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the spirit of giving

Buddha Purnim. Hanamatsuri. Seokka Tanshin-il. Waisak. No matter what name the festival is known as, believers around the world all gather on this day to celebrate the teachings and accomplishments of one of humanity's great souls - the Buddha. Sometimes informally called "Buddha's Birthday", Vesak Day commemorates the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Supreme Buddha. On this day, Buddhist worshippers renew their dedication to the five Precepts of abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication while spreading the universal virtues of kindness, compassion and the spirit of giving.

Just as the name of Vesak Day varies between countries, so too do the celebrations. In Japan, Vesak Day is commemorated by pouring Hydrangea tea over statues of Buddha, while nuns, monks and priests conduct more complex ceremonies in their monasteries. In Sri Lanka, Vesak Day celebrations last for a week, with stores stopping the sale of alcohol and meat, colourful and brightly lit pandols illustrating the 550 Past Life Stories of the Buddha being put up along the streets and food stalls being set up to provide free food and drinks to passerbys.


In most South-east Asian countries, Vesak Day celebrations are held at and around local temples – temples such as the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown. The celebrations begin with a mass prayer and blessing session at the temple. Following that, lamp lighting and Buddha bathing ceremonies will be held, acts that symbolise the dispelling of ignorance and the cleansing of bad karma. Devotees are also given the rare opportunity to take an up-close look at the Sacred Buddha Tooth relic, which is normally kept from public view.


As part of the observation of the Five Precepts, most Buddhists also follow a vegetarian diet on Vesak Day, most choosing to dine out at vegetarian establishments such as Ci Yan Organic Vegetarian Health Food, Eight Treasure Vegetarian, Xing Hua Vegetarian Restaurant or Yi Xin Vegetarian Food, some of which might have special Vesak Day menus.

Of course, symbolic religious ceremonies aren't the only activities that happen on Vesak Day in Chinatown. Buddhists also make a special effort to perform personal acts of kindness on this day, with youths participating in charitable activities such as donating gifts to the poor or organising mass blood donations and more - after all, what better way to celebrate the virtues of kindness and compassion than to actually go out there and spread some kindness?

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