By Gamini Jayasinghe
Vesak full moon poya day is of special significance to Buddhists due to three main incidents taken place on this day. The last birth of the Bodhisattva took place on a Vesak full moon poya day.
He attained Buddha hood also on a Vesak full moon poya day. The Exalted One’s Parinibbana also took place on a day like this.
On the Vesak full moon poya day two thousand six hundred and one years ago the last birth of Bodhisattva took place at Lumbini Royal park.
His mother was Queen Maha Maya and King Suddhodhana of the kingdom of Kapilawasthu was his father. The queen was on her way to her parental place at Devdaha with a mass of followers to deliver her first child as was customary and when she was resting at the Royal Park, Lumbini holding a branch of a fully blossomed Sal tree Bodhisattva was born.
It is said that the new born child had walked on seven Lotus flowers which emerged suddenly before him. King Suddhodhana’s teacher, saint Asitha of Kaladewala who visited the palace on the same day asserted that the blessed prince was to be the saviour of the universe and the teacher of every one in all the three worlds.
First Salutation by the Father
The saint who had developed his meditation skills envisaged that he was due to die before the Enlightenment of the Bodhisattva, worshipped the new born prince. The king who watched the behaviour of his teacher realised that his son was superior to the saint and himself worshipped the Bodhisattva.
The prince was brought up in the royal palace in the lap of luxury leaving no room for him to realise the vanity of the worldly life. The king was anxious to see his son becoming the Universal King as envisaged by the learned Brahmin at the naming ceremony. The king’s endeavour was to prevent the Bodhisattva from leaving the worldly life to attain Buddha hood in keeping with the words of saint Kondanna who raised one finger and said that the prince was sure to attain the Buddha hood.
In spite of all precautionary measures taken by the king the prince came into direct contact with the stark realities of life, “Sathara Pera Nimithi” – a sick man, a decrepit old man, a corpse and a monk and he was determined to become an ascetic. At the age of twenty nine years he renounced the worldly life leaving the royal family including his wife, princess Yasodhara and the new born son, Rahula. He strived for seven years and made a firm determination to attain his goal, Buddha hood.
In ancient India great importance was attached to rites, ceremonies, penances and sacrifices. It was then a popular belief that no salvation could be gained unless one led a life of strict asceticism. Hence for six long years he made a super human struggle practising all forms of severe austerity with the result that his delicate body was reduced almost to a skeleton. The more he tormented his body the farther his goal receded from him.
Majjima Pati Pada – Middle Path
However, ultimately he realised the futility of self- mortification and adopted an independent course –Majjima Patipada – the Middle Path. He decided to take some food. The five ascetics who attended on him, being disappointed at this unexpected change of method, deserted him and went to Isipatana, saying that “the ascetic Gothama had become indulgent, had ceased from straving and returned to a life of comfort.
However, Bodhisattva was not discouraged. After taking some food offered to him by a generous lady named Sujatha he made a firm resolve not to rise from his seat under the sacred Bo tree until he attained Buddha hood.
One happy Vesak night, as he was seated under the famous Pippala tree at Buddha Gaya, with mind tranquilized and purified, in the first watch he developed that supernormal knowledge which enabled him to remember his past lives – Pubbenivasanussati Gnana Reminiscence of Past births. In the middle watch he developed the clairvoyant supernormal vision dealing with the death and rebirth of beings Cutupapata Gnana- perception of the disappearing and reappearing of Beings.
In the last watch of the night he developed the supernormal knowledge with regard to the destruction of passions- Asavakkhaya Gnana, and comprehending things as they truly are, attained Perfect Enlightenment- Samma Sambodhi
Saviour of every one in the universe
He devoted the remainder of that precious life to serve humanity both by example and precept, dominated by no personal motive. Buddha was a human being. As a man he was born, as man he lived and as a man His life came to an end. However, He was an extraordinary man. He had no deitification. He taught His disciples to depend on themselves for their salvation. “You yourselves should make the exertion. The Thathagathas are only teachers” He said. The Enlightened One has pointed out the path and it is left for us to follow that path to save ourselves.
