Part 2: The Celebration of 2011 Vesak-Buddha Day Sacramento
In 2010, fourteen diverse Sacramento Buddhist organizations began planning Vesak – Buddha Day, the 2600th Anniversary celebration of the historical Buddha. Individuals from differing Buddhist traditions came forward and committed themselves to the tremendous amount of time and energy needed to organize this special event.
For several years, Buddhist temples and churches in and around Sacramento have celebrated a tradition of Vesak relative to their culture and within their own communities. The celebration of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death is called Vesak or Buddha Day, and according to different cultures may be referred to differently, such as Wesak, Visakha Bucha, Hanamatsuri, and Saga Dawa, for example.
Most of the Sacramento Buddhist communities, (Sanghas in Sanskrit), have been independent in celebrating the most important Buddhist event of the year. This year is different thanks to the vision of a simple Theravada Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka, Venerable Madawala Seelawimala Mahathera of American Buddhist Seminary in West Sacramento, better known as Bhante Seela.
Bhante Seela first arrived in the United States in 1976 to teach Theravada Buddhism at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, as well as the Graduate Theological Union of the University of California Berkeley. He assisted his teacher in Toronto with building the first Buddhist monastery, (Vihara), in Canada, and became the head monk there. Bhante Seela went on to initiate the first Vesak program in California in 1977 in Palo Alto. He helped start Vesak in Stanford, and Berkeley followed as the tradition continued alternating over time between the two locations. In 1982, Bhante Seela founded the American Buddhist Seminary with the help of a number of the San Francisco monks and he ultimately moved to Sacramento in 1996.
In 1997, Bhante Seela organized the first Vesak in Sacramento at the Masonic Auditorium. In 2001, he held Vesak at U.C. Davis and again in 2009 at the Sacramento Convention Center. “Even when we first started Vesak, my intention was to invite different Buddhist groups to be involved in the program,” he said. The three Sacramento area events were limited and held for only a few hours each with a selected teaching (Dharma) topic, some chanting, public participation for the traditional bathing of the Baby Buddha, and refreshments. Although it was a challenge to get other Buddhist groups involved, some groups did participate in the programs with each offering information about their practice to visitors.
Last year part of Bhante Seela’s goal of a large-scale, inter-Buddhist Vesak event, planned and organized by a mixed Buddhist committee, was realized. In 2010 at a Bodhi Day event, Bhante Seela spoke about his vision and one by one representatives from fourteen different Buddhist groups came forward and wanted to help make a Vesak happen in Sacramento for everyone.
The first meeting of the Vesak Committee was held in November, 2010. The sub-committees were formed to handle the varied responsibilities for the two-day program and worked diligently to put the scheduled events together. Michael Halfhill, a volunteer on the public relations and outreach committee, as well as an emcee and performer at Vesak, commented on other individual Vesak type Buddhist events. “Everybody does their own thing, which is nice, but if you coordinate a function like this it just comes across richer for the public.” He added, “this is the first time that it’s coming together to the caliber it is now where everyone is behind it.”
Although Vesak is an homage to Buddha, and tradition includes practice and discipline by those taking the Eight Precepts or vows during this time, it is also a time to share happiness with others. Vesak – Buddha Day 2011 has been planned for all of Sacramento to enjoy the festival with a full schedule of events.
Vesak will begin on Saturday evening when a Candlelight Prayer for Peace will be held from 7-9 P.M. On Sunday events will continue throughout the day starting at 8:30 A.M. until 6:00 P.M. The events will be comprised of international dance performances including a Folk and Lion Dance, Dharma talks by Buddhist masters, a Silk Road with cultural and Buddhist artifacts for shoppers, and an international food court, a Buddhist Garden with guided meditation or simple contemplation, Yoga and Tai Chi instruction, a Wellness Center also offering information on mind based stress reduction, and Pali and Sanskrit chanting. Visitors can also see the different forms of Buddhist statuary from the various temples, and have opportunities to speak with and ask questions of Buddhist masters and teachers, as well as a chance to participate in bathing the Baby Buddha.
For Bhante Seela this special Vesak event is in Sacramento for three reasons: “to get established Sacramento Buddhist groups to get to know one another better and work more harmoniously and productively together for the greater community; to offer non-Buddhist communities an opportunity to walk comfortably and with ease into the Buddhist center and temple and learn about the different paths of Buddhism in one place; and (whereas international Buddhist practitioners become disciplined in their own practice), to give the traditional Buddhists from different countries the chance to appreciate other traditions beyond their own.”
With a large number of volunteers and helpers being involved, this year Bhante Seela didn’t need to coordinate Vesak, although his assistance has been ever present. Halfhill and the other committee members and volunteers value Bhante Seela as ‘the Visionary’ for Vesak in Sacramento and see the potential to become an annual event with more and more Buddhists coming together. Eunice Cerezo, the Vesak Committee Facilitator commented, “it’s been a wonderful collaboration and collective effort, and meeting people from varied backgrounds has been a great experience…(with the) rich traditions of Vajrayana, Tibetan, Zen…many Sanghas, one Dharma.”
This weekend is a wonderful opportunity for people of all ages, faiths and ethnicities to learn and experience not only Buddhist Dharma, but also the richness of cultures that have valued the teachings and philosophies. At Vesak – Buddha Day, the Dharma is available to add to the quality of life, and the festivities are there for everyone’s enjoyment.
2011 Vesak – Buddha Day, Sacramento
Celebrating the 2600th Anniversary of Buddhism
Saturday, May 28th 7-9 P.M. and Sunday, May 29th 8:30 A.M.-6:00 P.M.
Kim Quang Temple, 3119 Alta Arden Expressway, Sacramento, CA 95825
Eunice Cerezo 916-683-2731 or email@example.com
Thu Ngo 916-642-5482 or firstname.lastname@example.org