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Home > Article > Waisak, Celebrating the Birth and Life of Buddha
Waisak, Celebrating the Birth and Life of Buddha
Buddhist people throughout the world celebrate the holiday of Waisak (Vesakha). This day honors the birth, life, and teaching of Buddha Shakyamuni. Early Buddhist scriptures describe that the Buddha was born, enlightened, and died on the full moon day of the fourth lunar month, Vesakha.

The Buddha, the founder of the Buddhist religion, is called Buddha Shakyamuni (‘shakya’ is his family’s name and ‘muni’ means ‘able one’). He was born as a royal prince in 623 BC in a place called Lumbini, which was originally in northern India but is now part of Nepal. His mother was Queen Maha Maya and his father was King Shuddhodana of Kapilavatthu Kingdom.

One full moon night, Queen Maha Maya dreamt of a white elephant descended from heaven and entered her womb. As the elephant is a symbol of greatness in Nepal, the dream was a sign that she would give birth to a great leader.

As it was the custom of that time for a wife to have her baby in her father's house, Queen Maha Maya traveled to her father's kingdom (Koliya) for the birth. On the way to Koliya, Queen Maha Maya and her soldiers passed a garden in the Himalayan foothills called Lumbini. Since the park was a good resting place, the queen ordered her soldiers to stop for a while. On a full moon, the queen gave birth to a baby boy. According to the legend, the baby could stand and walk seven steps forward and at each step a lotus flower appeared on the ground.

After the birth, Queen Maha Maya immediately returned to Kapilavatthu. When King Shuddhodana saw his son, he felt as if all his wishes had been fulfilled and he named the young prince ‘Siddhartha’ which means ‘wish-fulfilled’. The king invited a clairvoyant to predict the prince's future. The clairvoyant told the king that the prince could become either a great king or a fully enlightened Buddha.

Unfortunately, Queen Maha Maya died only seven days after the birth. After that, Prince Siddhartha was raised by his mother's sister, Maha Prajapati.

As Prince Siddhartha grew up, he mastered all the traditional arts and sciences, as well as martial arts and archery. He would take every opportunity to convey spiritual meanings and to encourage others to follow spiritual paths.

Sometimes Prince Siddhartha went out to see how the people lived and came into contact with many old and sick people. What he saw left a deep impression on his mind and he realized that all living beings have to experience the sufferings of birth, sickness, ageing and death. Because he knew about reincarnation, he also realized that all living beings experience these sufferings again and again, in life after life without ending.

Realizing that only a fully enlightened Buddha has the wisdom and the power to help and free all living beings from their sufferings, Prince Siddhartha decided to seclude in the forest where he would do a deep meditation until he achieved enlightenment.

When his people heard that Prince Siddhartha intended to leave the palace, they asked King Shuddhodana to arrange a marriage for the prince in the hope that this would change his mind.

King Shuddhodana agreed and soon found a bride for his son. Her name was Yasodhara. However, Prince Siddhartha had no interest in worldly pleasures because he realized that they are like poisonous flowers, which appear to be attractive but eventually give rise to great pain.

His decision to leave the palace and to achieve enlightenment remained unchanged, but to fulfill his father's wishes, he agreed to marry Yasodhara. However, even though Prince Siddhartha remained in the palace as a royal prince, he devoted all his time and energy to serve his people.

At the age of twenty-nine, Prince Siddhartha had a vision that all the Buddhas of the ten directions came to him and said: “Previously you decided to become a Buddha in order to help all living beings. Now is the time for you to achieve this.

The prince went immediately to his father and asked his permission to leave the palace. King Shuddhodana was shocked and refused to give the permission. The king tried all he could to prevent his son from leaving the palace. He also placed guards around the palace walls.

However, the prince's decision to do meditation was firm. One night, with his miracle powers, he sent the guards into a deep sleep while he escaped from the palace with the help of a trusted aide.

After traveling for a few miles, Prince Siddhartha got down from his horse and said goodbye to his aide. He then cut his hair off and made his way to a place near Bodh Gaya in India, where he found a suitable place for meditation. After meditating for six years, Siddhartha realized that he was very close to achieving full enlightenment. Thus, on the full moon day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar, he walked to Bodh Gaya where he meditated beneath the Bodhi Tree and vowed to carry on meditating until he had achieved full enlightenment.

As nightfall, many evil thoughts, described as being like the evil god Mara, crept into his mind. Thoughts of desire, longing, fear and affection arose, but Siddhartha did not let these thoughts spoil his concentration.

Siddhartha then continued meditating until dawn. He began to remember all his previous lives, and to see everything that was going on in the entire universe. On a full moon night, Siddhartha finally understood the answer to the question of suffering and in the next moment he became a fully enlightened Buddha.

WheelForty-nine days after the Buddha achieved full enlightenment, he was requested to teach. The Buddha then rose from meditation and taught the first Wheel of Dharma. These teachings include the Four Noble Truths which are the principal source of the Hinayana (lesser vehicle) of Buddhism. Later, Buddha taught the second and third Wheels of Dharma, which include the knowledge of Perfection of Wisdom and the Discriminating the Intention. These teachings are the source of the Mahayana (great vehicle) of Buddhism.

In the Hinayana teaching, the Buddha explained how to release from suffering for oneself alone; and in the Mahayana teaching, he explained how to achieve full enlightenment for the sake of others.

One day, the Buddha came to see his five ascetic companions at the Deer Park in Sarnath near Benares, about one hundred miles from Bodh Gaya. There, he preached his first sermon and explained to them the Four Noble Truths which are the truth of suffering, its cause, its end, and the way to its end; and the Eightfold Path which are right understanding, right attitude, right speech, right speech, right livelihood, right effort, right effort, and right concentration. The five ascetics then became his first disciples and the beginning of monk’s community (Sangha).

After he had 60 disciples, Buddha sent them away to teach people everywhere. He left the Deer Park and turned southwards towards the Magadha country.

When King Suddhodana heard that the Buddha was preaching in Rajagaha, he sent nine messengers one by one, inviting the Buddha to come to Kapilavatthu. All the messengers became monks. They listened to the Buddha's teachings and found them so interesting that they forgot to pass on the king's message.

King Suddhodana then arranged for the Buddha to stay in a place called Nigrodha. But when the Buddha did not arrive, the king sent Kaludayi, a childhood friend of Buddha's, to invite him back to Kapilavatthu.

Over time, the Buddha approached his family including his wife, son, father and aunt. His son, Rahula, became a monk. King Suddhodana was sad because of his son and grandson becoming monks, he asked the Buddha to make a rule that a man must have permission from their parents to become a monk.

His wife and aunt asked to be permitted into monk’s community (Sangha) which initially consisted of men. His wife and aunt became the first Buddhist nuns.

Buddha achieved his enlightenment at 35 years old. He had taught throughout northeast India for another 45 years. When the Buddha was 80 years old, he told his friends that he would be leaving them soon. In Kushinagara, he became very ill after eating some spoiled food. He went into a deep meditation beneath a sala tree and died there.

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