Buddha Purnima Celebrations in Vesak

The day the Buddha's birth is widely celebrated in countries of Theravada tradition is called Vesak and the anniversary of Siddhartha Gautama is called Buddha Purnima. Most scholars consider Kapilavastu, in present-day Nepal to be the birthplace of Gautama Buddha. Other possibilities are Lumbini, in present Nepal. It could also be in Kapileswara in Orissa and Piprahwa in Uttar Pradesh in India.

Various sources claim that the mother of Gautama died at birth, others say it was a few days later and others say that it was after seven days. The child was given the name Siddhartha. Later texts indicate that Gautama was unfamiliar with the dominant religious teachings of his time until he went on his religious quest, which, it is said, may have been motivated by the existentialist concern of the human condition.

Vesak is usually celebrated on the full moon between late April and May. It is also known by Visakah Puja or Buddha Purnima in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, Visakha Bucha in Thailand, Visakha Pujea in Cambodia, Phat Dan in Vietnam, Waisak in Indonesia, Vesak Day or Wesak in Sri Lanka and Malaysia and Saga Dawa in Tibet. In Laos, the equivalent holiday is Vixakha Bouxa and in Burma, it is called Ka-sone.

This is not an ancient festival, as it was formalized by a World Buddhist Conference held in 1950 in Sri Lanka, and each country has had its own traditions in commemorating the Buddha Shakyamuni as inspirer and founder of a religious and philosophical movement. Often the monks spend their days reciting mantras in public and bless the devotees, who also offer food to the poor.

People practice religious rites and decorate houses and streets with lights and lanterns manufactured for the occasion.

Buddhism is one of the oldest and most widespread religions the in the world, but was eclipsed in its place of origin by Hinduism and Islamism. Buddhism and Hinduism were two parallel religions in some respects but differing in theory and practice in many other cases. Buddhism and Jainism, shared a regional culture. In Buddhism, the fundamental concept of redemption appears in a form very similar to that of Jainism.

Ancient India had different lines of thought but the dominant Vedic people absorbed it into what is later known as Hinduism. All the currents have existed together for thousands of years, influencing and being influenced each other, during all that time.

Ancient vedism was also greatly influenced by Buddhist cosmology, incorporating several existing beliefs. Thus Tibetan Buddhism can be seen as a continuation of Buddhism as it existed in India before the Aryan and Islamic invasions. Many Hindu texts, such as the Puranas, have been written and composed after the birth of Siddhartha Gautama, since in several of them the Buddha is mentioned. The consensus at the dissemination level is that the Bhagavad Gita is also later, just like the first five Upanishads.

Almost every Sanskrit religious term has its equivalent in the Buddhist lexicon in Hindu philosophy. In any case, many of these terms were reinterpreted or redefined in the vedic tradition. Buddhists in one of the branches of Mahayana Buddhism worship many deities common to those in the Indian subcontinent in the midst of the Vedic tradition, including deities which the Indians no longer worship, such as Indra. Indra is revered by Chinese, Koreans and Japanese taishakuten, as well as the elephant god Ganesha is venerated as Lord Shoten.

In the Tibetan Kanjur it is said that Buddha had taught Ganapati hridaya mantra to his disciple Ananda. Buddhists believe that a newborn child can be the reincarnation of a teacher. In vedic India, the concept of reincarnation was written for the first time in the Upanishads. No Buddhist school recognizes the Hindu texts or the Vedas as sacred, while vedic scriptures accept different buddhist traditions, who converted Buddha as one of the avatars of Vishnu, which is not accepted by Buddhists, who consider Buddha a human being who reached the enlightenment and, like every Buddha, is superior to any deva.

Buddhists accept the conversion of anyone, while most schools of Hinduism do not allow conversions. Buddhism never had the caste system, while Hinduism imposed it. Sometimes, people believe that religion means to believe in a god or gods, and identify with the theistic position of a particular shape or religious convention. Often, theistic religions consider Buddhism an atheist religion or do not believe at all a religion.

They consider it a philosophy or psychology, because Buddhism does not start from a theistic position. It traces its roots to a metaphysical or doctrinal position, but from the common to all mankind the experience of suffering. Buddhism assumes that reflecting, contemplating and comprising one common human experience, can transcend all mental illusions that create it.

The Charvaka doctrine of ancient thought and considerable pre-vedic and atheistic native of India is considered strongly blasphemous by vedic Indians because it denies any value to one of the fundamental pillars of the modern Indian religion, the sacred books of Veda, and with them the whole doctrine, rituals and mythology linked to them.

A buddha, according to Buddhism is a being who has reached the highest degree of enlightenment. Due to some very common misconceptions it should be emphasized that Gautama Buddha is neither a god nor the first Buddha. A Buddha, according to the schools that do not accept the doctrines of Mahayana and related sutras consider only the canonical teachings contained in the Agama-Nikāya, in the Abhidharma and Vinaya.

