Birth, Enlightenment and Death of the Lord Buddha
Visaka Bucha Day is the premier of three annual Buddhist holy days. On this day, which comes on Wednesday May 6 in Thailand this year, the birth, enlightenment and death of the Lord Buddha, the Self-Enlightened One, is celebrated. In short, the person of the Buddha is commemorated, and the Buddha is worshiped.
The birth of Gautama was in various ways miraculous (as births of divine saviors must be). According to the basic Thai narrative, at his conception his mother dreamed that a divine white elephant entered her side. His birth was painless to his mother, and the precocious infant arose at birth and took several footsteps which were cushioned by lotus blossoms springing from the ground.
The prince was first destined for a royal heritage, for which he married and bore a son. But he became fixed on discovering life’s greatest mystery, the cause and resolution of human suffering. For this quest he abandoned his family and home to practice extreme asceticism, finally resolving to meditate until he discovered the Truth. After 40 days he achieved this stupendous break-through into enlightenment.
Thereafter, he spent decades disseminating this understanding to all who were inclined to receive it. He acceded to the requests of a few (eventually growing into a multitude) to be his disciples. In order to sustain and spread the Dharma-Truth, he permitted disciples to form a monastic order and gave them instructions for living in ways that would further the cause while enhancing their own progress toward Nirvana (the cessation of suffering and the eradication of its cause). At the appropriate time, the Buddha, having accomplished all he needed to do, yielded to death. He reclined in acquiescence and passed away.
This year, because of COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings, the usual massed morning chanting, group meditation, and evening circumambulation of chedis (stupas) will not be held. Mass gatherings, including the famous pilgrimage up mount Doi Sutape here in Chiang Mai, are expressly prohibited. However, I have no doubt that people will still find their way to neighborhood temples to make merit.
[The picture of the birth (left panel), death (right), and enlightenment (center) is from the west wall of the assembly building of Wat Ta Pong, Sanpatong District, Chiang Mai. In virtually every temple, the enlightenment is the symbolic center of attention.]
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.