It may come as a surprise to many people that Waisak Day is celebrated in Indonesia. Less than one percent of Indonesians are Buddhists, but Waisak Day is widely acknowledged. In Indonesia, Waisak Day is also observed by many non-Buddhists.
History of Buddhism
To understand the significance of Waisak Day in Indonesia, you need to know about the history of Buddhism. The large religion of Buddhism began with a single man, Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha Gautama was born into royalty as a prince. As a child, Siddhartha demonstrated the qualities of a very kind person; he was kind and gentle to every living creature that he met. After being sheltered from the world in his father’s palace in Kapilavatthu, India, Siddhartha Gautama decided to experience the world.
After exploring India, Siddhartha discovered that suffering is inevitable. He noticed that men go hungry in the streets and people die from diseases. After learning that it would be impossible for anyone to escape suffering, Siddhartha lost interest in the simple pleasures that previously brought him joy. Soon after this, Siddhartha left his home to become a monk. As a homeless monk, Siddhartha traveled through the wilderness and cities to spread teachings of peace. He also looked for answers that would eliminate the problems of the world. After failing to find the answers that he was looking for in the cities, Siddhartha sought the advice of a great sage known as Alara Kalama. Through the teachings of Alara, Siddhartha learned much about the world and humanity. Despite all of this new information, Siddhartha still did not know of a solution that would eliminate suffering from the world.
Siddhartha eventually encountered a group of ascetic monks. Ascetics believe that they can increase the pleasure of their afterlife by enduring extreme pain during life. Most of the ascetic monks that Siddhartha encountered were starving themselves. Siddhartha decided that he may be able to use this practice of starvation to reach enlightenment and discover the hardships of the world. After nearly dying from starvation, Siddhartha stopped practicing asceticism and began eating normally. Soon after this, Siddhartha began meditating under a large tree. At first, his mind was cloudy and he could only think of distractions. After a while, Siddhartha cleared his mind and thought of his own life. With intense concentration, Siddhartha eventually remembered his past lives. After this, Siddhartha learned of how all creatures are reincarnated based on their karma and deeds during life.
Later, Siddhartha learned that all of the negative events in the world occur because of cravings and desires. Siddhartha discovered that eliminating desire would eradicate suffering from Earth. Upon learning this, Siddhartha Gautama gained enlightenment. He reached nirvana and experienced true peace. In the years that followed his enlightenment, Siddhartha shared all of his knowledge with the people of India. Soon after this, Siddhartha Gautama became known as Buddha, or the Enlightened One. Because of Buddha’s struggles and ultimate success in achieving his goal, his enlightenment is honored by Indonesian Buddhists on Waisak Day.
The Indonesian people honor Buddha and his enlightenment through various celebrations. The holiday is associated with flowers, bright colors, and many beautiful sights.
Just before dawn on Waisak Day, Indonesian Buddhists will gather at temples for ceremonies that honor Buddha and his teachings. Once the ceremony concludes, Buddhist flags are often hoisted. Indonesian Buddhists will also sing Buddhist hymns. It is also a common practice for people to present an offering of flowers to a temple’s statue of Buddha. The flower is a symbol of life. Just like life, flowers are beautiful, but they will eventually wither and die. The flower offerings serve as a reminder to people that life is precious.
Liberation of Animals
Many monks will release small animals into the wild from their cages on Waisak Day. This represents the desire of Buddhists for people in captivity to be released from their imprisonment and suffering.
On the night of Waisak Day, thousands of lanterns containing candles will be released into the sky.
Where to Celebrate Waisak Day
In Indonesia, the most popular place to celebrate Waisak Day is Borbudur. Borbudur is a large Buddhist temple that hosts an elaborate Waisak Day festival. Each year, many Buddhists from across Indonesia make a pilgrimage to Borbudur. People can visit Borbudur to encounter all of the temple’s monks gather for a large ceremony of meditation. During this ceremony, the monks gather in a large circle and chant mantras. It is considered polite to leave a small donation of food or money for the monks during Waisak Day. Borbudur is also open to non-Buddhist visitors.
Waisak Day is an Indonesian public holiday that allows Buddhists to celebrate the life, death, and enlightenment of the Enlightened One.