In the tradition of Buddhism of Nikāya and Theravada Buddhism, but also Mahayana and Vajrayana, recognize six Buddhas of the past that would have preceded Gautama Buddha.

Buddhism has been popular in South-East Asia and the Far East, reaching, from the nineteenth century, even in the West. The word Buddhism is of recent coinage, introduced in Europe in the nineteenth century to refer to that which is correlated to the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama as Buddha, who lived between the sixth and fourth centuries BC. In fact a single word to express this concept does not exist in any of the original Asian countries in this religious tradition.

Gautama was born in Lumbini, near Kapilavastu, the city where his father Śuddhodana reigned, located in Nepal in the foothills of the Himalayas. It was one of the cities of Shakya Clan, who identified themselves as Kshatriyas. His mother Mayadevi came from the clan of Koliyas, sometimes ally and sometimes adversary of Shakya. Sakya was a warrior tribe that dominated the country and which had as its legendary founder King Ikṣvāku.

The prince married young, at the age of sixteen, to Yashodhara, with whom he had a son, Rahula. Shortly, he decided to renounce the family life and then moved to the Magadha kingdom to follow the teachings of Uddaka Ramaputta. Initially, Gautama went to Rajgir in the Indian state of Bihar and began his ascetic life.

The arrival of the Buddha in the capital city of the Magadha kingdom provoked a wave of conversions, including that of the King Bimbisara, then the head of the most powerful state in northern India. For the next 45 years, the Buddha traveled to the Gangetic plain, which is now Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and southern Nepal, and taught a wide variety of people. All traditions agree on the fact that Siddhartha Gautama was a contemporary of the two kings of Magadha, Bimbisara and his son Ajatasattu.

He meditated, sitting under a fig tree in Bodh Gaya. Buddha finally came to Sarnath near Varanasi. In fact there are few historical records about the life of the founder of Buddhism and controversial are the same dates. No records have been found made in Gautama's life, nor writings made a few centuries later after his death.

The Buddhist texts of Gandhara are the oldest Buddhist manuscripts that have reached to our days, written between the first century BC and the third century AD and found near Hadda near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. They are currently preserved in the British Library. They were written in kharosthi characters, in gandhari language and in rolls of bark of birch.

It is therefore difficult to separate myth and reality and historically locate the events of the life of the Buddha, because the findings were presented to us are not always reliable. Most of the sources are indeed back at least two hundred years behind the events of the life of Siddhartha Gautama. In addition, the Indian historical chronicles are not strict in separating real events in myth and legend.

All traditional sources, however agree that Siddhārtha Gautama lived around eighty years. According to the Mahaparinibbana Sutta of the Pali canon, he ate his last food which he had received as an offering from a blacksmith named Cunda. Falling terribly sick, some argue that the Buddha may have died of food poisoning. Theravada tradition generally holds that the Buddha was offered some kind of pork.

Although the native language of the Buddha remains a mystery and chances are that he taught in one or more varieties of dialects of the Indo-Aryan languages. Traditional biographies on Siddhartha Gautama generally include numerous miracles, prophecies, and supernatural events. The character of the Buddha in these traditional biographies is often that of a being totally transcendent and perfected, which is in spite of the obstacles of worldly life.

In modern times there have been attempts to create a more secular understanding of the life of the Sakyamuni by omitting the supernatural elements found in the early and traditional biographies. An example of this can be seen in the Jain scriptures that make the time of Gautama Buddha one of the periods of the early history of India with more documentation on the subject of everyday life. There is reasonable assurance that Siddhartha Gautama existed as a historical figure.

Emperor Asoka converted to Buddhism after his bloody conquest of the Kalinga territory in modern day Orissa in eastern India. He spread the Buddhist faith by building stupas and pillars. Perhaps the best example of this is the Great Stupa of Sanchi near Bhopal. Buddhism died out in India, the country of origin, approximately in the fourteenth century.

The decline of Buddhism in India, came for a variety of reasons and events even though it continued to prosper beyond its borders. Buddhism had seen steady growth since its inception until its approval as the official faith of the Maurya Empire by Asoka in the third century BC. It continued with its flourish during the first centuries of the modern era.

However, a steady and gradual decline of its followers in India took place during the gupta period, especially following the gradual Islamic conquest of the Indian subcontinent. At that time, Buddhist rulers became especially vulnerable because it was weakly entrenched in the society as most of its followers were communities of ascetic monks.

Apart from a small community in east Bengal, which had survived since ancient times and Nepal, Buddhism was practically extinct in India in the late nineteenth century AD. In the long period of its existence, the religion evolved by adapting to different countries, eras and cultures, adding to its original Hellenistic elements, of Central Asia, Far East and Southeast Asia.

Its geographical spread was substantial enough to have influenced in different historical periods much of the Asian continent. The history of Buddhism, such as the one of the major religions, is also characterized by numerous currents of thought and schisms, with the formation of various schools. Among these, the most important existing schools are Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana.

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