The Vesak, kesako?

- through Sophie Solere

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The Venerable Dagpo Rinpoche and Nyanadharo, and Doctor Trinh Dinh Hy decipher this popular celebration, during which each Buddhist can renew his commitment to the Buddhist Way.

What does Vesak represent in your tradition?

Venerable Dagpo Rinpoche: "Vesak" (Saga dawa in Tibetan) is the name of the 4th lunation, that is to say the 4th month according to the lunar calendar, the peak being the full moon, the 15th day. During Vesak, we commemorate the birth, awakening and parinirvana of Buddha Shakyamuni.

Venerable Nyanadharo : This is the goal to achieve. If the Buddha had not achieved Enlightenment on that day, there would be no Buddha, no tradition. It is not an outward celebration, it is up to each Buddhist to come together, to realize the mind of the living Buddha, to free oneself from samsara. It is not a question of tradition, of the historical Buddha, but of knowing if today, in the current world, this path is realizable. As long as there are practitioners, the path is open. It is the goal of the path that counts, not the historical Buddha, but the Buddha in us, going into the forest to find the Buddha in us, this is the tradition of forest monks.

Dr. Trinh Dinh Hy: The Vesak represents for all Buddhists, whatever the tradition to which they belong, the opportunity to remember the memory of the Buddha, of his teaching, the Dharma, and to get closer to their community of religious and lay people, the Sangha.

And on a more personal level?

Venerable Dagpo Rinpoche: These Vesak commemorations are undoubtedly the most important in the Buddhist calendar. This is an excellent opportunity to evoke the Buddha, but also and above all to redouble our efforts to put our education in practice.

Venerable Nyanadharo : Two memories come back to me, related to the relics of the Buddha: the Vesak of 2003, it is the reception of twelve relics at the United Nations in Geneva, where I was present - two relics coming from Burma, two from Sri Lanka and eight from Thailand and Laos. This is when Vesak was recognized as an official religious holiday worldwide by the United Nations. The second dates from 2009, when I organized the delivery of relics from the Buddha's birthplace to the Union Bouddhiste de France, at the Grande pagoda in Vincennes.

Dr. Trinh Dinh Hy: The Vesak is for me a birthday date (around the middle of the 4th lunar month, in our Mahayana tradition) and an opportunity to find my masters and my fellow students gathered at the pagoda, or at a friendly pagoda, in order to celebrate together the memory of the birth of the Buddha.

“At Bamchö monastery, where I lived when I was a child, like in most small provincial monasteries, during Vesak we did a lot of prostrations, we only ate at noon, and we did many practices in link with the tantras of action. » Venerable Dagpo Rinpoche

Why do we traditionally celebrate the birth, awakening, parinirvana and death of the Buddha in the same month?

Venerable Dagpo Rinpoche: Because all three events would have happened around this time, I guess. In any case, this allows them to highlight their importance and reminds us that if being born implies dying, a human birth provides the opportunity to progress until achieving enlightenment.

Venerable Nyanadharo : It is symbolic: the Buddha was born as a Buddha on the day of his Awakening, and he also died as a human that day. These events took place on the day of the full moon in the month of May, that is to say the middle of the sixth month according to the traditional calendar; it is the middle of the year, the point where past, present and future unite, like the Buddhas of the past, the Buddha of the present in us, and the future Buddha, Maitreya.

Dr. Trinh Dinh Hy: In reality, no one knows the exact date of the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death. It is therefore a symbolic date where these three essential events in the life of the Buddha are celebrated at the same time: his perfect awakening, his life and his death, thus recalling, if necessary, his human and historical dimension.

Is Vesak rather a religious or secular holiday, like Christmas in Catholic countries?

Venerable Dagpo Rinpoche: It depends what you mean by that. All Buddhists, lay and religious, celebrate Vesak. On the other hand, it is not a "profane feast", but a period of intensified practice. Of course, customs vary from one country to another. In Southeast Asia, there is an exchange of greeting cards with formulas such as "Good Vesak". This was not done in Tibet.

Venerable Nyanadharo : When the Vesak was recognized by the UN, it became an international, social, political and intellectual event. But each country, each tradition, contributes to this event. It is also of course a popular celebration, with great fervor in Buddhist countries. For meditative traditions, on the other hand, it is rather an opportunity for personal questioning: “Where am I in my practice? If I had to disappear right now, am I ready? That's the question every Buddhist should ask themselves on this May full moon.

