On May 24, Thailand joins the rest of the Buddhist world in celebrating ‘Visakha Bucha’ one of the most important holy days of the religion.
By Atthasith Khupratakul
Buddhism arrived in Thailand over 2,200 years ago, when the Indian emperor Ashoke (or Asoka) sent missionaries to spread the religion in Southeast Asia. Ashoke was a warrior, and was determined to spread the religion of his empire even by force, if necessary. Buddhism, based on a philosophy of seeking happiness within oneself, was actively spread throughout the kingdom.
The first records of Buddhism in Thailand were from Nakhon Pathom, west of Bangkok, near the great Chao Phraya River. When the Thai people from the North migrated much later, Buddhism became the faith of the newly born kingdoms, and eventually of the Kingdom of Siam.
The three holiest days of the year for Thai Buddhists all include the word “Bucha (or Puja),” which means to pay respect. “Asaraha Bucha” commemorates the day the Lord Buddha preached his first sermon. “Makha Bucha” marks both the occasion when 1,350 of the Buddha’s 146 disciples gathered without prior notice and listened to some of his most important teachings in a sermon as well as the day he foresaw his own death and achievement of nirvana. The most important day of the three holy days is “Visakha Bucha.”
“Visakhabucha” stands for “Visakapoonnameebucha,” which means the worship of his Lord Buddha. Buddhists regard this day as the Buddha’s recalling Day. Three significant incidents related to his Lord Buddha’s life occurred on Visakhabucha: the Lord Buddha’s birthday in 80 B.C., the enlightenment day in 35 B.C., and Nirvana day in 1 B.C.
The first Visakha Bucha ceremony in Thailand was recorded during the Sukhothai period. No evidence of the activity was found during Thonburi and early Rattanakosin period but in the reign of King Rama II, the ceremony was “re-arranged” and held again. Since then, the Thai people have been commemorating this significant day.
Common activities during Visakha Bucha Day focus on merit making: offering food to priests in the morning, and behaving according to Buddhism’s Five Precepts: abstaining from taking life; from taking what is not given; from sexual misconduct; from false speech; and from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.
During the holy day, people display religious flags outside their houses. They visit temples to listen to sermons about Dharma (Buddha’s teaching). They bring flowers, candles and incense to pay respects to the Triple Gems: Buddha (the Great Teacher), the Dhamma (the truth) and the Sangha (the community of the followers).
Some attend meditation practices while others set birds or fish free to rid of bad karma. After sunset, believers take part in candle-lit processions carrying flowers, three incense sticks and a lighted candle. They walk clockwise around the main chapel of the temple three times.
The biggest, most famous, and grandest Visakha Bucha ceremony is held at Phuttha Monthon in Nakhon Pathom, where the statue of the Walking Buddha is located, and where the candle-lit procession is usually led by a member of the royal family. But you don’t have to go to Nakhon Pathom for this religious ceremony because all temples around Thailand will have their own separate ceremonies.
10th Anniversary Celebration of the United Nations Day of Vesak
Theme: Education and Global Citizenship: A Buddhist Perspective
Venue: UN Convention Center Bangkok, Thailand
Monday, 20 May
|All Day||Arrival of participants, Airport Reception Registration at hotel lobby.|
|7 p.m.||Dinner at the hotel|
Tuesday, 21 May
|8 a.m.||Arrival of participants at UNCC.|
|8:30 a.m.||Buddhist leaders enter the Conference Hall.|
|8:30 – 9:30 a.m.||Arrival of His Holiness Somdet Phra MaharatchamangkalacharnHis Holiness is attended and escorted by the Organizing Committee
His Holiness leads congregation in Paying Homage to the Triple Gem
Report by The Most Ven. Prof. Dr. Phra Brahmapundit, Rector of Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University and Member of the Supreme Sangha Council
Speech by His Holiness
|9:30 – 10 a.m.||Welcome Address by The Most Ven. Prof. Dr. Phra Brahmapundit, Rector of Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University and President of the International Council for Day of Vesak (ICDV)|
|10 – 10:45 a.m.||Keynote Speech: Education and Global Citizenship: A Buddhist Perspective by Deputy Prime Minister and Ministry of Education of Thailand|
|10:45 – 11 a.m.||Messages from Supreme Patriarch and Buddhist Leaders from different traditions|
|11 – non Luncheon|
|2- 3 p.m.||Arrival of HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn
· HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is attended and escorted by Deputy Prime Minister and organizing Committee
· HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn pays Homage to the Triple Gem
· Report by Deputy Prime Minister
· Inauguration speech by HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn
· HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn departs
|3-3:30 p.m.||Messages from Supreme Patriarch and Buddhist Leaders from different traditions|
|3:30 – 5:30 p.m.||Panel Discussion on the Main Theme: Education and Global Citizenship: A Buddhist Perspective|
|5:30 – 6 p.m.||Group Photo|
|6 p.m.||Back to Hotel|
|7 p.m.||Dinner at Hotel|
Wednesday, 22 May
|8 a.m.||Arrival of participants at UNCC Conference Hall|
|8:30 a.m.||Buddhist leaders enter the Conference Hall|
|8:30 a.m.||Chanting for world peace|
|9 –10 a.m.||· Message by Mrs. Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of the UN ESCAP
· Message from H.E. Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General
· Message from H.E. Irina Bokova, Director-General, UNESCO
· Address by H.E. Prime Minister of Thailand
|10–11 a.m.||Messages from Political Leaders|
|11 a.m.- noon||Luncheon|
|1– 3 p.m.||Celebration of the 100th Birthday Anniversary of His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, Supreme Patriarch of Thailand:
· Video Presentation on His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, Supreme Patriarch of Thailand
· Panel Discussion on the Theme: Contribution of Buddhist Sangha to Promote Education and Humanity
|3-4 p.m.||·Announcement of the “2013 Bangkok Declaration” followed by chanting for world peace
·Closing ceremony presided over by H.H. Somdet Phra Buddhacharn
|4 p.m.||Proceed to Buddhamonthon for candle-lit procession Srisakyadasapalanyana Buddha Statute’s compound, Buddhamonthon, Nakhornpathom|
|6 p.m.||Dinner at the hotel|
Thursday, 23 May
|All Day||All participants check-out from hotel and depart|