EVERY full moon in May, Buddhists around the world celebrate the extraordinary life of Siddartha Gautama, the prince who embarked on a spiritual quest over 2,500 years ago to discover the true nature and meaning of existence.
Having seen for himself how life was fraught with difficulty, pain and loss, the prince left his father’s palace in Lumbini (known today as a Buddhist pilgrimage site in the Rupandehi District in Nepal) and spent the following years as a wandering ascetic until he eventually achieved spiritual awakening while in deep meditation under the Bodhi Tree in Bodhgaya, India.
He became known as the Buddha and devoted the rest of his life to elucidating a way of life founded on love, acceptance and equanimity.
Today, more than 500 million people continue to subscribe to his profound philosophies which remain as relevant as they were two and a half millennia ago.
Tsem Rinpoche, regarded as an incarnate high lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and the founder and spiritual guide of the Kechara Buddhist organisation, shares why and how we can celebrate Wesak to connect with the very person who showed us our own great potential.
More than a way of life
“The Buddha looked into the nature of life and existence. He saw that many things we do create a lot of grief, unhappiness and sadness, but we continue doing the same things. Unknowingly, we keep bringing more grief, sadness and unhappiness unto ourselves,” said Tsem Rinpoche.
He shared that karma – the universal law of cause and effect – and how the happiness (and unhappiness) we feel, is a consequence of our own actions, and as such, something within our control.
“The Buddha showed us a different way of viewing and reacting to our environment and the people around us. By changing our reaction, we change the end result. In this way, we create less grief for others and ourselves.”
He further explained that “Buddhism can be seen as a philosophy or a religion because it teaches you a way of life”.
“This includes accepting diversity, having respect for all living beings from animals to people, and respecting various cultures and faiths. This is extremely important in Buddhism.
“Ultimately, the goal of a Buddhist is the removal of suffering, for others first, and then, ourselves. The complete elimination of suffering from the mind is definitely possible. When we reach this state, it is called Nirvana.”
Putting philosophy into action
“The day that Buddha achieved Nirvana is a day celebrated by Buddhists all over the world because that is what we wish to achieve,” said Tsem Rinpoche, who recommended two ways to honour the Buddha on Wesak Day.
The first is on an external level such as making offerings of light, water and incense in temples, taking on special vows, going on pilgrimage, liberating animals and engaging in charitable works.
The other, is by transforming ourselves internally – lessening our negative qualities that bring grief and difficulties to the people around us, and applying his philosophies to gain real attitude change, a transformation from within.
For Tsem Rinpoche, the Buddhist monk with over 20 years of teaching experience, he feels “everyone deserves happiness, compassion, love and respect, regardless of who they are and what they believe”.
“If we all abide by this kind of thinking, there will be peace in the world. This would be a wonderful way for all Malaysians to celebrate this month of May, which is also a particularly important and holy month for Muslims as it is the time of Ramadan,” he concluded.
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