Festivals

Calendar events also serve to intensify Buddhist emotions and experience, and are opportunities to remember Buddhist teaching. The festival calendar varies in different Buddhist traditions and countries, and bound up with national and local cultural traditions but there is usually something celebrating the birth, enlightenment, teaching and death of the historical Buddha. In Theravada countries, Wesak on the full moon in late April/May celebrates the birth, enlightenment of the Buddha, and his first teaching is celebrated on the full moon in July. There are celebrations at the end of the monastic rains retreat in the autumn, when laypeople bring gifts to the monasteries. Sri Lanka holds a grand procession of the tooth-relic of the Buddha in Kandy in August, Thais float candles on rivers in November and recall the story of the generosity of Vessantara. In Tibet as well as Theravada countries, there is an autumn festival focused on the story of a visit by the Buddha to his departed mother reborn in one of the top heaven worlds, in China a festival in August to remember the ‘hungry ghosts’ recalling an event when one of the Buddha’s leading disciples visited his own mother in a ghost or hell rebirth and was able to set her free, and at autumn and spring equinoxes people visit family graves. Such festivals address the near-universal human concern for deceased relatives and provide an opportunity for helping them by prayers, offerings, and dedicating merit earned by ceremonial or moral actions to their (good) karmic account. In Japan, where the 19th century adoption of the Western Gregorian calendar means it is possible to give an exact date, the birthday of the Buddha is celebrated on April 8th (Hanamatsuri, ‘flower festival’) where images of the baby Buddha are bathed in scented tea.

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