Vesak Day, also known as Buddha Day, is a sacred day to millions of Buddhists worldwide. It commemorates the day that Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and passed away. It gives us an opportunity for quiet reflection on Buddha’s teachings and the values of compassion, wisdom, and kindness.
After 2 years of muted celebrations due to the pandemic, this year’s May 15 will see practitioners gathering and celebrating it in different ways. If you are trying to plan out your Vesak Day weekend to bask in the spirit of Vesak, check out these 10 things you can do!
1. Plan your calendar for your temple-hopping!
Find an excuse to head out for the long weekend by visiting the many temples that are open. Use our directory to navigate the many online and offline activities. Who knows?
You might find yourself in the middle of a concert or peaceful chanting session.
The three-step, one-bow ceremony is an expression of devotion and serves to lessen mental defilements or build virtue as one goes through the activity. This practice, which symbolically reminds us of the difficult but rewarding journey to enlightenment, has been passed down and has evolved into the 3-Step, 1-Bow we know today.
In the spirit of Buddha’s compassion shown to many beings, why not give back by volunteering at a Soup kitchen? There are multiple time slots and different tasks you can choose to volunteer with Willing Hearts.
Visit nature places with your insect repellant to reconnect with nature by taking in the good vibes. Plug into the sound of nature to meditate or try one of the meditation audio guides!
We highly recommend botanic gardens, marina barrage, or a nearby park!
6. Be a Buddy to seniors
We often think that giving means the gift of money. This Vesak, we invite you to rethink the idea of generosity! Volunteer with YouthCorp SG & Healthhub to strengthen the digital literacy of our seniors by empowering them and reducing the waiting time at the polyclinics.
This is a reflection piece as contemplated by the author based on the Buddha’s teachings. As such, it may not contain the truths as taught by the Buddha. The author hopes the reader takes away useful bits that may resonate and discard whatever parts that make no sense without any aversion.
TLDR: Our minds are seldom at peace. Peace means having lasting contentment and not being piqued by the smallest things. Yet our mind seems to know there is something peaceful beyond our mundane experiences. For this reason, our minds are always searching for a refuge.
For many years my mind searched for a refuge. Refuge means a place of safety and protection from dangers according to the Oxford dictionary. When it comes to the mind, dangers would point to non-acceptance, anger, indifference and insincerity from others. A refuge for the mind would be friendship, acceptance, love and honesty instead. The mind also seeks good repute and wealth, so that it indirectly receives respect, love, admiration and acceptance from others. Observing myself and others, I found there is not a time when our minds are not seeking refuge.
Why does the mind seek refuge?
Looking back into a faraway past, I remembered when my mind first gained consciousness of its senses.
When I was around three or four years old, I remember sitting at the threshold between the living room and the kitchen drinking a bottle of hot milk. Although I do remember glimpses of consciousness, such as being wrapped in a cloth tied to a spring attached to the ceiling. I was being bounced up and down and I think I hit my head and cried.
From the time of ‘waking up’ to the awareness of this life, I remembered being an observer to most events around me. I did not know anything except enjoying playing with the neighbours. A distinct memory of my mother crying and packing to leave home was etched in my mind as my sister tried to stop her. My sister was maybe six years old? I am three years younger than my sister, and I was at the table drinking my hot cup of milo for breakfast. I only observed and felt no emotions.
The time my mind began searching for love and safety was when my father began verbally abusing me.
He would scare me into a corner and cane me too, especially if I fell ill. I was prone to asthmatic cough and was barred from certain foods. My father’s family has a history of asthma. He scolded me because seeing a doctor would eat away his already low pay as a hawker.
My awareness of the lack of approval from my parents and their relatives was the start of the mind seeking refuge from someone or something to balance this suffering.
Back then, academic ability was highly prized and perhaps they hoped I would do well and bring them pride but I’m not a scholar.
Other reasons for seeking refuge
I was speaking of what I perceive to be my early cause for seeking a refuge for the mind.
The truth is, the mind seeks refuge due to a host of other causes too. Causes such as boredom, loneliness, belonging, disappointment, or just do something to find meaning in life.
If we look deeply, it seems the mind is incapable of being at rest for long. Action is primed in our system. Our entire system on earth – the weather, the animals and people are all acting upon one another so that not taking action, or not making a choice is not an option at all. Weather changes can disrupt our day, animals can cause us harm – in today’s terms, the harm comes from a virus. Even when nothing is disturbing the mind, it seeks a goal to feel secure.
He said the ignoble search is someone seeking a refuge in what is birth, death, sickness, sorrow, defilement and ageing when he himself is not spared from these things.
