Visākha comes from the Sanskrit word Vaiśākha and is an annual holiday practiced by Buddhists in South Asian and South East Asian countries like Nepal, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Indonesia and India. It commemorates the Birth, Enlightenment, and Final Nirvana of the Buddha. This is the major religious holiday for Asian Buddhists and is always celebrated on a full moon day in May. This year, Visakha will occur on May 25th, 2013.
It is said that during the full moon of Taurus, Buddha descends from his high place to bestow spiritual blessings on the world. It is thought that at this time, great expansions of consciousness, which are not possible at other times, become possible, and that energies are transmitted that assist humanity in taking the next steps on the path of spiritual growth.
The decision to agree to celebrate Visakha as the Buddha’s birthday was taken at the first Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) held in Sri Lanka in 1950. However, this celebration existed around this same time period during the year prior to this official decision.
Buddha Day is celebrated in a number of ways around the world. There is often the ceremonial release of small creatures, such as birds or turtles, as a symbol of the Buddha’s compassion for all things. A statue of the baby Buddha may be bathed in a ritual commemorating his birth. Dharma talks are given, often on the eight precepts (teachings) of Buddhism, since this ceremony is intended to reflect on the life of the Buddha and the goal for all of enlightenment. People will dress simply, wear light colours, sleep on the ground and not on comfortable mattresses, eat one or two meals during the day, and surrender many habitual pleasures to celebrate the birth of the Buddha and to mourn his passing. Sitting and/or walking meditation may be a part of the festivities as well. Traditionally, vegetarian meals are served. In the evening, candlelight or lantern processionals end the celebration. This occasion is observed by millions of Buddhists throughout the world. Schools may wish to acknowledge this day through activities that promote understanding and learning for all students.
“In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.” ~Buddha