Karmapa’s Vesak 2019 message for you

May 18, 2019

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, shares the following message for his students on the occasion of Vesak.

In a world in which tradition is increasingly discarded, it is interesting to reflect on the enduring tradition of celebrating birthdays.

Buddhists do not discourage celebrations, though we do not really have a particular habit of honouring birthdays.

When it comes to the way in which many people celebrate Vesak, the anniversary of the birth, death and parinirvana of Buddha Shakyamuni, we approach this moment with curiosity and understanding.

From the perspective of Buddhist philosophy, all of the Buddhas of the past, present and future have not seen an inherent birth. In absolute terms, there is no birth, just as there is no death. In relative terms, there is the appearance of the birth, and we perceive this almost as something from nothing, and it is therefore a cause for celebration.

At the same time, we see an ordinary person like that of Prince Siddhartha somehow transform into an extraordinary being, a Buddha. Again, in relative terms, we perceive this as something from nothing! How is it that a once-upon-a-time farmer’s son can become the historical Buddha? We see that this possibility, this potential, is there for all of us, and again this is cause for remembrance.

Therefore, on Vesak, we perform traditional rituals, such as the recitation of and listening to the sutras; meditation on compassion through samadhi; and charitable activities for those who are in need, in Buddhists communities worldwide.

Practices like these dispel all kinds of disappointments – especially when there is no cake!