The Meaning of Vesak

Many years ago when I was a resident teacher at the Cambridge Buddhist Association, I led a traditional celebration of Buddha’s birthday called Bathing the Buddha. A small statue of the Buddha stands in a bowl of sweet tea and everyone takes turns ladling the tea over its shoulders to symbolize cleansing our hearts of greed, hatred, and delusion. Imagine your favorite sweet tea magically washing away all misunderstandings and pain as you begin the next year of your life! Each day when you and I wake up is a new beginning. Each moment births the possibility of beginning anew. 

The full moon in May is Vesak, a sacred occasion commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha, all on the same day. People flocked to the Buddha’s teaching because he showed the way to awakening using skills that everyone can cultivate within their own minds and hearts. He proved that it’s possible to find freedom within the human condition, right in the midst of birth and death. Vesak celebrates this possibility of awakening for each one of us.
Different Buddhist cultures mark his birth, enlightenment, and passing away on different days, but InsightLA is part of the lineage of the Thai Forest school of early Buddhism that celebrates the milestones of the Buddha’s life on the same day. Come join us at InsightLA to participate in this sacred Buddhist tradition on Saturday, May 7th.

The energy of the Buddha’s life work is still alive in the vitality of compassion expressed on Vesak, when millions of Buddhists all over the world make donations and offerings to their temple or center. The holiday is a beautiful celebration of generosity, marked by offering food and care to people who need support, meditating with loving presence and awareness, and doing good deeds of all kinds. It’s an auspicious and supportive time to re-dedicate yourself to your own spiritual practices to enable you to survive and thrive even in the midst of discouragement or loss. These days I’m in semi-retreat to mourn the sudden death of my little brother a month ago. Through the grace of this practice, I can feel both grief and gratitude for his life and my own. May each one of us honor our precious human birth and fill our hearts with peace as we begin each new day.   


P.S. I’m sharing this 10-day journey of grieving (on Instagram @trudy_goodman and on Facebook​​​​​​​) as a love letter to my brother. Please feel free to follow along with me — we need hugs, affection and each other during times of personal and collective heartache.

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