What does Buddha Day actually represent?

Buddha Purnima is the most important festival in the Buddhist calendar. Others call it Wesak, Vesak or Buddha Day, and is celebrated annually on the full moon of the ancient lunar month of Vesakha. Globally, celebrations are dictated between the months of May and early June.

Worshippers mark celebrations by offerings of flower, incense and candles, an exchange of gifts as blessings, prayers, sermons and group meditations.

It marks the birth of Buddha-to-be, Siddhartha Gautama, his enlightenment at the age of 35 when he became Buddha, and finally, his passing ‘into Nirvana’ aged 80, no longer reborn. Historians dispute the timeline of Gautama’s life but evidence points to him living around 490 BCE until circa 410 BCE (not the widely held view of 566-486 BCE).

Born to wealth and privilege in present-day Nepal, Guatama lived a life removed from the decaying suffering of poverty, ill-health, and death. Only by chance, did Guatama witness the above when he stepped beyond his royal enclosure. That moment created a despairing truth and shattered a reality of a life that now seemed hollow. Along this journey, Guatama met a monk, and decided on a new path that meant a life of hardship, travel, knowledge and homelessness.

He sought the religious life to make sense of pain, the inevitability of death and the fundamental human question of suffering. But this experience did not provide sufficient understanding. So under the advice of ascetic, he took the route of intense self-discipline, retreat and meditation but this path also proved unsatisfying. Only a middle-way provided the path to Enlightenment.

Under the Bodhi tree (the tree of awakening), the serenity of meditative reflection was interrupted by the flashes of knowledge, and finally, Enlightenment. Guatama became ‘The Buddha’ a title that translates as ‘the One Who Knows’ or ‘the Enlightened One’. Nirvana (Sanskrit) or Nibbana (Pali) is a state of when a person sees and understands the true nature of the world around them. A state that exists in death.

Buddhism teaches rebirth of reincarnation as does not recognise a self or soul that reappears in a new form. A life that is not free of desire is simply followed by a new life. The timeless importance of teaching (dharma) helps the mind focus from the worship of God(s).

Cultural vernaculars and norms vary for Buddhist groups and nations celebrating, some already have, and others will celebrate in the coming weeks. In a broad sense, many devout Buddhists attend their local temples, as others remain there during the full moon.

“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”
― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha