The upcoming full moon in May is Vesak, a special Buddhist holiday observed around the world, inspired by the Buddha’s teachings of compassion, peace and goodwill. Vesak honors his birth, enlightenment and death, all together. Vesak is joyful, celebrating the happiness the Buddha found even in the midst of birth and death. People flock to this teaching, not only because he normalizes suffering, but because he awakens the energy of compassion, joy and freedom to be found within the human condition.
I’ve wondered why the birth, enlightenment, and death are all honored on the same day in the Theravada (early Buddhist) lineage? Could it be because birth, death, insight, understanding all happen in the present moment? Life is born anew in each moment. Freedom is found here and now. There is nowhere else. Buddha’s realization comes alive in the vitality of compassion and tender understanding that can free the heart just where you are.
I reflect on these teachings while one of my dearest best friends, much younger than I, is doing her dying this spring. She has practiced mindfulness and loving-kindness for many years. And so far, her dying is mercifully soft and gentle. She sleeps a lot. Often, when she opens her eyes, she looks around in wonderment as if she was just born, a baby Buddha. There is a Vesak ceremony called Bathing the Buddha, where sweet tea is ladled over the shoulders of a little Buddha to remind everyone to wash away any greed, hatred and delusion and start afresh. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “To be born means to be begin anew.”
Each moment my friend wakes up is a new beginning, just as it can be for you and me. Each day, each moment can be a birth into the possibility of beginning anew. I can see this when I look into my friend’s eyes. Maybe you can imagine your favorite sweet tea washing away old misunderstandings and pain. Can you see birth and death with the eyes of awakening and loving awareness? What moments of awakening are waiting for you? It is never too late to begin anew.