Dr. Trinh Dinh Hy: Rather, it is a religious holiday, which is not included in the calendar of days off in most countries. It is not comparable to Christmas celebrations in Western countries, which are rather traditional and family.

“A memory of Vesak? That of 2009, when I organized the delivery of the relics from the birthplace of the Buddha to the Union Bouddhiste de France, at the Great Pagoda in Vincennes. » Venerable Nyanadharo

What are the teachings given by the religious and masters on this occasion?

Venerable Dagpo Rinpoche: There is no teaching theme specific to Vesak. For example, in the great Tibetan philosophical monasteries, the normal study program is continued. The difference is that, as we are aware that this month of Vesak is somehow loaded with blessings, we make efforts on the qualitative level.

Venerable Nyanadharo : To do like the Buddha. If you put off enlightenment until the next time, or the next life, you are a bodhisattva, but if you manage to pass the course, achieve enlightenment, then you are a Buddha. It's out of time, we can realize it even 2500 years later.

Dr. Trinh Dinh Hy: The religious masters recall on this occasion the fundamental teaching of the Buddha, as well as the particular teaching of each tradition, of each School. They may also lead prayer ceremonies or meditation sessions.

Is this an opportunity for monks and lay people to renew their commitment to the Buddhist Way? And, for a Buddhist, to reaffirm his determination to observe the precepts?

Venerable Dagpo Rinpoche: I would rather say that it is an opportunity to reinforce motivation and determination, to intensify the practice. As merits are said to be amplified during this month, and especially the first two weeks, during Vesak, many Buddhists devote more time than usual to practices which contribute to the accumulation of merits and the purification of sins and faults. errors. For example, many lay people carefully avoid killing during this time and adopt a vegetarian diet. At Bamchö monastery, where I lived when I was a child, as in most small provincial monasteries, during Vesak we did a lot of prostrations, we only ate at noon, and we did many practices related with the tantras of action. On the other hand, in the great philosophical monasteries, people prefer to devote themselves with even more ardor to study and debate.

Venerable Nyanadharo : It's up to everyone to decide: as with a boat, if you're well anchored, there's no need to anchor yourself a second time, the wind can blow, you won't move. But if you're not sure, then it's fine to renew. It is therefore a good opportunity to see if you are well anchored in the Dharma, this impersonal and timeless state.

Dr. Trinh Dinh Hy: Yes, it is indeed customary for a Buddhist, during the Vesak ceremony, to reaffirm his commitment to the Buddhist Way, by renewing the Triple Refuge ("tisaraṇa" in Pali), in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, and the Five Precepts (“pancasila”): not to kill, not to lie, not to steal, not to have illicit sexual relations, not to drink alcohol or take drugs. It is the fundamental commitment of the Buddhist on the Way he has chosen.

“For the younger generations, whose approach to Buddhism is still often theoretical and bookish, Vesak can be an opportunity to broaden their knowledge through exchanges with the elders, and also to discover how this pragmatic philosophy can be applied in daily life. » Dr. Trinh Dinh Hy

What qualities of the Buddha and principles do you think are essential to transmit to the younger generations for this century?

Venerable Dagpo Rinpoche: The Vesak is a good opportunity to reflect further on the qualities of the Buddha: his qualities of Body, Speech (his Teaching) and Mind (omniscience, great compassion and powers). The point of thinking about them and better understanding their content and effects is that it increases the aspiration to develop qualities comparable to those of the Buddha, to become better and better able to act in beneficial ways for the intention of all beings.

Venerable Nyanadharo : This transmission is not easy. The Buddha is the smile from within, peace, radiance, equanimity. If you have any doubts, go see the Mona Lisa, with her enigmatic smile. She doesn't smile at the world, she smiles at herself, and when you move, she follows you everywhere with her smile. Even in difficult times, she and her smile are always with us. Art and culture are part of education, it can be an entry point for younger generations. Leonardo da Vinci put all his art into this expression. This is the beauty of the moment of awakening.

Dr. Trinh Dinh Hy: For the younger generations, whose'approach to Buddhism is still often theoretical and bookish, Vesak can be an opportunity to'broaden their knowledge through exchanges with the elders, and also to discover how this pragmatic philosophy can be applied in daily life. They will learn the messages of peace and tolerance, compassion towards all living beings, and'benevolent love for this vast interdependent universe, where we "inter-are".

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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