The objects of ignoble refuge for the mind include spouse, children, possessions such as animals, land, the house and slaves. During the time of the Buddha, most laypeople were married with children and they were either kings, farmers, merchants or slaves. Society during that time is not very much different from our time today. We still seek a sense of security in a partner, in our children, our jobs, savings, possessions and friends.
It is not wrong to seek these things, except don’t expect them to last or be stable for a long time. They are all subject to the ravages of impermanence. What is born, will die. While alive, we inflict upon one another our defilements (greed, ill will, confusion), as what I had experienced from my parents and friends. What we possess will one day decay and become others’ belongings. It is not to despair over the lack of stability in life, but rather to know and be wise about them. Our own body and mind too are insecure things that do not last.
A noble refuge for the mind
The opposite of an ignoble refuge would be a noble refuge for the mind. In the words of the Buddha:
“Suppose that, being myself subject to birth, having understood the danger in what is subject to birth, I seek the unborn supreme security from bondage, Nibbāna. Suppose that, being myself subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, having understood the danger in what is subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, I seek the unageing, unailing, deathless, sorrowless, and undefiled supreme security from bondage, Nibbāna.”
– The Buddha, MN. 26
Nibbana is the release of the mind from always wanting (craving). Not wanting something is wanting something else. The mind, in wanting, is never at peace. There is something within us that is unageing, unailing, sorrowless, birthless and deathless. As it already exists, there is no need to crave for it, but to discover it like an archaeologist digging to find a treasure.
What is outside of us, is subject to ageing, ailments, sorrows, birth and death. We crave refuge from what is outside of us because we are ignorant of the gem within us.
Is the noble search open to lay people?
Since the permanent peace we seek is already within us, it is open to anyone who is curious, who seeks real security and stability whether one is a lay person or a monastic.
Of course, unlike a monastic, a lay person cannot devote 24 hours a day to perceive and experience this unageing, unailing, sorrowless and deathless gem in us.
What is seen is easy for the mind to believe in its existence. What is subtle and unseen, is difficult for the mind to believe in its existence. Therefore, there are a lot more lay people than monastics. However, being a lay person does not mean we cannot put the practice into our everyday lives.
How to seek the noble refuge as a lay person?
A lay person who wants to experience the peace within learns to tread The Noble Eightfold Path. The path is the practice of reflection, cultivating virtue, tranquility and wisdom. A lay practitioner can have family, possessions and a job.
Depending on a person’s seriousness in the practice, s/he can reduce outer activities, unnecessary speech and spend time meditating everyday. Also to be mindful of one’s actions and thoughts in daily life. To show patience and love whenever unpleasant experiences arise. Also, to learn not to cling to goals but to enjoy living each moment as it is.
It may sound like a tall order. But fortunately, the practice gets easier and more fun to do each time. We can become bored after attaining worldly skills such as computers, language and technical knowledge. But when it comes to living a virtuous, wise and calm life, there is no end to learning until one reaches lasting contentment, or what the Buddha said, Nibbana, which takes lifetimes.
Spend time relaxing without needing to do anything
To relax, intentionally tell your mind and body to let go and just breathe in and out
Meditate without a goal or intention
Go about your daily life relaxed without a goal, being aware that goals can easily be changed so you can flow with it.
TLDR: Do you want to feel more happiness and less anxiety and worry? There are 3 practical ways you can try to always find happiness in the little things in life.
Would you like to experience consistent happiness on a daily basis compared to worry, anxiety and stress? I think most sane people would answer yes to this question. But despite the many books written on happiness, why are we not getting happier but instead feeling more depressed? It seems our happiness is easily toppled. Just take away travel, social gatherings and nightlife, like what we witnessed during the pandemic, we tip over to mental dis-ease away from well being. Is consistent happiness really attainable? Here are 3 ways to always find happiness.
Changing Our Perception
If the title of this article sounds too good to be true – it is! Happiness, like attaining wealth, comes with work. Happiness does not come on a platter given to us by someone. All of us do not want to suffer. But yet we do. The culprit, or, the cause of our suffering is our mind’s constant clinging to feel secure. Security is finding safety from death and being loved unconditionally.
This article does not deal with finding security from death or unconditional love. Instead, suggestions are made here to help us change our perception in our daily life, so that we can continuously find opportunities to lift our minds.
Some of us cling onto perceptions that keep us suffering. Such as being upset at having our plans thwarted to feeling righteous and annoyed whenever we are challenged by another.
If we can change our perception little by little, we begin to feel that nothing is thwarting our life plan and it is not always necessary to have everything go our way.
