Thursday, June 18, 2015

Vesak Celebration In Singapore

"Peace comes from within.  
Do not seek it without."

Gautama Buddha



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Beautiful flowers with messages for offerings.

Vesak is regarded as the most significant day of the year in the Buddhist calendar and is celebrated by Buddhist all over the world. The day commemorates the three momentous events in Buddha's life - his birth, enlightenment and achievement of Nirvana, and his death. 

The exact date of Vesak however, varies according to the various lunar calendars (Buddhist calendar, Chinese lunar calendar, Western Gregorian calendar, etc.) used in different traditions. Theravada countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Sri Lanka still uses the Buddhist calendar in their daily life. It means this calendar is widely used in their school, news, official documents, etc. In Singapore, Vesak Day usually falls in the month of May, on the 15th day of the fourth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar.

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Large tent just at the exit of MRT Aljunied station for the Vesak Day 2015 celebration.

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Amitabha Buddhist Centre (ABC) is a non-profit Buddhist organisation, officially established on 1 January 1989. It is affiliated to the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) that follows the Tibetan Buddhist lineage of Lama Tsong Khapa.

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A Buddha statue surrounded with flowers and oil lamps for offering.

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The lighting of a candle or an oil lamp represents the light of wisdom illuminating the darkness of ignorance.

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Another way to pay homage to the Buddha is by  presenting symbolic tokens to the 21 Taras.

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Lotus candles are also part of the offerings.

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Another common ritual is the bathing to the infant Buddha statue. This ritual highlights a universal message that "it's easy to wash away physical dirt but it's much more difficult to cleanse one's 'inner dirt' of greed, anger and ignorance."

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Devotees receiving auspicious blessings from Khen Rinpoche.

Vesak Day is a day of immense joy, peace and reflection. On this day, devout Buddhists and followers alike congregate at their various temples before dawn for the ceremonial, where the Buddhist flag will be hoisted, and hymns sung in praise of the holy triple gem: The Buddha, The Dharma (his teachings), and The Sangha (his disciples). Devotees often bring simple offerings of flowers, lotus-shaped candles and joss-sticks to lay at the feet of their spiritual teacher. These symbolic offerings remind followers that life too, is subject to decay and destruction when the offering burns out or wilts away.  

Buddhists believe that performing good deeds on Vesak Day will multiply merit many times over. Buddhist youth sometimes organise mass blood donations at hospitals, while general rites and rituals practiced on Vesak Day include chanting of mantras; releasing of caged birds and animals; having vegetarian meals; and "bathing" a Buddha statue, a reference to the legend of the child Buddha being showered with the waters of nine dragons soon after birth. These acts of generosity observed by the Buddhist temples are also known as Dana. 

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  The magnificent 50 by 30 foot thangka (a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton, or silk appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala) of Amitabha Buddha Pure Land, which was displayed for all to see. It is said that anyone who merely sees the image of Amitabha accumulates vast merits and collects positive imprints. The merit that one accumulates by offering to and circumambulating a holy object is considerably greater.

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  This bathing ritual is done in hope that the devotees will eliminate all evil thoughts, cultivate good deeds and help save all living beings.

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  A Kuan Yin statue in a beautiful decorated pond.

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  13-centimetre tall miniature stupa that contains microfilm rolls bearing thousands of the Four Dharmakaya Relic Mantras.

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This reminds me of the movie "The Little Buddha". Traditionally, the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum are written in Sanskrit on the outside of these prayer wheel.

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Mantras written on the Buddhist flags.

The Amitabha Buddhist Centre held its Vesak Day celebration recently at the Aljunied MRT open ground. I took this once-a-year opportunity to experience the uniquely extensive and vibrant festival in this part of the world. There were various events organised at this celebration, which included paying homage to the Buddha with an array of offerings, dedicating pujas (merits) towards one's own wishes and aspirations, circumambulating the thangka with light offerings, receiving Auspicious blessings, hearing the Dharma talk by the Buddhist monk, taking precepts, etc.

Most statues of the Lord Buddha are illuminated on Vesak Day, and the celebrations conclude with a candlelight procession through the streets. The Buddhist community in Singapore is made up of various sectors, each of them offering variant ways of celebrating the occasion - The Mahayana or "Greater Way" constitutes mainly Chinese Singaporeans and form the majority of Buddhists here, while the Mahayana strain of Buddhism arrived on these shores in 1884 through individual missionaries from China's southern province. 

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Devotees holding lotus-lamp before they begin the circumambulation procession after the Dharma talk.

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Led by the chief monk, they night procession of circumambulation with light offerings is believe to give everyone inconceivable meris.

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  The rest of the devotees joins the night procession circumambulating the Amitabha Buddha as well as all the holy objects three times.

The central pillar of Mahayana Buddhism is that Nirvana can be obtained not just through self-perseverance but also through the help of bodhisattvas or "enlightened ones". One such bodhisattva highly regarded in Singapore is Guanyin, the "Goddess of Mercy". Mahayana Buddhist temples in Singapore like the Phor Kark See Temple on Bright Hill Road, practise the "three-step, one-bow" ritual on Vesak Day, where devotees take steps on both knees, bowing at every third step as they pray for world peace, personal blessings and repentance. The exhausting two-hour procession actually begins 24 hours before, when many would reserve a place in the procession, sometimes with only a small tissue packet.

Meanwhile another main variant of Buddhism is Theravada Buddhism, with a focus on seeking one's own path to salvation. Mainly practised by Singapore's Sri Lankan and Burmese communities, the Burmese Buddhist Temple at Geylang and the Sri Lankaramaya Temple at St Michael's Road practise a ritual of cooking a pot of rice in milk on Vesak Day, reminiscent of Buddha's last meal before his long fast toward enlightenment.

There you go, a short recollection of my Vesak Day celebration experience in Singapore. Thank you for reading.

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