Vesak Message 2015 by Ven. Mahinda Thera

The Buddhist Channel, May 3, 2015

SUKHO BUDDHANAM UPPADO - Happy is the birth of all Buddhas

Shah Alam, Selangor (Malaysia) -- Vesak is mostly celebrated as a merit-making festival, but we must not lose our focus on the true significance of Vesak, and the real reasons for merit-making at this time.

Through his birth, enlightenment and passing away, which each took place on the Vesak Full Moon, the Buddha showed us the way to liberate ourselves from the endless cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth – this endless cycle of suffering. Therein lies the true significance of Vesak.

Although he was born as a human being, just like us, the Buddha's birth was no ordinary birth. He was able to choose the time, the country, the locality, his mother, and the clan where he was born. This means there must have been absolute clarity of mind at the time of death – the result of profound mental cultivation – to enable this kind of birth.

The Buddha's life, too, was no ordinary life. After 29 years of worldly life as a prince, he chose to go out to seek the truth, to find the way to liberate himself and all other beings from suffering. On the night of his Enlightenment, under the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, he fully realised this knwoledge, becoming the Awakened One of Buddha.

His passing away, or maha-parinibbana, was no ordinary death. Having completely liberated himself from the ignorance that binds us to samsara, the cycle of birth and death, his passing away represents the dissolution of his physical body, but his enlightened mind had already gone beyond ordinary death and rebirth.

The Buddha demonstrated the full potential of a human life – that it is possible, for each and every one of us, to awaken to the truth about life, and to free ourselves from all suffering. In the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, he clearly explained the wisdom he had
realised: the knowledge that that liberates us from samsara, and the path that leads us to actually realise this knowledge for ourselves.

The path to enlightenment requires the cultivation of both merits and wisdom. The purpose of merit-making practices during Vesak – such as generosity (dana), observing moral precepts (sila), and meditation (bhavana) – is to provide the right supporting conditions for us to develop this wisdom and insight into the true meaning and purpose of our life.

Merits, or meritorious deeds, are actions of body, speech and mind which give rise to happiness, joy, peace, and all the positive energies that support us physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Wisdom is the insight into the true nature of our lives. When fully realised, it is this wisdom that will completely free us from the ignorance that binds us to samsara. However, we cannot gain this wisdom simply by hearing of it, or studying what it is about – that is only intellectual knowledge. Rather we need to practise and develop our minds in order to actually experience the truth for ourselves.

That is why spending time to cultivate our minds is so important. We need to meditate, and to consolidate our meditation practice to build up the stillness and clarity of our minds. The best way to focus and sustain our cultivation of mind is in retreat. Meditation retreats give
our busy minds time to relax and to have the space in which we can build up a continuity of mindfulness. This continuity of mindfulness will enable us to break the negative habit patterns of our mind, in particular, the habit of our minds to proliferate thoughts.

It is only when our minds are stable, clear, and not easily distracted that insight or wisdom can arise. For this reason it is important to take the opportunity to go for retreats. If you are not ready, or not able to go for retreat, you can still build up a positive foundation to develop wisdom by cultivating merits.

In particular, supporting others to practise – by helping to organise retreats, or looking after the needs of practitioners – will generate merits that will in turn support you when you are ready to go for retreat. Furthermore, whenever you engage in meritorious actions, if you make a clear aspiration, determining to develop your mind in order to attain enlightenment, those merits will one day bear fruit.

In this way, the generation of merits supports the development of wisdom. However much we wish to develop wisdom, unless we have some merits, we will find it difficult, if not impossible, to have the right supporting conditions. The development of merits and wisdom complement each other in the path to Enlightenment and both are incorporated within the different factors of the Noble Eightfold Path.

So as you participate in Vesak merit-making activities, please keep in mind the ultimate purpose of our lives and be sure to direct this merit towards developing wisdom in order to gain Enlightenment, making a firm determination to follow the path to freedom which the Buddha has shown.

Our world today is in dire need of wisdom and compassion. Political, economic and social systems are struggling to cope with the complex issues of our times. We need to recognise that the root cause of global problems is not in the world outside; it is within – what goes on
in the minds of each and every one of us.

As the preamble to the UNESCO constitution states:

"since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed".