Today is Visakha Puja day – one of the most important Buddhist holidays in Thailand. It marks the birth, enlightenment and passing of the Buddha more than 2500 years ago.
This day is celebrated not only in Thailand, but also in other Buddhist countries, like Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam, Indonesie, Malaysia, China and so on.
In the morning, Thai people get up early to make merit for the monks. If you have a personal tour guide in Thailand, they will be glad to have you partake in this ritual giving as well.
It is also customary to set free animals of on this day. Giving a living being freedom is supposed to bring good luck in your life. Maybe you are familiar with the concept of karma – if you do something good for another being, something good will come back to you. That is what we Buddhists believe in. Of course, as with all religious teachings, it is a lot easier to know them in your mind than to practice them with your heart and your actions. But still, we try to do our best and be good people.
In the evening, there is another ceremony, it is called wian tian. What is this wian tian? It is about walking around a temple with a candle in your hand, and flowers and incense, and thing good thoughts and pray good things.
You see, all the actions that we do with our bodies during Buddhist ceremonies are meant to represent something that we do on the inside. Of course, a candle or incense is not something supernatural – it is just candlewax and a string, or the thing that incense is made out of. But physical objects and actions can help our mind to practice a certain thing. It can help us to direct our attention and serve as a reminder when our minds start to drift, and as such, it is of high value.
This actual physical offering is called amisa-puja. But in Buddhism, what counts even more than that is patipatti-puja: which could be translated as “inner practice”. It means that you “give” by cultivating your mind, and your emotions. It means that you “give” (your time, energy and attention) to training that helps you to be a better person. Not better in the sense of being better than somebody else – but being better today than you were yesterday, and being better tomorrow than you are today.
There are different ways to celebrate Visakha Puja day. Maybe “celebrate” is not a good worth anyway. For Buddhists who adhere strictly to traditions, they will not wear jewelry or fancy clothing during this day, but instead dress basic and simple. They will refrain from overindulging in delicious food, and instead a little bit, and very conscious and mindfully. They will remember the virtues of the Buddha (and maybe reflect on their own thoughts and actions, and see if they can change something about their own habits to become a better person).
Different things to wish for
Some people wish and pray for things in the material world. They want to become more wealthy, or healthy, or handsome or beautiful, or popular, or powerful. This is called vattagamini-kusala.
Some people wish and pray for things in the spiritual world. They want to end the circle of rebirth, and attain enlightenment. This practice is called vivattagamini-kusala.
Some people think one is better than the other. But if they feel superior to others, then they are not practicing right. It’s not about being superior or inferior, it’s not about comparing yourself to others, and especially not about looking down on others.
But one thing you should keep in mind: the outer practice is not important if you don’t also practice inside. For example, if you make offerings to a monk, go to the temple, meditate – but then you harm others, tell lies to damage others, steal, or do other bad things – then the going to the temple won’t “undo” what you do on a karmic level. In fact, a person who never goes to a temple, never meditates, never makes offering to a monk but always acts good towards other people will accumulate a lot more merit than a person who goes to the temple every day, meditates every day, makes offerings to a monk every day, but then does bad things in the world.
Anyway – this is a lot of information already. And reading about it is not a good way of transferring this knowledge. With a person tour guide, you can not just “read” about this, so that you “know” about it in a theoretical way, but you can actually learn about it in temples, with monks, experience it in your own mind and heart, and this will have a much profounder effect. You don’t need to be Buddhist – you can be of any religion or of no religion. And we surely will not ask you to become a Buddhist or tell you what to do – we believe that people should decide on their own what they want to pursue in life. The only thing we ask from you is to behave respectfully when going into a temple and not disrespect our religious feelings, just as Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Taoists and other people also want you to respect their religions, even if your beliefs differ.