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United Kingdom: Quiet devotion on Vesak Day

by CHOI TUCK WO, The Star, May 26, 2005

London, UK -- Vesak Day or Buddha Day passed largely unnoticed in Britain despite it being the most sacred day for the Buddhist community. Except for Buddhist temples, centres and societies where devotees gathered for prayers, singing of religious hymns and other activities, there was little sign that the occasion commemorated three important events of Buddha?s life. 

The holy day, in fact, marked the birth, enlightenment and passing away of Buddha more than 2,500 years ago.  For Britons, it was work as usual the day after Vesak Day while many countries including Malaysia observed a public holiday. 

Indeed, Wesak Day as it is known in Malaysia, was celebrated on a grand scale with mass prayers and processions especially in major cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Ipoh. 

Despite the low-key celebration, the occasion was still a joyful event for the over 200,000 Buddhists in Britain.  Decked with Buddhist flags and flowers, the temples came alive at the crack of dawn with the hoisting of Buddhist flags and traditional oil-lamp lighting ceremonies. 

The day-long activities included dana offerings to monks, upasakas and upasikas (male and female devotees) observing the eight precepts, the making of decorations depicting various aspects of Buddha?s life as well as thanksgiving and transferring of merit sessions. 

Visiting monks and meditation teachers were also invited to give Dhamma talks as well as lead meditation sessions for devotees. 

Flurry of activity

Children were not left out either, as they also took part in observance of the eight precepts and sermons on Jataka tales.  For the large Sri Lankan Buddhist community in north-west London, many of them celebrated the holy day at the Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre in Kingsbury. 

The modest centre was packed with devotees, with many sitting on the floor as they listened intently to a talk on Buddhism for Daily Life by Ven Dr Handupalpola Mahinda Nayaka Thera from Sri Lanka. 

As usual, centre head Ven Galayaye Piyadassi had his hands full supervising the various activities as well as receiving visitors to the centre.  ?We have about 100 devotees observing the eight precepts this year,? he said as he pointed to a group of devotees clad in white robes sitting cross-legged on the floor.  In fact, the centre was a hive of activity with hardly any standing space as the devotees went about their religious activities with fervour. 

Ven Piyadassi was obviously used to the flurry of activity in his centre, which played a pivotal role in the collection of clothes and flood for the tsunami victims in Sri Lanka recently.  So far, the centre has sent 10,000 packages ? including 6,000 parcels of medicine, medical equipment, children?s food, feeding bottles, clothes and school equipment ? to Sri Lanka. 

Volunteers and saffron-robed monks toiled day and night to sort, pack, label, stack and load the packages onto trucks for shipment in containers. 

Noble effort 

Without doubt, Ven Piyadassi, along with the other officials and volunteers, deserved the highest commendation for their noble effort in the relief effort.  No stranger to welfare work, the good monk has also provided accommodation, education and training for 60 children who lost their parents due to war in northern Sri Lanka. 

Ven Piyadassi was awarded the Member of British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II as well as the Beacon Fellowship Certificate for his outstanding contribution to charitable and social causes. 

Buddhist leaders such as Ven Piyadassi are shining examples of how religious individuals have demonstrated their compassion and care for the less fortunate irrespective of their faith. 

Britain?s biggest Sri Lankan temple ? the London Buddhist Vihara in west London ? was also packed with devotees who paid homage to Buddha through day-long activities.  Other celebrations were also held at various temples and meditation centres such as East London Buddhist Culture Centre, Thames Buddhist Vihara, Samadhi Meditation Centre and Scotland Buddhist Vihara. 

Of course, the Malaysian, Thai, Myanmar, Japanese and South Korean Buddhist communities also celebrated the holy day at various temples across the country. It is without doubt that Vesak Day, as with other religious festivals, is a day of universal love, goodwill, peace, harmony and happiness. 

Needless to say, the world will be a much more peaceful place if the various faiths hold true to their religions which teach peace and loving kindness to their fellow human beings.  The fact that Vesak Day was celebrated without any incident in Britain is a testimony to the multi-cultural religious tolerance among the various communities. 


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