On Sunday May 19, 2019, the Sri Lankan, Thai, Cambodian, Laotian, Vietnamese, Chinese and French Buddhist communities gathered at the international pagoda in the Bois de Vincennes, at the invitation of the Center International Bouddhique du Bourget, to celebrate together Vesak, the biggest festival in the Buddhist calendar.
The Vesak festival takes its name from that of the lunar month in which it takes place, Vaisakha, which straddles the two western months of April and May. The precise date is determined by the day of the full moon and therefore varies from year to year.
In the tradition of Theravada Buddhism, Vesak commemorates the triple anniversary of the three fundamental events in the life of the Buddha: birth, Awakening and Perfect Extinction (Mahâparinirvâna). As such, it is therefore a Party major, the importance of which is now recognized by the whole of the Buddhist world, even if certain countries keep their own calendar and celebrate, for example, the birth of the future Buddha on another date.
It was in 1950, during the first congress of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, that the decision was taken to make Vesak THE festival of Buddha and Buddhism at the international level. This organization, which had been founded by a Sinhalese writer with the aim of helping to unify a very diverse Buddhist world, was to adopt the Buddhist flag two years later. Since 1999, the Vesak holiday has been recognized by the United Nations and celebrated at its headquarters and in its multiple missions around the world.
The event is obviously marked in the monasteries on the said day, but for obvious practical reasons, it is generally the Sunday closest to the precise date that the celebrations take place, bringing together monks and lay people.
A procession under the watchful eye of Venerable Chandaratana
For years, the Center Bouddhique du Bourget has invited all the communities (Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana) of the Paris region, wishing to gather for a day of commemoration whose program is almost immutable, to the international pagoda in the Bois de Vincennes.
In places prepared and decorated early in the morning by the lay faithful, the religious ceremonies usually begin around 10:30 a.m. The offering of food and the meal of the monks are done according to tradition. Lunch for the lay faithful can then take place, an opportunity for all to taste the culinary specialties – vegetarian, Vesak oblige – of Sri Lanka. It is an opportunity for exchanges between practitioners from different centers, sometimes spread over the four corners of the Paris region. Between Buddhists and non-Buddhists as well, because the international pagoda is wide open on the Bois de Vincennes, in the immediate vicinity of the lake, and many walkers are curious about the lively place, the songs and the music. And, of course, in a Buddhist context, all are welcome.
In the tradition of Theravada Buddhism, Vesak commemorates the triple anniversary of the three fundamental events in the life of the Buddha: birth, Awakening and Perfect Extinction (Mahâparinirvâna).
Around 13:15 p.m., the effervescence is at its height: the many groups – dancers and musicians, bearers of flags and offerings, monks and lay people – form up under the watchful eye of Venerable Chandaratana, for the procession that accompanies the effigy of the Buddha around the pagoda.
Then comes the lifting of the Buddhist flag by the Sri Lankan ambassador to France. Then the representatives of the different communities, often joined by non-Buddhist visitors, meet inside the pagoda for the formal commemoration of Vesak: the practitioners observe the Five Precepts, the traditional lamps are lit, the offerings of flowers are placed at the feet of the monumental statue of the Buddha. The speeches follow one another and, this year, the Venerable Rahula, installed for two years in France, opened this part of the celebrations pronouncing his very first public message in French.
After a sutra recitation by all the religious and a teaching given by the Venerable Chandaratana, the Vietnamese community offered a sample of Buddhist chants accompanied, for some, by the Vietnamese zither. Then place at the ceremony of gift of robes to the religious.
Nothing imposes on the faithful, in the Theravada tradition, a regular presence at the temple. It is nevertheless recommended to combine solitary practice and practice in common. THE holidays organized in this way outside the centres, where members of the same community usually meet, are an opportunity for mutual enrichment through the meeting of practitioners from other traditions. Having to explain, in simple terms, one's own practice to non-Buddhists who come out of simple curiosity is also an experience of great interest. Another form of teaching for the Buddhist himself, because explaining to others is sometimes an opportunity to clarify his own ideas.