This coming week, on May 15, one of the most venerated
holidays on the Buddhist calendar will be celebrated: Wisakhabucha Day.
(Note: government offices and banks will be closed.)
Wisakhabucha Day is the most significant holy day for
Buddhists around the world. It marks the beginning of the Buddhist Era 2,546
years ago, and celebrates the miracle of the Buddha being born, reaching
enlightenment and passing away all on the same date.
According to scripture, Prince Siddhartha, also known as
Gautama, who became the Buddha, was born in the eastern foothills of the
Himalayas on the 15th day (full moon) of the sixth lunar month in 623 BC,
attained enlightenment while sitting under a fig tree at the edge of the
Nerunchara River on the 15th day (full moon) of the sixth lunar month in 588
BC, and then passed away at the age of 80 on the 15th day (full moon) of the
sixth lunar month in 544 BC.
The word wisakabucha comes from the word
wisaburanamiibucha which means to pay homage to Buddha on the day of the
full moon in the month of wisaka (the sixth month).
The holy day is observed each year during May (June
during leap years), determined by the lunar calendar, and is on the 15th day
of the waxing moon during the 6th month of the Thai calendar. It dates back
to ancient celebrations in India and Sri Lanka, and this year the day is
being observed on May 15.
For this holiday, killing any kind of animal and drinking
alcohol or intoxicating substances is forbidden for 3 days. Wats are to be
adorned with lanterns, flowers and joss sticks as symbols of worship, and
skyrockets will be lit for three days to celebrate.
The day is also designated as National Tree Day in
Gautama (Buddha) was brought up in the family of a clan
leader of regal status, sheltered from life’s miseries. Later in life,
after observing a decrepit old man, a diseased man, a dead man, and a sage
he realized the impermanence of earthly things and began his quest for
For six years he sought enlightenment through ascetic
practices. He eventually decided it was not to be found in that manner and
resumed the life of a wanderer living on alms. While sitting under a fig
tree in a posture of meditation for what is described as a period of seven
weeks, Gautama resolved not to stir until succeeding. He achieved his quest,
becoming the Buddha, entering a state of Nirvana while still alive.
Whatever took place on that day was the start of Buddhism
as Gautama set forth to reveal his discovery, eventually spreading into many
parts of Asia. Gautama was later recognized as one in a great line of
Buddhas with a concept going back to Vishnu or Siva.
The large following created over 25 centuries ago and
continuing to this day is witness to the fact that something of distinct
value was found, which was explained in the Buddha’s first sermon at
Benares when he said the key to enlightenment is the presence of suffering.
The sermon told of the "Four Noble Truths"
identifying suffering (birth, decay, illness, death and rebirth) and the
failure to always be able to obtain one’s desires as the continuing
antagonists in life.
Secondly, since everything has a cause, so has suffering,
and when its causes and conditions are removed suffering is eliminated
according to the third truth. The key is to allow the karmic effects already
in existence to play out - not producing any further karmic chains. Once the
cessation of desire ends, all causes have taken affect and the suffering
ends, leading to discontinuing the cycle of rebirth.
The fourth truth is the path to the cessation of
suffering, the "Eightfold Path" or a "middle way"
between extremes of abstinence and indulgence. The steps in the
"Eightfold Path" consists of: correct views, correct aspiration,
correct speech, correct conduct, correct livelihood, correct effort, correct
thought, and correct concentration or meditation.
Devout Buddhists consider Wisakhabucha Day as an
important event and crowds of devotees will participate in ceremonies at
nearby temples, making merit in the morning by bringing alms to monks and
listening to sermons. Later in the evening devotees will continue assembling
at temples to conduct the "Wien Tien" ceremony, walking around
sacred temple grounds three times holding candles, joss sticks and flowers
honoring the Buddha, the Dhamma (Buddha’s teachings) and the Sangha, the
Buddhist Monastic Order.
The Thai government implemented "National Tree
Day" in the year 1985 as part of a program to restore the forests and
increase public awareness of the importance of preserving the natural
environment. National Tree Day was designated on the same day as
Wisakhabucha Day and activities include many levels of government, schools
and local organizations planting trees in addition to observing Wisakhabucha