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Festivals of India: Buddha Purnima
by Smt. Anjali Ambekar

Buddha Purnima
There are many reasons for celebrating religious and other festivals. They help bring people of all sects and classes together. Buddha Purnima is the most sacred day in the Buddhist religion. It is the most important festival of the Buddhists and is celebrated with great enthusiasm.
Buddha Purnima also known Buddha Jayanti as is the most sacred festivals of Buddhist. Buddha Purnima (Buddha Birthday) is celebrated in remembrance Lord Buddha. Lord Buddha is the founder of Buddhism. This day is the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha. It falls on the full moon of the fourth lunar month (Vaisakh) i.e. April or May. This day commemorates three important events of Buddha's life.

  • His birth in 623 BC.
  • His enlightment i.e. attainment of supreme wisdom, in 588 BC.
  • His attainment of Nirvana i.e. the complete extinction of his self at the age of 80.

This day is a thrice blessed day. Lord Buddha is considered the ninth avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu (Preserver in the Hindu Holy Trinity of Creator-Preserver-Destroyer). Gautam Buddha "lived and died in about the fifth century before the Christian era". Buddha means "enlightened one" - someone who is completely freefrom all faults and mental obstructions.
Gautam Buddha was not a god and the philosophy of Buddhism does not entail any theistic world-view. The teachings of the Buddha are solely to liberate human beings from the misery and sufferings of life.
Buddha travelled far and wide teaching hundreds of followers. Even after death his disciples continued to spread his teachings.
Rich and poor alike were attracted by the simplicity of Buddha’s teaching and his emphasis on complete equality of all, a notion antithetical to the existing Hindu caste system. The Mauryan Emperor Ashoka espoused the Buddhist religion in the 3rd century B.C. and helped in spreading it far and wide. Sarnath and Bodhgaya are two of the most important pilgrimage centres for the Buddhists.
Though Buddhism originated in India and the religion has gained tremendous popularity throughout the Far East in Asia, there are very few practising Buddhists in the country. The number of Buddhists in the world ranges "from less than two hundred million, to more than five hundred million, with the lower number closer to reality."
Places of Commeration
Buddha Purnima is far and wide celebrated at following places in India.

  • Bodh Gaya in Bihar
  • Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh
  • Sanchi and Kushinagar in Madhya Pradesh

The Illuminated Pipal Tree
The Bodhi (Pipal) Tree in Bodh Gaya is a delight to watch during Buddha Purnima. On this day, the branches are decorated with colorful garlands and flags. Rows of lamps are illuminated around the trees. Milk and scented waters are sprinkled on its roots.
Rituals During Buddha Purnima
The month of Vaisakh is devoted to paying obeisance at architectural Buddhists monuments and stupas beautifully decorated with flowers and lights. On this day, Buddhists from all over the country gather to join for the holy celebrations at the prayers halls. Dressed in spotless white clothes, the devotees offer incense, flowers, candles and fruits; prostrates several times in front of the statue for their happiness and joy. Thereafter, the family prepares kheer—a sweet milk pudding in rice.
As a part of its cultural tradition, the Buddhists carry out different acts of compassion to keep alive the teachings of Lord Buddha. Some of them include:

  • Birds are freed from the cages.
  • Fruits and clothes are distributed among the ailing and needy patients.
  • Non-vegetarian diet is strictly forbidden.

Buddha Purnima is not only celebrated in India, but also celebrated around the world.
Teachings of Buddha
It was after attaining his enlightenment; Buddha went to the Deer Park near the holy city of Benares and shared his new understanding and thought with five holy men. They understood immediately and became his disciples. This marked the beginning of the Buddhist community. During his enlightenment he found the answer to three questions. He discovered three great truths of life. Through his teachings he explained these truths in a simple way so that everyone could understand and apply that in their life. For the next forty-five years, the Buddha and his disciples went from place to place in India spreading the Dharma, his teachings. Through his teachings he won the hearts of the people because he dealt with their true feelings. He even advised them not to accept his words on blind faith, but to decide for themselves whether his teachings are right or wrong, then follow them. He encouraged everyone to have compassion for each other and develop their own virtue. The basic teachings of Buddha comprises of the three universal truth, they are as follows:

The Three Universal Truths
1. Nothing is lost in the universe
2. Everything Changes
3. Law of Cause and Effect

Then there were the four noble truths of life. They are as follows:

The Four Noble Truths
1. There is Suffering Suffering is common to all.
2. Cause of Suffering We are the cause of our suffering.
3. End of Suffering Stop doing what causes suffering.
4. Path to end Suffering Everyone can be enlightened.
The Noble Eightfold Path
1. Right View.
2. Right Thought.
3. Right Speech.
4. Right Conduct.
5. Right Livelihood.
6. Right Effort.
7. Right Mindfulness.
8. Right Concentration.