1. Stop Comparing
We make comparisons everyday. We compare restaurants, the weather to fashion, movies and people. Making comparisons causes us to accept one thing and reject another. Although acceptance and rejections are of varying degrees, we nevertheless make up our minds about something and reject its opposite, unless we already have an open mind.
Making comparisons can make us miserable. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been difficult to visit the public pool as and when I like. So I joined a club pool and was very happy to bring my nephew along. I jumped into the pool, grateful. But my nephew was gloomy. The reason? The pool isn’t up to his standards compared to other pools where there are toys and slides for children to play with. He was happy he could sneak out of the house to play in the pool but yet was unhappy at the pool. Does this make sense?
My nephew is not behaving weirdly, rather he is only showing the reason for the constant lack of contentment in our hearts.
If he had remembered his fortune at being able to sneak out for an hour to relax by the pool, rather than to be stuck at home submerged in schoolwork, maybe he would be happier. He was making wrong comparisons.
Being wise is the ability to make sensible decisions based on experience and knowledge. To discern wisely is to be able to have good judgment of the quality of your own thoughts and those of others.
If we can discern wisely instead of making endless comparisons, we might be grateful instead of feeling discontented with our lives. Not comparing others’ characters does not mean we befriend everyone who could be a bad influence. Being able to discern wisely means we can judge others’ character and qualities with compassion. Instead of comparing if this or that person is good or bad, we can instead help those who are willing to listen to adopt good qualities such as kindness and love instead of indifference and anger. As for those who already have good qualities we can also befriend them to incline our own minds towards joy.
Being able to discern also means we are grateful for the food we are offered or we choose to eat, even if it does not meet the taste and standards of another restaurant.
2. Accept Things as They are
Look at your life so far. You may find that most of your expectations were not met (unless you have a very contented mind). We get married and expect to be happy-ever-after. But how many people find that? We may have pictured our lives to turn out a certain way, but did it all turn out as we had visualized?
What you plan in a day may not even turn out the way you expected. You could be planning a lovely day for your partner and his or her level of surprise or happiness may not match your expectation. You may think doing something for your child today makes him/her happy but they end up sulking.
Truth is, everything that comes our way can be joyful.
Learn to change your mind
One of the weekend mornings I was looking forward to meditating for 3 to 4 hours. I did manage 1.5 hours but found my helper unwell. She was hired to help out with looking after my father who has dementia. I stopped my meditation and went out to buy the day’s necessities. When I came home, I found my father ill as well. It turned out I went out too early and the food shop had not yet opened. So I made 2 trips to buy food. I also realized my father was having diarrhoea, so he could not eat all the food I bought. I could have been upset that my plan to meditate was upended and that I spent more than I should.
But I have learned through mindfulness that happiness does not come from outer events but from what I think about them.
Ayya Khema said, “Don’t blame the trigger,” and this has made a deep impression on me. It means that if I no longer have anger within me, it is not possible for anyone to trigger this state of mind.
We need not keep anger, discontentment, or sadness in our minds if we keep replacing them with joy and happiness. Instead of being upset that my plan is not going accordingly, I was grateful to be able to serve my helper and father. It made me happy.
3. Everything is Already Broken
The third way to always find joy is to realize that everything is already broken. A beautiful flower is already on its way to wilt. A sunny day does not last forever. Civilizations rise and fall. Our minds are mostly joyful at new things. From a baby to a living flower, to a new star or a new home. We hide aged and dying people, and quickly repaint or mend a crack in our homes to cover the ugliness.
Most of our lives are spent covering up the fact of life – that death is already within everything around us, including our own bodies.
No one likes to grow old and sick, because we know how society treats decay. Read the news and see how our society abhors death. Death is always perceived as unfortunate, when the fact is, we all know, no one can live forever.
Treasure What is and Let Go
Knowing that everything is already broken does not mean we become indifferent. Indifference is not joy.
Seeing that everything is fading teaches us to be present to whoever we are with. It allows us to appreciate the flower that has not yet decayed.
But when it dies, we are not sad as well because we have given it the attention it needs.
Understanding that everything is coming apart also allows us to accept things when they are broken – from relationships to a favourite broken antique vase. We know the lively home we have now will not last forever. This helps us love everyone (including the unlovable because they are a part of our lives) and everything for that moment, with mindfulness to let go of every moment. There is nothing we can hold onto, not even the universe we live in because it is changing and moving towards a black hole to be devoured.
Our world and the universe are always changing.
Our bodies are heading towards decay, but it does not mean we cannot always find joy in the little things in life.
To change your perception, it is helpful to meditate for at least 10 mins a day.
Be grateful for what you have, so that external factors have lesser control over your moods.
Learn to see that doing things for others is the same as doing something for yourself because serving others can bring joy to your heart.