Vesak in April! Only in this fair Isle?
Posted on May 1st, 2018

N P W Courtesy The Island

I did not question nor ponder much on the fact that Vesak was decreed for us in Sri Lanka as on the Poya day on 29 April (by whoever, whatever authority) when we always celebrated Vesak in the month of May. This fifth month was associated with Vesak; May means Vesak. A day or two ago, being told that other Buddhist countries will celebrate Vesak 2018 on 29 May, I wondered. Why did we go contrary to a global decision? Then a cousin mentioned the UN. So I had a UN worker in New York email me. She said the UN had declared 29 May as Vesak. If only we in Sri Lanka had followed the UN, we would not have had this bother and controversy over Vesak in April, and May Day being postponed by government decree. In any case May Day could go on as usual with speeches and parades since it was two days after the poya. But no, confusion had to be confounded and the calendar played around with. May Day was moved to 7 May. Many consider this absurd.


I heard from a person in Kandy that the Hill Capital would observe Vesak on the next Poya Day; i.e. Tuesday 29 May. She said the Maligawa had the usual number of pilgrims this last Sunday that any Poya Day sees. On 29 May, the holy precincts would be brimful of white clothed sil observers. Maybe the Asgiriya Mahanayake’s voice was heard loud and clear over there and respected. He or his spokesman-prelate objected to Vesak in April, but the protest was voiced only about a week ago.

In such a time it is good to remember how sensibly and what service certain others in our island home rendered to us and Sri Lanka. We will go down in history and of course in the history of the United Nations Organization as the nation that promoted and achieved the world body recognizing and giving its due place to this great occasion of the birth, enlightenment and passing away of Gautama Buddha – Nibbana. We pride ourselves on being home to Theravada Buddhism in its pure form as passed down the generations from the 6th century BC; some qualifying the statement to read “foremost Theravada Buddhist country.”

To recollect a great event, in 1999, the 193-member UN General Assembly, declared an “International Day of Observance for Vesak.” This great achievement was due to the initiative and persistence of the then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi shares the honour (merit too) for this declaration, as he made an impressive address on the universality of Buddhism to the General Assembly. Impressed then Secretary General Kofi Annan (SG from 1997 to 2006) moved that the UN agree to the proposal made by Sri Lanka. In 2016 the UN went one better, this time declaring Vesak an unofficial UN holiday.

I well remember walking up Udawatte Kele to Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi’s abode, making a visit to Kandy for the sole purpose of meeting him. He was generous enough to give me a copy of his eloquent yet concise speech. I wrote about the event, quoting from his speech to the Sunday Island. Difficult to banish are thoughts that compare then and now; an act like that of FM Lakshman Kadirgamar and Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi to certain acts by monks and laymen at present. Bhikkhu Bodhi resides in New Jersey and many are the Sri Lankans living in New York and NJ that benefit from his learning and clear exposition of the Buddha Dhamma.


One Response to “Vesak in April! Only in this fair Isle?”

  1. Ratanapala Says:

    Jadapalanaya has done all it could so far to denigrate Buddhism, the Buddhist Establishment, Buddhist Culture and Buddhists. I wonder what more lies ahead for Buddhists in Sri Lanka before see an end to this thieving lot?

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