The roaring beat of Cambodian temple drums opens the day with a bang. They are followed in procession by the monastic Sangha walking mindfully to their places next to the podium, led by Bhante Savath from the Cambodian Temple in Ottawa. From the monastic chanting all the way through to the finale – the day unfolds in a majestic way. City Hall is decorated with beautiful artwork, food tables and booths for Asian embassies and other community groups for this celebration of Vesak Day. It is always a stunning day.
Asian Buddhist communities in Ottawa – from Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand – created this Vesak Celebration with Visita Leelaratna organizing the many parts of the day. He is the founder of this celebration. The first Vesak Festival in 2014 received guidance from three spiritual advisors – Master Bon Dat, Bhante Rath Sam and Dharmacharya Ian Prattis. They each come from different Buddhist traditions in Ottawa and three different countries – Vietnam, Cambodia, Canada. They established a common cause to spread the seeds of Buddha Mind across Ottawa by creating an atmosphere of generosity, humility and kindness.
The Vesak and Asian Heritage nature of the event brings messages from the Governor-General, Prime Minister of Canada, and the Mayor of Ottawa. This is a wonderful support for multi-culturalism and interbeing from all levels of government in Canada. The vigorous Lion Dance from the Vietnamese Youth Group always lights up the crowd. A talk on Loving Kindness is offered by the Buddha Meditation Centre in Toronto. Lawrence Greenspon also talks about his tour of Buddhist World Heritage sites in Asia. Connections are made, bridges are crossed and the organizers and audience went home very happy.
Here is some background about Vesak and the Buddha.
Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, who lived and taught in India ca. 2,600 years ago. 550 million people in the world identify Buddhism as their religion or way of life.
Vesākha Day is the day Buddhists remember the birth, the enlightenment, and the passing away of the Buddha. The United Nations marks Vesākha Day as an official holiday, worldwide. As Buddhism spread from India, it was adapted to many cultures, and consequently Vesākha Day is celebrated in many different ways in various countries, such as China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Burma, Tibet, Bhutan, Thailand, and Nepal, the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama.
Some will visit their local temple before dawn, to raise the official Buddhist flag, which represents a rainbow. Some may bring simple offerings of flowers, candles and incense, which serve as a reminder that just as the beautiful flowers will wither, and the candles burn out, so too is life subject to impermanence. In some countries, birds and animals are released in a symbolic act of liberation. Vesākha Day is therefore a time when we reach out across the various Buddhist traditions to celebrate, and to non-Buddhists to enjoy dialogue and harmony.
And that is what happens in Ottawa City Hall on May 5, 2019!