just enjoy) a vegetarian meal
In some countries, one Vesak ritual is the release of thousands of birds, insects, and animals to symbolize giving freedom to those in captivity. If you are a meat lover, perhaps you could try eating like a vegetarian just for the day, to raise your own awareness of the precious nature of all life.
Celebrate even if you’re not a Buddhist
Because the essence of observing Vesak lies in the celebration of life, just think of something that feels life-affirming to you. This might be simply taking a long walk and observing all the beauty of nature around you, singing, cooking — anything that invites you to be fully present during that experience, when your senses are heightened, and you experience the joy of being alive. Then share that joy with someone else.
5 Enlightening Facts About Buddha
The three rules
The three major teachings of Buddha were: to not be ignorant, to not hate, and to not get angry.
Buddha wasn’t as depicted
Contrary to how he is commonly depicted, Buddha was not chubby, and he’d spend most of his time walking and fasting regularly.
His enlightenment was predicted
An old man had predicted a few days after Buddha’s birth, that he would go on to become a great saint who’d change the world.
Means and methods
Unlike most religions, Buddhism spread nonviolently through word of mouth and practice.
Famous last words
Buddha’s final words to his followers were, ‘All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation.’
Why Vesak is Important
Buddhists all over the world commemorate the birth, enlightenment, and passing away of Gautama Buddha.
Vesak reminds us to make others happy
During Vesak many practitioners make special efforts to bring happiness to the elderly, disabled, and those suffering from illness, but it is also a time to give oneself happiness by creating beauty through artistic endeavors.
It is above all a celebration of life
The gifts of flowers, candles, and joss sticks that Buddhists offer on Vesak are symbolic of the temporary nature of life, and also a reminder to honor all living creatures, so vegetarian foods are encouraged during this celebration.