Each year a special full moon occurs in May. If there are 2 full moons, it is the second of these and declared the celebration of Wesak, or Buddha’s commemoration. The name Wesak is derived from the Sanskrit name for this particular month.

Buddhist temples, decorated with the appropriate flags and flowers, are visited before dawn. Hymns are sung to celebrate the Buddha, his teachings (the Dharma), and his disciples (the Sangha). Processions with candles light up the evening.

During Buddha’s life, he told his followers to commemorate his life by living his teachings of compassion, peace, and good will, and by devotion to the service of humanity. Thus, at this time Buddhists give extra energy to performing noble deeds: observing vegetarian diet; offering donations of money and food to people and charity organizations in need; there are blood drives; and wild animals are released back into nature.

Buddha was born in 623 B.C. in India. It is believed that he attained enlightenment during the full moon in May, and that his final liberation from this material world was on the same day. Buddha’s birthday is also celebrated as being on this day by his millions of followers.

Buddha gained enlightenment while meditating under a tree (Ficus religiosa), called peepal in India. It has heart-shaped leaves, and is used medicinally. This kind of tree is said to live over 1500 years. A cutting from the original Bodhi tree was planted in Sri Lanka and is claimed to be over 2200 years old. In Burma, during Wesak, Bodhi trees are watered to ensure their survival through a dry summer.

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