2013 For Vesak

2013 Vesak Message from Ven. Ayya Sudhamma Theri

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Under a full moon of May,
 Prince Siddhattha
​ ​
was born.

Under a full moon of May, 
our great teacher attained his goal.

Under a full moon of May, 
the Blessed One reached final liberation.

To honor him, 
let us celebrate the full moon of May.

~ * ~

Dear Friends of Dhammadharini and Aranya Bodhi Hermitage,

As I am visiting this week with the Dhammadharini womens' monastic community on the beautiful forest mountainside of Aranya Bodhi hermitage, Ayya Tathaaloka suggested that I share some thoughts with you and other dear supporters regarding the upcoming full moon, internationally known as the Vesak (or Vesakkha) celebration day. 

Each year as the moon reaches fullness in the month of May, we recall the three most formative events in the life of the Buddha: his birth as Prince Siddhattha; the moment of his enlightenment; and his peaceful passing away. As recorded in Theravada tradition these three cardinal events each occurred under a May full moon. This is our most sacred holiday. (Some lineages of Buddhism recall other dates for some events, but nearly all recognize Vesak as the Buddha's birthday.) On this date, devotees around the world gather to reverence the Buddha, remembering with respect and gratitude his extraordinary efforts, his wisdom and his compassion.
With joy we recall his final birth. With awe we recall his great unsurpassed awakening. Somberly we recall his release from this life and our incomparable loss of the world's most precious jewel.  
In many Buddhist countries the celebrations begin well before the full moon. People make and display paper lanterns and other decorations, chant, meditate, listen to Dhamma, even set up stalls to give free food and beverages to all who pass by. This is "Vesak Season", with excitement building up to the sacred day, even as people in the West begin their Christmas festivities before December 25th. I have been nearly exuberant these past couple of weeks as Vesak Season progresses, recalling the life of the Buddha and delighting in Vesak festivities at multiple temples.

A couple of groups that invited me to give talks during the past week heard about the Buddha's compassion. After first describing the Buddha's extraordinary heroic efforts to attain enlightenment, and having related a metaphor for the gift that he compassionately gave to the world, I shared with them some of the many stories of his great compassion-in-action towards individuals. 

Would you like to read some of these stories?  

- The Buddha's extraordinarily heroic efforts to attain enlightenment, willingly sacrificing himself for us all: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.036.than.html andhttp://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.012.ntbb.html
- The Weaver's Daughter: a devout poor girl destined to die that day receives a surprising teaching from the Buddha to attain enlightenment just in time.http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/burlingame/wheel324.html#sect24
- Angulimala: History's most gruesome serial killer was converted by the Buddha just before the killer sealed a hellish fate for himself (and instead became enlightened)http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.086.than.html
- The Ox Owner: A poor man arrived late to the teaching, in a state of hunger and distraction, but the Buddha compassionately declined to teach until after this man was fed and able to listen. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/burlingame/wheel324.html#sect25
- Bharadvaja: He went to scold the Buddha but the Compassionate One gently gained his confidence. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn07/sn07.002.than.html#fn-1
- Murderers: The archers sent to assassinate the Buddha did not provoke anger but instead became enlightened through the Buddha's kindness. http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/d/devadatta.htm (at the 8th paragraph)
- Sopaka: The Buddha rescued an abused child from certain death.http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/buddhism/lifebuddha/27lbud.htm

The Buddha's metaphor for what he has done for us:

“Suppose, bhikkhus, that in a wooded range there was a great low-lying marsh near which a large herd of deer lived. Then a man appeared desiring their ruin, harm, and bondage, and he closed off the safe and good path that led to their happiness, and he opened up a false path, and he put out a decoy and set up a dummy [i.e., a human replica] so that the large herd of deer might later come upon calamity, disaster, and loss. 

But another man came desiring their good, welfare, and protection, and he reopened the safe and good path that led to their happiness, and he closed off the false path, and he removed the decoy and destroyed the dummy, so that the large herd of deer might later come to growth, increase, and fulfilment.

26. “Bhikkhus, I have given this simile in order to convey a meaning. This is the meaning: ‘The great low-lying marsh’ is a term for sensual pleasures. ‘The large herd of deer’ is a term for beings. ‘The man desiring their ruin, harm, and bondage’ is a term for Mara the Evil One. ‘The false path’ is a term for the wrong eightfold path, that is: wrong view, wrong intention, wrong speech, wrong action, wrong livelihood, wrong effort, wrong mindfulness, and wrong concentration. ‘The decoy’ is a term for delight and lust. ‘The dummy’ is a term for ignorance. [i.e., People use scarecrows and other human effigies to frighten and repel deer from gardens, even as ignorance frightens and repels people from the liberating path.] 

‘The man desiring their good, welfare, and protection’ is a term for the Tathagata, accomplished and fully enlightened. ‘The safe and good path that led to their happiness’ is a term for the Noble Eightfold Path, that is: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

“So, bhikkhus, the safe and good path that leads to happiness has been reopened by me, the wrong path has been closed off, the decoy removed, the dummy destroyed.

27. “What should be done for his disciples out of compassion by a teacher who seeks their welfare and has compassion for them, that I have done for you, bhikkhus. Meditate, bhikkhus, do not delay or else you will regret it later. This is our instruction to you.”

Please try to keep the Buddha specially in mind this week, developing your faith and gratitude towards him even as the May moon gains full illumination. Of course, the best way to show gratitude to a teacher is to put the teachings into action. ("Meditate, monks..!")  May they bring you full illumination.

With metta,
Ayya Sudhamma Bhikkhuni

-Photo credit: Night Hikes | chabotspace.org.
-Quote (metaphor): "Dvedhavitakka Sutta: Two Sorts of Thinking" (MN 19), Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation (lightly edited), The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, Wisdom Pubs. (Ven. Thanissaro translates the word given as "meditate" as "practice jhana".)