Christmas has turned to be big business, and that is not only the case in countries with a history of Christian traditions. Not all who enjoy this business or some related customs seem to know that it is a day which has been set to remember the birth of Jesus.
Visak Bochea – វិសាខបូជា – or Visak Day, was a National Holiday in Cambodia on 5 May 2012 – and according to present Cambodian custom, many government offices, banks, bigger businesses, and some NGOs transferred the work free holiday, as it fell on a Saturday, to Monday 7 May – not caring at all that the date for this religious memorial day follows the full moon in May, which was this year on a Saturday. But again, not so many people seem to know much what the meaning of this day is. “It is the Buddhist Christmas Day or whatever!”
This day is an annual holiday observed differently by Buddhists in many regions of Asia and beyond, under different names, like in Cambodia – វិសាខបូជា – China – 佛誕 and 衛塞節 – India, Indonesia – Waisak – Japan – 花祭 – Korea – 석가 탄신일 and 釋迦誕身日 – Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand – วันวิสาขบูชา – and Vietnam – Phật Đản. Sometimes informally called “Buddha’s birthday,” it actually relates to the birth, the enlightenment, and the passing of Gautama Buddha.
“The decision to agree to celebrate the Vesak day as the Buddha’s birthday was formalized at the first Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists held in Sri Lanka in 1950. The Resolution that was adopted at the World Conference reads as follows:
“That this Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, while recording its appreciation of the gracious act of His Majesty, the Maharaja of Nepal in making the full-moon day of Vesak a Public Holiday in Nepal, earnestly requests the Heads of Governments of all countries in which large or small number of Buddhists are to be found, to take steps to make the full-moon day in the month of May a Public Holiday in honor of the Buddha, who is universally acclaimed as one of the greatest benefactors of Humanity.”
In addition to this general geographic and historic survey, I did not find much information how this day is commemorated – obviously differently – according to different traditions in different countries.
I take this occasion to share a one of the collection of 101 Zen Stories published under the name of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, and widely known in the USA, and translated into German under the title of Without Words – Without Silence.
A university student while visiting Buddhist Zen Master Gasan (峨山 – “Mountain Cliff”) asked him: “Have you ever read the Christian Bible?”
“No, read it to me,” said Gasan.
The student opened the Bible and read from the book of Matthew:
“And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory [King Solomon who reigned from about 970 to 931 BC, the mighty builder of the first temple in Jerusalem, reputed to have been great great in wisdom and wealth] clothed himself like one of these… So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Gasan said: “Whoever uttered those words I consider an enlightened man.”
The student continued reading:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and they who seeks find, and to them who knock it will be opened.”
Gasan remarked: “That is excellent. Whoever said that is not far from Buddhahood.”
Anything to be noted about Visak Bochea Day 2012 – actually to be celebrated on the day of the full moon, but now changed for convenience’s sake for a work free day for some people in society according to their employment, from Saturday to Monday – that is to today?