Buddha Purnima, also known as a Baishakh full moon day, is an auspicious day that commemorates the historical Buddha's (563 to 483 BCE) three significant events: birth, awakening, and death.
It is also a day to reflect on the Buddha's unique and profound message of love, compassion, humanity, as well as spiritual teachings on the causes of suffering and how to end it. Buddhists in the Bengal Delta have observed the auspicious Buddha Purnima with devotion, faith, and respect for thousands of years.
Over 2,600 years ago, on the eve of Baishakhi full moon day, the historical Buddha was born in Lumbini Grove, present-day Nepal, in 563 BCE. The Buddha's given name was Siddhattha. Siddhattha is a Pali term, whereas Siddhartha in Sanskrit, which means "wish fulfilled". He was the prince of the Sakya Republic, which was located between Nepal and North India at the time.
Prince Siddhattha's mother was Queen Mahamaya, and his father was King Suddhodana. Seven days after Siddhattha's birth, Mahamaya unfortunately died. Suddhodana would subsequently marry Mahamaya's younger sister, Mahapajapati Gotami, who had cared for Siddhattha Gotama since his birth.
Since childhood, Siddhatta was quiet, serene, and calm by nature. He was curious about a few things, such as what causes suffering, why people are born, and what the destiny of human life is. King Suddhodana used to be concerned about his son, particularly after Asita, a wise fortune teller, came to the royal palace and saw signs of the young boy's future greatness and potential to leave the royal privilege.
At the age of sixteen, Prince Siddhattha married a Sakya princess, Yasodhara. Much later in life, the marriage was blessed with the birth of a baby son whom they named Rahula.
The prediction of the sage came true. Siddhattha decided to quit his royal castle, after seeing the four signs: a sick person, an ageing old man, a dead person, and an ascetic who had relinquished worldly life. Inspired by the ascetic, he renounced his royal life.
He was initially joined by two eminent masters, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramputta who introduced him to esoteric yoga and meditation methods. He realised after six years of ascetic discipline that the severe practices of sensual indulgence and self-mortification would not help him achieve his objective of emancipation.
The Bodhisattva Siddhattha abandoned the rigorous procedures and began practising the 'middle way' as a result of his realisation. He came to comprehend the balance between mind and body after deep investigation and thoughtful reflection.
On the eve of Baishakh full moon day, the Bodhisattva Siddhartha found a tranquil place to meditate in the region of Uruvela (present-day Bodh Gaya, Bihar, North India). When he attained perfect enlightenment and transitioned into the Buddha, the fully Awakening One, the Baishakh full moon shone gloriously and brightly.
By realising the truths about the nature of suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path that leads to the extinction of suffering, he experienced the state of Nibbaṇa and tasted the bliss of freedom. According to the historical record, the Buddha attained enlightenment in 528 BCE.
After attaining full enlightenment, the Buddha began his teachings and continued to be illuminated for forty-five years, surrounded by his noble community, the Sangha, until his final breath. The four noble truths, eightfold noble paths, dependent origination, and the four foundations of mindfulness were the Buddha's most significant doctrines.
He encouraged his devotees and followers to live in solidarity and work together to overcome society's issues by introducing the comprehensive approach of loving-kindness and compassion. The Buddha himself summed up his moral instructions thus: "avoid all evils, cultivate good, purify one's mind – these are the teachings of the Buddha".
At the age of eighty, the Buddha passed away in Kusinaa (present-day North India) and attained the ecstasy of Mahaparinibbaṇa in 483 BCE. It was a Baishakh full moon day when the Buddha passed, precisely as it had been during his birth and enlightenment days.
In remembering the significant events of the Buddha, Bangladeshi Buddhists, like the Buddha's followers in Southeast and South Asia, observe the Buddha Purṇima with reverence to the Triple Gems (the Buddha, his teachings, and the noble community) by performing Buddha Puja (offerings to the Buddha), meditating, and visiting monasteries for Sangha Dana (offerings to the monastic members).
Traditionally, Buddha Puja is observed by offering flowers, incense, foods, and fruits, as well as by lighting candles at home altars and local monasteries. When devotees perform Sangha Dana, they provide the monastic members with the necessary requisites. Devotees receive the transmission of the five precepts and the eight precepts in exchange.
Buddhists firmly believe that if someone sincerely observes the precepts in daily life, they will avoid impurity and an unwholesome state of mind, bringing enormous benefit to individual life, household life, and society.
Not only Buddhists, but also non-Buddhist communities such as Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, and others, celebrate the remarkable Buddha Purnima in Bangladesh. In honour of the people's faith, belief, and tradition, the Bangladesh Government has recognised the Buddha Purnima as an official holiday for the past four decades.
Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike participate in a peaceful procession to facilitate societal harmony among the nations. The auspicious Buddha Purṇima is a day dedicated to spreading love, compassion, and peace from person to person, community to community, society to society, and race to race.
Apart from commemorating the Buddha's legacy, holy Buddha Purnima is a remembrance for those seeking refuge under a peaceful umbrella, just as the Buddha inspired people to extend compassion and loving-kindness to all living creatures.
Sabbe Sattā Sukhi Hontu (May all living beings be happy).
Dr Sanjoy Barua Chowdhury is a Lecturer in the College of Religious Studies at Mahidol University, Thailand.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.