Happy is the arising of the Buddhas. Happy is the teaching of the Dhamma. Happy is the Unity of the Sangha.
As these words from the Dhammapada show, the Birth of a Buddha is a rare and joyous occasion, for He brings light to a world in darkness. Today, Buddhists the world over celebrate the Birth, Enlightenment and the Parinibbana of this Great Teacher who showed us the path to salvation more than 2,500 years ago.
His words, the Dhamma, still hold true today. The Dhamma, in fact, is more relevant than ever in a world that is seeing strife everywhere. The Buddha espoused that Hatred does not cease by Hatred, but by Love alone. Herein lies the answer to not only to conflicts among nations and individuals, but also to the rages that consume us from within.
There is a wrong notion that Buddhism is a very advanced philosophy that can rarely be applied to our day-to-day lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Buddha preached several Suttas solely for lay people, describing how they should conduct themselves to lead a pious life.
And none of these is impractical. The Pancha Seela, for example, can be observed by anyone. One does not have to kill, steal, lie, consumer alcohol and engage in wrongful behaviour. It is this simplicity, this universality that sets Buddhism apart.
"Should a person commit evil, he should not repeat it. He should not delight in doing evil. Suffering is the result of accumulation of evil." The very essence of Buddha's teaching is ending this suffering that binds us on a very long Samsaric journey. Nirvana, the state in which there is no suffering and no re-birth is the ideal which every Buddhist should aspire to achieve, as the Buddha advised.
"Knowing it to be so, a wise man should be virtuous and lose no time in clearing the path that leads to Nibbana."
Being mortals, it is difficult for us to renounce all ties to material things. It would not be incorrect to say that money rules in today's globalised, commercialised world. We have lost sight of moral values and distanced ourselves from religious thoughts as we relentlessly pursue money and wealth. And many have unfortunately chosen immoral and illegal means to make money, instead of honest, ethical ways. That is a major predicament facing today's society.
In this context, moderation is the best course of action. Life has its ups and downs, victories and defeats. The Middle Path, as espoused by the Buddha teaches us to take life as it comes and gather merit. "Good people give up attachment for everything; Saintly men do not speak of things longingly. In happiness they are not elated, nor are they depressed in suffering."
The only way to achieve this goal is seeking refuge in the Dhamma. "Those who understand the Dhamma well-expounded by the Buddha and live according to it, will cross the sea of Samsara so difficult to cross and reach Nibbana."
We should listen to the Dhamma more often and take Buddha's advice to heart. Mere listening will not suffice if an honest effort is not made to put those words into action. We should cultivate pure thoughts, words and deeds at all times. "To refrain from doing evil, to indulge in doing good, to cleanse one's mind - this is the teaching of all Buddhas."
It is thus very important for all Buddhists to have a close relationship with the Maha Sangha at their neighbourhood temple. Going to the temple on Poya Day will be meaningless if worshippers do not follow the Buddha's words.
The Buddha Dhamma must be inculcated in the younger generation without fail so that a more virtuous society can be expected in the future. This could be an eventual answer to the crime wave too.
Vesak comes only once a year. It is an ideal time for true Buddhists to heed the words of the Buddha and turn their lives around for their own good and the good of others. That was what the Buddha expected his followers to do, all those years ago. Only by turning the lamp inwards, into the innermost recesses of our mind, can we rise above worldly attachments to conquer suffering.