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Celebrate Buddha’s Life on Visakha Bucha Day in Southeast Asia by Adhering to the Eight Precepts

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Unofficially known as Buddha’s Birthday, Visakha Bucha not only commemorates Buddha’s birth but also his enlightenment and passing away.  It is celebrated in many Buddhist countries in South and Southeast Asia including Indonesia (among the Buddhist minority).  It falls on the full moon Uposatha day (typically the 5th or 6th lunar month).  The date varies from year to year in the Western calendar, but usually falls in April or May (it is on May 28th in 2010).

Buddha was born as Siddhartha Gautama into a royal family at Lumbini Park in present day Nepal, 80 year before the Buddhist Era (623 BCE).  He was born on a Friday during the Vesak full moon in the year of the dog.  At 35 years of age, Buddha obtained enlightenment under a Bodhi Tree in present day Bihar State, India on a Wednesday during the Vesak full moon in the year of the cock.  And finally, 80 years after his birth, Buddha passed away, again on a Vesak full moon during the year of the snake at Kushinagar, India.

Visakha Bucha has been celebrated by Buddhist followers for centuries, but has only been recognized as an official holiday after the first Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists meeting in 1950.  During this holiday, followers of Buddhism arrive at their local temples before dawn and give offerings such as flowers, candles or incense sticks to Buddha, The Dharma (Buddha’s teachings) and The Sangha (Buddha’s disciples).  During this day, Buddhists refrain from killing, such as pests or animals for food or as well as avoid alcohol consumption (some countries will have slaughter houses and liquor shops closed by government law during this day).

Some temples may display a small image of baby Buddha, allowing devotees to pour water onto it, symbolizing the cleansing of bad karma.  Monks will also give sermons and recite verses promoting peace and happiness pronounced by Buddha himself.

People will make special attempts to bring happiness to the unfortunate on Vishakha Bucha Day by offering gifts, cash and services to various charities.  People will also try to bring joy and happiness to by decorating temples and creating colorful art depicting scenes out of Buddha’s life.  Buddhists also provide refreshments and vegetarian food to followers who visit the temple to pay their homage.

On a day to day basis, most Buddhists adhere to the Five Precepts, which are guidelines on avoiding morally bad behavior.  The Five Precepts are:

1.    Abstain from taking life
2.    Abstain from taking what is not given
3.    Abstain from sexual misconduct
4.    Abstain from false speech
5.    Abstain from intoxicating substances

However on full moon occasions such as Visakha Bucha, people will try to follow the Eight Precepts which not only restrains people from bad behavior but also leading a more ascetic lifestyle.  The additional precepts are:

6.    Abstain from eating at the wrong times (the proper times are after sunrise and before noon)
7.    Abstain from from singing, dancing, playing music, attending entertainment performances, wearing perfume, and using cosmetics
8.    Abstain from luxurious places for sitting or sleeping

Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar hold strong Theravada Buddhist traditions, making this holiday a very important one in each country’s calendars.  If you have any questions or are going to visit one of these countries during this day, you may contact us if you would like to tweak your itinerary with a temple visit and fully experience the festival.  Discover the region’s wonders with Exotisimo’s Southeast Asia Discovery tour as we take you to incredible temples, ruins, jungles, beaches, cities and villages as well as meet some of the world’s friendliest peoples.  You can also see our suggested multi-country tours page for other memorable trips into this beautiful and captivating region.

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