The Spirit of Practice During the Buddha’s Birthday Celebration (Vesak)

At Plum Village Practice Centers around the world, Buddha’s Birthday is celebrated as a Day of Mindfulness for the multifold community. The community gathers at the monastery, practices walking meditation, listens to Dharma talks, participates in the Buddha bathing ceremony, eats mindfully, and generates the energy of peace, love, and awakening in each person, also turning towards Buddha—a human being like us who elevated his mindfulness to the highest level. He became a fully awakened being. He is a human like us who developed his understanding and love to the utmost. He is the most beautiful and precious flower in the garden of humanity. He is an uḍumbara flower—one that blooms only once every three thousand years.

Buddha’s Birthday (Hán characters: 佛誕 – meaning the birth of Buddha, commemorating the birth of Buddha Shakyamuni in Lumbini Garden in 624 BC) is also known as Vesak (Sanskrit: Vaiśākha, Devanagari: वैशाख, Sinhala: වෙසක් පෝය). The word Vesak comes from the Sinhalese language for the Pali variant, “Visakha.” Visakha/Vaisakha is the name of the second month of the Indian calendar, a holiday during the month of vesākha according to the Hindu calendar, corresponding to about the 8th lunar month or the 15th of the 4th month each year, depending on the country.

According to the Northern and Chinese Buddhist traditions, this day is only the commemoration of the birth of Buddha Shakyamuni, usually celebrated on the 8th of the lunar month; however, according to the Southern and Tibetan Buddhist traditions, this day is the Triple Festival (commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and passing into Nirvana of Buddha), usually celebrated on the full moon of the 4th lunar month or the full moon of the 5th Gregorian month.

Buddha’s Birthday is considered an important festival, attracting not only Buddhists but also people from all regions of Vietnam. The Vietnamese Buddhist community organizes elaborate celebrations nationwide with various activities such as parades, flower car processions, music performances celebrating Buddha’s birth, and other charitable activities. This day also receives significant attention and participation from local authorities, who support the organization of Buddha’s Birthday events with donations.

Additionally, on this day, Buddhist charitable organizations often organize visits to help those in need, orphaned children at care homes, and elderly people without family support. This is the most crucial aspect of Vietnamese Buddhism in building the Dharma of Compassion.

Maitreya Buddha, the Buddha of Love

Thay teaches us that the Buddha of the future may not take the form of an individual, as 2600 years ago, but in the form of a collective, a community—a Sangha. The 20th century was the century of individualism, creating much division, discrimination, hatred, war, and bloodshed. And we know that if the 21st century continues with individualism, there will be destruction. Therefore, the 21st century must be the century of spirituality, the century of love; otherwise, there we will participate in the destruction of our planet. 

The advent of Maitreya Buddha, the Buddha of Love, in this century is essential. If we do not give rise to this collective Buddha in this century, the Earth will surely be destroyed by war, hatred, and individualism. He will not come in the form of an individual but will be born in the form of a practicing community: a multifold community consisting of monks, nuns, and lay friends. If we prepare well, we will become part of that multifold community. Each of us will be a cell in the body of the future Buddha. The future Buddha named Maitreya, which means love, is the Buddha of Love. Maitreya, derives from the Sanskrit word maitri, meaning love, which is also the capacity to offer happiness to others. Buddha Shakyamuni taught about the method of love and spoke of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity, which are the four aspects of true love. Maitri also has its roots in mitra, which means “friend,” which implies siblinghood. Our new Buddha is the Buddha of Siblinghood. We cannot use the name of any religion or ideology to trample siblinghood. Siblinghood is the highest. Therefore, we should not use any project, cause, religion, or doctrine to destroy siblinghood. Siblinghood is the highest; it is the essence of Buddha Shakyamuni.

No matter who we are, what mission we have in this world, we strive for the world, not with nuclear weapons but with the weapon of love. That is the mission of Maitreya Buddha. We have a duty to support Maitreya Buddha and help him establish a Sangha comprising the Multifold Community, expressing love in the spirit of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity.

First, let’s talk about “love.” Love means the desire and ability to offer happiness. Loving means offering happiness; if you cannot offer happiness, then that love is not true love. According to the spirit of the Buddha, we must offer happiness to our parents in daily life. Sometimes we have the intention to make our parents happy but, in reality, we do not have the ability to make our parents happy. That intention, that desire is not yet love. So, we must learn the methods to make our parents happy. If we love our son or daughter, we must make sure that today our child is happy. Saying that we love our child is not enough; we believe we love our child, we believe our hearts have a lot of love for our child. But if we do not know how, our child still suffers as usual. The ability to offer happiness is called love, is called loving. We must practice so that each day we can offer happiness to the ones we love.

