In the year 563 B.C. a baby was born into a royal family in northern India. “In the heavens above and earth beneath I alone am the honoured one.” According to Indian legendary, this is first words attributed to Sakyamuni after his first seven steps when born from his mother’s right side, not an arrogant speaking, it bears witness to an awareness of the identity of I, the one’s own true nature or Buddha-nature with the true nature of the universe, not the earthly ego. This announcement is ascribed to every Buddha, as are also the same special characteristics attributed to every Buddha, hence he is the Tathagata come in the manner of all Buddhas. In Mahayanism he is the type of countless other Buddhas in countless realms and periods. He grew up in wealth and luxury but soon found that worldly comfort and security do not guarantee real happiness. He was deeply moved by the suffering he saw all around, so He resolved to find the key to human happiness. When he was 29 he left his wife and child and his Royal Palace and set off to sit at the feet of the great religious teachers of the day to learn from them. They taught him much but none really knew the cause of human sufferings and afflictions and how it could be overcome.
Eventually, after six years study and meditation he had an experience in which all ignorance fell away and he suddenly understood. From that day onwards, he was called the Buddha, the Awakened One. He lived for another 45 years in which time he traveled all over northern India teaching others what he had discovered. His compassion and patience were legendary and he made hundreds of thousands of followers. In his eightieth year, old and sick, but still happy and at peace, he finally passed away into nirvana. It couldn’t have been an easy thing for the Buddha to leave his family. He must have worried and hesitated for a long time before he finally left. There were two choices, dedicating himself to his family or dedicating himself to the whole world. In the end, his great compassion made him give himself to the whole world. And the whole world still benefits from his sacrifice. This was perhaps the most significant sacrifice ever made.
Nowadays, there are still some discussions over the exact year of the Buddha’s birth; however, the majority of opinions favor 623 B.C. The Buddha’s birthday was the day of the full moon in April of the Lunar Cadendar. It was a beautiful day. The weather was nice and a gentle breeze was blowing. All the flowers in the Lumbini Park were blooming, emitting fragrant scents, and all the birds were singing molodious songs. Together, they seemed to have created a fairy land on earth to celebrate the birth of the Prince, a coming Buddha. According to the Indian legendaries, at that time, the earth shook, and from the sky, two silvery currents of pure water gushed down, one was warm and the other cool, which bathed the body of the Prince. Nowadays, countries with Buddhist tradition usually celebrate the Buddha’s Birthday around the middle of the fourth month of the Lunar Year. Also according to Indian legends, the more reliable Buddha’s Birth Day, perhaps on the 4th month, 8th day; however, all Buddhist countries obseve the Full Moon Day of the Lunar month of Vaisakha (April-May) as Buddha Birth Day Anniversary.
For the Buddhist community, the most important event of the year is the celebration of the birth of the Buddha. It falls on the full-moon day in the fourth lunar month (in May of the Solar Calendar). This occasion is observed by millions of Buddhists throughout the world. It is called Vesak in Sri Lanka, Visakha Puja in Thailand. On this day, Buddhists in some countries like China and Korea would take part in the ceremonial bathing of the Buddha. They pour ladles of water scented with flower petals over a statue of the baby Buddha. This symbolizes purifying their thoughts and actions. The temple are elegantly decorated with flowers and banners; the altars are full of offerings. Vegetarian meals are provided for all. Captive animals, such as birds and turtles, are set free from their cages. This is a very joyous day for everyone. According to the Theravada tradition, the Buddha’s Birth Day, perhaps on the 4th month, 8Th day; however, all Buddhist countries observe the Full Moon Day of the Lunar month of Vaisakha (April-May) as Buddha Birth Day Anniversary. This is one of the major festivals of Buddhism because most Buddhist countries celebrate the day on which the Buddha was born, attained awakening, and passed into nirvana. According to the Mahayana tradition, the month corresponding to April-May, on the Full Moon day of which is celebrated the Birth, Renunciation, Enlightenment and Parinirvana of the Buddha. The Vesak celebration consists of the presentation of the teaching, contemplation of the life of Buddha, the process around the secred sites. Furthermore, Vesak festival goes beyond mere hirtorical commemoration; it is a reminder for each of us to strive to become enlightened.
Even though the Buddha is dead but 2,500 years later his teachings still help and save a lot of people, his example still inspires people, his words still continue to change lives. Only a Buddha could have such power centuries after his death. The Buddha did not claim that he was a god, the child of god or even the messenger from a god. He was simply a man who perfected himself and taught that if we followed his example, we could perfect ourselves also. He never asked his followers to worship him as a god. In fact, He prohibited his followers to praise him as a god. He told his followers that he could not give favors to those who worship him with personal expectations or calamities to those who don’t worship him. He asked his followers to respect him as students respect their teacher. He also reminded his followers to worship a statue of the Buddha to remind ourselves to try to develop peace and love within ourselves. The perfume of incense reminds us of the pervading influence of virtue, the lamp reminds us of the light of knowledge and the followers which soon fade and die, remind us of impermanence. When we bow, we express our gratitude to the Buddha for what his teachings have given us. This is the core nature of Buddhist worship. A lot of people have misunderstood the meaning of “worship” in Buddhism, even sincere Buddhists. Buddhists do not believe that the Buddha is a god, so in no way they could possibly believe that a piece of wood or metal is a god.
In Buddhism, the statue of the Buddha is used to symbolize human perfection. The statue of the Buddha also reminds us of the human dimension in Buddhist teaching, the fact that Buddhism is man-centered, not god-centered, that we must look within not without to find perfection and understanding. So in no way one can say that Buddhists worship god or idols. In fact, a long time ago, when primitive man found himself in a dangerous and hostile situations, the fear of wild animals, of not being able to find enough food, of diseases, and of natural calamities or phenomena such as storms, hurricanes, volcanoes, thunder, and lightning, etc. He found no security in his surroundings and he had no ability to explain those phenomena, therefore, he created the idea of gods in order to give him comfort in good times, courage in times of danger and consolation when things went wrong. They believed that god arranged everything. Generations after generations, man continues to follow his ancestors in a so-called “faith in god” without any further thinkings. Some says they in believe in god because god responds to their prayers when they feel fear or frustration. Some say they believe in god because their parents and grandparents believed in god. Some others say that they prefer to go to church than to temple because those who go to churches seem richer and more honorable than those who go to temples. Devout Buddhists should always remember that each religion has its own faith. We, Buddhists can neither campare this religion to that religion; nor can we say this religion is better that that religion. Be careful!