The teachings of Buddha are an ethical system determined by our motives for our actions. For those who do work with honest and pure intentions they will have happiness in life. For those who do work with wrong intentions and ill feelings will have suffering. According to his teachings we are responsible for our actions and results. This is defined as karma. He has even talked about Nirvana, the cessation of desire and rebirth.
The "Eightfold Path" summarizes the teachings of Buddha and shows us a way of life that one needs to follow to achieve the supreme state of being. That the human life is full of strife and suffering is not unknown to anyone of us. According to Lord Buddha, all our sorrows stem from the desires inherent in us. It is only through the removal of desires and attachments from the mind that one can free himself from worldly bondages and gain his liberation. The "Eightfold Path" of Lord Buddha is a way of life that consists of eight rules. It is a practical guideline that brings about the ethical, mental and spiritual development of a person and frees him from attachments and delusions, and thereby, prepares him for the path of self-knowledge. Lord Buddha believed that it was only by following these eight codes of conduct that man can gradually come to realize his true blissful self that always seeks oneness with the supreme entity.
The eight precepts that the noble "Eightfold Path" consists of are:
1. Right View - It consists of being fully aware of the truth of life, to see and to understand things as they really are and feel the impermanence and imperfection of every aspect of the world. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of everything. As most of our thoughts and our actions are influenced by our view of the world, right view is what is said to yield right thoughts and right actions in us.
2. Right Intention - Right Intention simply means the motive or mental energy that controls our actions. Improving oneself mentally and spiritually is not enough; more important is to remain committed to the spirit of self-improvement. According to Lord Buddha, there are three types of right intentions:
(a) Intention of Renunciation - This means the resistive power of the mind to the pull of desire.
(b) Intention of Good will - It implies the resistance of the mind to feelings of anger and aversion.
(c) Intention of Harmlessness - This signifies the mental attitude of compassion sans all thoughts of cruelty, violence, anger or aggression.
3. Right Speech - It is the first ethical code of the Eightfold Path. Lord Buddha placed great importance on the power of speech. Words can make or break lives, attract or alienate people, create peace or give rise to war. So his advice to mankind was:
(a) Abstain from false speech - He advised against lying deliberately and speaking in a deceitful manner.
(b) Abstain from slanderous speech - He advised against using malicious words against others.
(c) Abstain from harsh words - Words that offend or hurt others are not to be used.
(d) Abstain from idle talks - Loose talks and idle chatter, that lack any purpose or depth, are to be done away with.
4. Right Action - The second most important precept of the "Eightfold Path", this consists of controlling the bodily actions. While good actions lead to mental harmony, bad actions do just the opposite. Right action implies following the good codes of conduct and abstaining oneself from all unwholesome deeds. Lord Buddha further clarified this precept as
(a) Abstaining oneself from harming or killing others and doing intentional harm to others.
(b) Abstaining oneself from stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness and dishonesty.
(c) Abstaining oneself from sexual misconduct.
5. Right Livelihood - This precept of the "Eightfold Path" indicates that one should earn one's living in an honest manner and gain wealth through sound means. Lord Buddha advised people against taking up such professions that requires one to
(a) Deal in weapons - Buy or sell weapons that are used to harm living beings.
(b) Trade in living beings - This involves slave trade and prostitution as well as raising animals for slaughter.
(c) Working in meat production and butchery - This demands killing living beings and trading their meat.
(d) Selling intoxicants and poisons - Trading such goods as alcohol and drugs, that are detrimental to human health, are to be avoided.
6. Right Effort - This is seen as a prerequisite for the other precepts of the "Eightfold Path". Without proper effort channelized in a wholesome direction, no sound gain can be achieved. Right Effort is further divided into four types of endeavors:
(a) Effort to prevent the arising of unwholesome states yet not arisen.
(b) Effort to abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen.
(c) Effort to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen.
(d) Effort to maintain and better wholesome states already arisen to perfection.
7. Right Mindfulness - It is described as the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. In other words, it is actually the clearness of perception that enables us to be aware of our thoughts and control the way they develop. According to Lord Buddha, Right mindfulness depends on four factors:
1. An intent observation and consideration of the body,
2. An intent observation and consideration of feeling (repulsive, attractive, or neutral),
3. An intent observation and consideration of the state of mind, and
4. An intent observation and consideration of the phenomena.
8. Right Concentration - The eighth and last principle of the "Eightfold Path", it refers to the development of concentration that assists one in spiritual quest. Concentration is the mental force that enables one to focus his mind on one particular object. In this state, all mental faculties are unified and centred in a single direction. Concentration is present in every human being, albeit at a relatively low level of intensity. The mind of most persons wander in different directions and focus on thoughts and actions that are wholesome as well as unwholesome. Right concentration implies focusing the mind only on wholesome thoughts and actions and is one of the most important assets required for spiritual development. Buddhists prefer to develop right concentration through the practice of meditation.

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