Vesak Day, Buddha Day, or Visak Bochea – Everything You Need To Know

Vesak Day is the most important ceremony in the Buddhist calendar. It’s observed throughout the world and is also known by several different names, Vesak Day being the most recognized.

  • Vesak Day (International)
  • Vesākha (Pali Script)
  • Visak Bochea (Cambodian)
  • Buddha Purnima (Indian, Bangladeshi)
  • Buddha Day or Buddha’s Birthday (Western)

More Cultural Holidays

Visak Bochea is meant to be a day of joy, peace, and reflection. A day to celebrate the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Gautama Buddha. A day to devote yourself to his Dharma teachings and to implement them into your daily life.

Even though Buddha’s death is remembered, Vesak Day isn’t a time to cry or to be sad. Gautama Buddha advised his sangha (group of disciples) to not weep after he passed but to devote themselves to his teachings.

He said that the best way for his followers to pay homage was by truly following his Dharma teachings to develop their minds, lead noble lives, and finally bring peace to humanity.

While Buddha Day is primarily celebrated in eastern Asia, it has also taken root in many western countries with large Asian communities.

“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” – Buddha

When is Vesak Day?

early morning candle processions on Vesak Day (Visak Bochea)

Candle procession before dawn around Buddha pagoda

The date of Vesak Day is based on the various Asian lunisolar calendars, meaning the holiday can be observed on different days in different countries.

Buddha Day celebrations will vary year to year in the Gregorian calendar, but it usually falls in April or May. It may be celebrated in June during leap years.

Visak Bochea Dates in Cambodia

Visak Bochea 2018: 29 April
Visak Bochea 2019: 18 May
Visak Bochea 2020: 6 May

Visakha Bucha Dates in Thailand

Visakha Bucha 2018: 29 May
Visakha Bucha 2019: 20 May
Visakha Bucha 2020:

Phật Đản Dates in Vietnam

Phật Đản 2018: 29 May
Phật Đản 2019: 19 May
Phật Đản 2020: 6 June

The History of Visak Bochea Day

“A mind unruffled by the vagaries of fortune, from sorrow freed, from defilements cleansed, from fear liberated — this is the greatest blessing.” — The Buddha

Vesak Day is a celebration of the three major life events of the Gautama Buddha.

  1. His Birth
  2. His Enlightenment
  3. His Death

Each of these events took place on a full moon during the lunar month of Vesak. Buddhists celebrate Visak Bochea by studying and following Buddha’s teachings that are valued as a guide to life.

Birth

“Whatever has the nature of arising has the nature of ceasing.” — The Buddha

According to the Tripitaka, Gautama Buddha was born as Prince Siddhartha, the son of the king of the Sakya people. The Sakya kingdom was located on the borders of Nepal and India. Upon his birth a prediction was made. He was to become either a great ruler or a great spiritual teacher.

Enlightenment

“I teach because you and all beings want to have happiness and want to avoid suffering. I teach the way things are.” — Buddha

Prince Siddhartha had come the realisation that the only way to attain enlightenment, known as Bodhi, was through deep meditation and a renunciation of all worldly pleasures.

Gautama Buddha, born into nobility, completely renounced the material world at age thirty after several years of meditation practices.

According to scriptures, he meditated underneath a Peepal tree in a northeastern Indian town called Bodh Gaya until he reached Bodhi. The tree, known as Bodhi Tree, is now a famous and holy Buddhist site.

After reaching enlightenment, the Gautama Buddha traveled and began his sermons, teaching the the basic doctrines of Buddhism.

In Buddhism there are Four Noble Truths:

  1. Existence is suffering
  2. This suffering is caused by human craving
  3. There is a cessation of suffering called nirvana
  4. Nirvana can be achieved through the Eightfold Path

Death

“The world is afflicted by death and decay. But the wise do not grieve, having realized the nature of the world.” — Buddha

The Gautama Buddha died at age 80, telling his sangha and other monks to continue working for their spiritual liberation by following his teachings.

Celebrating Vesak Day in Cambodia

Large golden Buddha statue

“You yourself must strive. The Buddhas only point the way.” — The Buddha

Early in the morning before sunrise, Cambodian Buddhists will assemble in pagodas to sing hymns and ceremoniously hoist the Buddhist flag.

People will often bring offerings of flowers, candles, and incense. Sometimes there may be symbolic liberations performed by releasing birds.

Many people will be wearing white clothing and generally will spend a large part of the day in their pagoda listening to talks given by monks.

During Visak Bochea monks will recite verses and teachings to invoke peace and happiness for the government and the people. Buddhists are reminded to live in harmony with people of other faiths and to respect other beliefs as Buddha once taught long ago.

The religious ceremonies are similar to what you might experience during other holidays in Cambodia such as Meak Bochea Day, Pchum Benh, and even Khmer New Year.

There will be several Buddhist parades or processions in big cities. During Vesak Day people are reminded that they must make special efforts to bring happiness to the less fortunate. Many will make donations to charitable organizations and the elderly, the sick, the hungry, and the handicapped.

“If we fail to look after others when they need help, who will look after us?” – Buddha

Buddha Day Celebrations Around the World

You don’t have to be Buddhist to celebrate Vesak Day. There’s likely a Buddha Day celebration happening near you!

Go learn more about this amazing day and tell us about your experiences!

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