At the age of eighty years, three months before the Vesak Full Moon day Gautama Buddha determined the term of life.
On one occasion He summoned His disciples and addressed them. In His address he said that all component things are transient and advised them to strive on with diligence. “After the lapse of three months from now the Accomplished One will attain Parinibbana. Be mindful and virtuous. With thoughts collected, guard your mind. He who lives strenuously in this Dispensation will escape the cycle of rebirth and put an end to suffering”
Gauthama Buddha had His last meal offered to Him by a generous lady named Sujatha. He rested on the couch placed between two Sala trees in the Upavattana Sala grove and attained Parinibbana on a Vesak Full moon poya day.
Niyatha Vivaranaya- Positive Explanation of assurance of becoming Buddha
“Niyatha Vivaranaya” -Positive explanation of assurance of becoming Buddha was given to Gauthama Bodhisattva for the first time by Deepankara Buddha on a Vesak Full moon poya day. Bodhisattva was born as ascetic Sumedha in that life.
The road was being repaired for the Buddha to pass that place. Ascetic Sumedha was among those who were preparing and decorating the road. He was expected to clean the road in a muddy area. Buddha came before ascetic Sumedha could clear the road. Ascetic Sumedha did not want the Buddha to walk on the muddy road and he lay down on the muddy road desiring the Buddha to walk on him. His decision was so deep and sincere that Deepankara Buddha gave the positive assurance of attaining Buddha hood.
Buddha’s third visit to Sri Lanka
Buddha’s third visit to Sri Lanka was also taken place on a Vesak Full Moon poya day. Buddha visited Kelaniya at the invitation of Naga King Maniakkhika of Kelaniya. This invitation was made when Buddha visited Sri Lanka for the second occasion to quell a dispute between two Naga kings, Chulodara and Mahodara at Nagadeepa. This took place on a Vesak full moon day.
Invitation by God Sumana Saman to visit Sri Pada
God Sumana Saman who brought the Kiripalu tree from Seveth Nuwara Devram vehera to provide shelter to the Buddha during His second visit to Sri Lanka had accompanied Him to Lanka during His third visit also. On his invitation Buddha proceeded to Samanthakuta where He placed His foot print which remains in full sanctity and is being worshipped by us with faith and devotion.
In Salalihini Sandesaya a mention is made about the place in Kelani Ganga where the ablution functions of the Enlightened One had taken place. Naga King Maniakkhika had offered a gem seat to the Buddha and it is believed that gem seat is treasured in the Dagaba at Kelaniya. Kelani Dagaba, Bo tree and various places in Anuradhapura remind us of he Buddha’s third visit to Sri Lanka.
Origin of the Sinhala Community
Further more it was on a Vesak full moon poya day that Prince Vijaya came to Sri Lanka with his followers. Hence, this day is regarded as the day of the origin of the Sinhala community. According to the chronicles the eldest son of King Sinha Bahu, the then ruler of Latarata in India and Sinhaseewalee had come to Lanka on a Vesak Full Moon Poya day.
Prince Vijaya and his followers, seven hundred in number had disembarked at Thammanna. A coincidence is that Vijaya had set foot on Lanka, land of Yakkha clan who was presumably the ruler of that part of the country had fallen in love with Vijaya and had offered him the throne with the hope of occupying the position of the queen. Vijaya was thus enthroned as the first king of Lanka.
Sinhabahu and Sinhaseewalee had thirty two children, all twins and that Vijaya was the eldest of them. Vijaya had been deported as he was disobedient to his parents. This disobedient son together with seven hundred followers disembarked at Thambapanni where they met Kuveni.
An International Religious day
At the instigation of the late Foreign minister, Laksman Kadirgarmar Vesak Full Moon Poya day has been declared as an international religious day. This was done because it is the most important day for Buddhists throughout the world.
To mark the religious, social and cultural importance of this day, people world or engage in both Amisa Puja and Prathiptti puja.