Flower Fresh

If we want to offer happiness to the ones we love, first, we must be fresh. If we are not fresh, our presence cannot make the other person happy. First, we must practice how to have freshness. At Plum Village, there is a practice called “flower fresh.” Each of us has the seed of freshness, pleasantness, and loveliness in us. If we do not live according to the Buddha’s teachings, however, our freshness diminishes day by day, and we become withered, dried up, irritable, and we have nothing to offer to the ones we love. We must practice breathing, smiling, relaxing, practicing how to restore freshness in our body and mind.

We know that when a person is born, they are as beautiful as a flower. A person is a flower in the garden of humanity. But some of us lose that freshness and beauty because we do not know how to nurture the quality of flower freshness within us. We originally have the freshness of a flower. We originally have the beauty of a flower. But because we are angry, resentful, sad, and worried too much, our flower nature becomes dry, and we do not have that freshness, that beauty to offer to the ones we love. So, we must practice to restore this freshness, this purity of our body and mind. That is the most precious gift we can offer to our loved ones. And it is the most precious gift we can offer to our parents and children. The most precious gift that parents can leave for their children is the happiness of the parents. Parents love each other, parents offer their children joy and happiness. Young people do not need their parents to leave them money, houses, or cars. They only want their parents to live together happily. That is the most valuable legacy parents can give to their children.

“Love” is maitri, and “compassion” is karuna. “Compassion” means the desire and ability to relieve the suffering and pain of the ones we love. The ones we love have pain, suffering, and difficulties. If we are a true lover with ability, we can help transform the suffering, pain, obstacles, and entanglements of the ones we love. This is true love. Everyone has difficulties, everyone has inner tension, everyone has pain, everyone has aspirations. We are true lovers if we look deeply into that person to see their suffering. Sometimes that suffering has been accumulating since childhood without anyone listening. We help that person express all the suffering they have never had the chance to share with anyone; this is called compassion. Compassion means relieving the suffering and pain of the ones we love. So, when practicing love and compassion, we must look deeply into the objects of our love. That object can be our son or daughter. We must be truly present, fresh to listen, to understand, and that is love and compassion. Anyone can practice love and compassion daily—monastics and laypeople alike. Do not say that you cannot practice love and compassion, because each of you reading this has the seed of love and compassion. That seed may be small, but it is always present. If we practice love and compassion daily, that seed will grow. When the seed of love and compassion becomes important and strong, our happiness will be abundant. Happy people have a lot of love and compassion. The reason I am very happy is that I have a lot of love and compassion. I have time to offer my presence to the ones I love, the ones facing difficulties, the ones with inner tensions, the ones with unfulfilled aspirations.

Ceremony of Bathing the Buddha

Bathing the Buddha is an opportunity for us to practice mindfulness, cultivate humility, and direct our minds towards the Buddha in front of us and the Buddha within ourselves. In other words, we direct our minds towards love and wisdom. Water symbolizes cleansing, allowing the element of clarity and purity to manifest. Therefore, the Buddha bathing ceremony expresses both reverence and purification of anger, sadness, and afflictions of the mind.

A true practitioner participating in the Ceremony of Bathing the Buddha must embody three elements: faith, reverence, and equality. Reverence and sincerity towards the seed of awakening within us is the foundation of Right View, which brings us pure faith and true, lasting peace. Pouring pure water over the statue of the Buddha is an opportunity for each person to return to themselves, inspire themselves, and adorn themselves with the fragrance of virtue, the flowers of wisdom, and the water of love, leading to a peaceful life, understanding, empathy, and cooperation. We are also bathing the seed of Buddha within ourselves.

Today, bathing the Tathagata
Wisdom bright and great merit
All beings in three realms submerged
Seeing the Dharma body manifested in the world

When pouring the first ladle of water, bathing the right shoulder of the statue, we return to our breath, maintaining a peaceful mind, and express gratitude for the favorable conditions that have come to us. When pouring the second ladle of water, bathing the left shoulder of the statue, we continue to return to our breath and send loving, forgiving, and compassionate energy to adverse conditions, situations, and people who have caused us suffering, smiling gently. Thus, the Buddha bathing ceremony holds profound significance. It symbolizes our reverence to the Buddha on this day of commemoration of the Buddha’s birth, and it is an opportunity for each of us to reflect on ourselves, recognizing and transforming negative seeds so they do not manifest in consciousness, and nurturing positive seeds to make them stronger, making life more meaningful, bringing happiness and peace to ourselves and those around us.

Each of us has the seed of awakening, love, understanding, and sharing. Let the seed of Buddha, the seed of awakened love in you, sprout and grow as we celebrate the birth of Buddha from 2600 years ago.

Photo Gallery – Vesak 2024

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