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Marking Vesak, Buddhism's holiest day

By EILEEN SCHULTE, St Petersburg Times Staff Writer, May 16, 2005

Buddhists from around the Tampa Bay area gather to remember their religion's namesake and his teachings.

CLEARWATER, Florida (USA) -- Bhante Upananda had to issue a little reminder to the individuals in the audience weak with material desires during Vesak on Saturday evening. Perhaps he was talking to the people who had parked the expensive SUVs in the parking lot.

<< [Times photo: Edmund Fountain]
Ann Schepis of Palm Harbor helps David DeRousse of Dunedin pour water over a statue of the baby Buddha at Unitarian Universalist Church of Clearwater on Friday. Vesak, as the holiday is traditionally known, is the most significant day in Buddhism, this year marking the 2,550 year of Buddha's birth.

"Buddhism is a way of life (filled with) wisdom and compassion," he said. "We are twisted by different views. In order to transcend, we need to understand each other. If we can transcend, to our surprise, we see we are no different from each other. We see that we are no longer able to talk about our boundaries, and we begin to move our lives along the way of wisdom and compassion."

Upananda addressed more than 100 participants in the Vesak celebration, better known as Buddha's birthday, held every year at Unitarian Universalist Church of Clearwater. The event is the most significant of the year for Buddhists. Celebrated on the full moon, it marks the 2,550 year of Buddha's birth, his enlightenment and death.

The program was held in cooperation with the Dhamma Wheel Meditation Center in Clearwater, whose director, Bhante Dhammawansha, recited the five precepts of Buddhism after Abhi Janamanchi, director and minister at UUC, welcomed all who came. Upananda, a featured speaker from Toronto, gave the Dhamma talk.

The event drew Buddhists from around the Tampa Bay area.

"I think it's important to acknowledge certain beings that have taught "right living,"' said Mark Wilcox of Clearwater, who attends meditations at the Dhamma Wheel Meditation Center and is considering becoming a monk. "I think we live in a time when the teachings of compassion are very important."

The speakers stressed the value of kindness, peace and harmony. They said Vesak is a time to be more patient and more open to each other's differences.

It is a time to do better and to forgive each other's failings.

In some parts of Asia, for example, some prisoners are released from jail during Vesak.

After the talks, a young man played the tabla drums. Finally, there was the highlight of the ceremony: the bathing of the infant Buddha.

Participants lined up in front of two small statues. They put their hands together in prayer in front of the infant and bowed once. They filled a bamboo ladle full of water and poured it over the infant's head and asked him for a special wish.

The entire ritual is a special time for Buddhists, a time of rebirth and forgiveness for past transgressions.

But there was one individual sitting in the upper reaches of the meeting hall who didn't participate in the bathing ceremony.

For the portly Australian shepherd, who offers a paw of greeting to every stranger he meets, didn't need forgiveness or a wish. He gets what he needs from his guardian, Barb Buckland.

His name?

Second Chance.

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