May Full Moon, May 14, 2014: “Happy Vesak” — Is That The Right Greeting?
by Anura Guruge
>> Vesak 2014 Pandols — May 13, 2014.
>> Pope’s 2014 Vesak greeting — May 10, 2014.
>> 2014 Vesak post — May 4, 2014.
>> 2013 Vesak post — May 16, 2013.
++++ See Category ‘Sri Lanka‘ or search on ‘Sri Lanka‘ & ‘Buddhism‘ for other related posts >>>>
I got and e-mail on Saturday from a cousin in Sri Lanka. He wished me a ‘Happy Vesak’ (or Wesak or Vesākha). That was very nice and he is like that. But, I being who I am, got thinking.
Though we are accustomed to using ‘Happy’ for all holidays, I have come to realize that this is not so for every holiday. As I pointed out earlier this year, ‘Happy’ definitely is an incongruous wish for Good Friday. Ditto for some Jewish holidays.
Then yesterday I had another e-mail from a Sri Lankan, an old Anandian. In my response to him, given that I tend to respond to 99.3% of my non-spam e-mails because I think it is rude not to do so, I asked him whether ‘Happy’ was the right word. He responded by wishing me a ‘Peaceful Vesak’. That I would have to say, though it lacks the pizzazz is closer to the mark.
I remember, quite vividly, celebrating, with glee, Vesak up to and including 1967 — that being my 13th year on earth.
I left Ceylon that August and though I was back quite a few times at the start, it was never in May, since that was during school ‘term’. So 1967 was my last Vesak in Sri Lanka. That, I understand, was a lifetime ago.
If you are the ‘thinker’ like me, you will realize that Vesak is a funny ol’ holiday. Unlike any other. A real trifecta: two celebratory events and one death — though the diehard will argue that Buddha’s death was also a celebration BECAUSE it freed him from the mortal cycle of rebirth — his biggest bugbear.
I remember Vesak as being exciting. We would anticipate Vesak for months. He started building the lanterns (above and in this post) weeks ahead.
But, it is a holiday WITHOUT presents and one where you take a vow not to eat too much! cf. Christmas and Easter. No presents and no gluttony. That is Buddhism for YOU. That is why the notion of a ‘Fat Buddha’ is as ridiculous as a virginal, chaste Monica Lewinsky. There are many things that you can call the Buddha, ‘deadbeat Dad being one of them‘, but he was definitely into moderation when it came to food (and definitely in interactions with women).
Cut to the chase, and whether you like it or not, whether you appreciate or not, you are talking to an expert here: Buddhism is NOT a Happy Religion!
The fundamental precept of Buddhism is that life is suffering.
I hate to admit it: but that is TRUE. But, I refuse to admit it! I lived that for 18 years — and that was enough.
I like life. I love life.
I am a confirmed, unapologetic hedonist.
I denounced Buddhism, c. 1971, when I was 18, because of this … and two other reasons.
Here is why I, who until then, especially up to 14, grew up totally immersed in Buddhism, had to denounce Buddhism:
1. I, for the life of me, cannot subscribe to the notion of an afterlife or a soul.
2. The fundamental Buddhist notion of rebirth (i.e., reincarnation) makes absolutely NO sense to me.
3. I refuse to live, this ONE life I have, believing that life is suffering (though it is true)!
I was thinking today. Do you realize that we don’t have the equivalent of hymns. Buddhist temples, though they contain much, do not, at least in my day, have pianos, let alone organs.
Buddhism is a contemplative religion — ideally suited for depressives.
Per Buddhism you gain happiness by realizing and acknowledging that life is suffering.
Screw that for a game of soldiers.
But, thinking back I used to enjoy Vesak. It was a GAME. I ‘took’ Sila — Atta Sila, 8 Preceepts, as opposed to 5, on Vesak day, BUT only till 6pm! A bunch of cousins, with over elders, all too Sila together, in Bambalapitiya, at an aunty’s house. We were just a couple of blocks away from the socially elite Bambalapitiya temple.
It was fun. It was different. I am not sure whether we ate vegetarian. We tried to go and get free alms. This was fun, getting a chance to mix with the hoi polloi.
Vesak is an important holiday.
I miss it. I would not do sila anymore. That would be a travesty.
I would, however, gladly serve alms to those taking the 8 precepts.
I would do the ‘town’, i.e., Colombo, by night to see the lights. Most likely, funds permitting, I would opt to stop at a ‘place’ to have a glass of red.
So to you, the Buddhists, especially Sri Lankan Buddhist, I wish you a Merry Vesak. Live it up. You never know. This could be the ONLY life you have!