Vesak: a celebration of Karuna | Daily News


Vesak: a celebration of Karuna

Tomorrow, Vesak Poya Day, will be the climax of the annual celebration of the Birth, Enlightenment and Passing Away of the Buddha, the spiritual founder of the faith of the majority of Sri Lankans. We mark Vesak in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenge of which President Gotabaya Rajapaksa shared with his fellow heads of state when he addressed the special Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit on Monday.

Vesak, now one of the United Nations’ official religious festivals, is commemorated by Buddhists globally, with the bulk of festivities in the many Asian nations whose civilisations have been enriched by the Dhamma.

In this country, the visible highlights of this festival are the giant, electrically lit, pandals, equally lavish clusters of vividly decorated lanterns and, the thousands of traditional little oil lamps aflame in temples and homes across the island. This emphasis on light is the people’s joyous affirmation of the inspiration to humanity from the philosophical-spiritual enlightenment attained by Sakyamuni Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, approximately 2,600 years ago.

Also notable features of the festival are the street-side staged dramas and shows recounting inspirational moments in the Buddha’s life and, the Dan Sal that dot the roads and junctions and wherever people will gather to view the festivities.

Sadly, none of this will feature in Vesak this year because of the viral pandemic that has the whole world in its deadly grip. The death toll from the pandemic reached nine yesterday evening and, the total number of infected persons reached 762.

Given the vicissitudes of this country’s long history, this certainly cannot be the first time that traditional religious festivities have been foregone by people on this island. It is in the nature of things that people forego large scale and lavish social activity in the face of tribulation, whether it is disease, socio-political disruption and war, or natural disasters.

Such tribulation, however, does not entirely stem the spiritual pulse of the faithful and the holy day is commemorated on a small scale, often within homes and local neighbourhoods. Thus, is the spark of the Enlightenment kept alive across the millennia.

This year, too, will be such a special moment in which millions of Buddhist Sri Lankans as well as Buddhists throughout the world, celebrate Vesak in ways suitable for our life in a pandemic. In these times of severe testing of the community, by disease and, its social and economic hardships, we will expect the faithful to demonstrate their faith commitment by acts of charity to their fellow citizens and to social institutions active in meeting the challenges of the pandemic. This has been our tradition and our tradition will surely shine forth.

The equanimity and discipline with Sri Lankans celebrate the Vesak festival must be one that bears testimony to the authenticity of our spirituality. It must be done in a manner that demonstrates our social responsibility. This time cannot be a moment of laxity and indiscipline – in violations of the anti-pandemic strictures that will only worsen the contagion rather than counter it.

After these many weeks of counter-pandemic restrictions, health guidelines and curfews, we must surely be attuned to the need of the hour; to the imperatives to firmly shun self-indulgences and selfish behaviour and focus on stern social hygiene discipline. This time of commemorating a philosophy that has self-discipline and social responsibility – Vinaya - at its core, must then be a time of strict observance of such discipline.

No one can afford to be lax in their observation of the rules of pandemic avoidance, namely the constantly reiterated basic rules of social hygiene. The Founder of Buddhism would be the first to remind us of our social obligations and our commitment to Karuna.

What will the world think if the followers of the Vinaya failed to demonstrate their compliance when it is most needed? If festivity overtook religiosity and, indiscipline resulted in a sequential worsening of the contagion?

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Monday showcased Sri Lanka’s successes in coping with the COVID-19 pandemic when he addressed the special online Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) hosted by Azerbaijan, the Movement’s current chair.

The President praised the role of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in giving leadership to the global response to this unprecedentedly fast spreading pandemic. He also acknowledged the importance of global co-operation in fighting the disease and its social and economic impact. He listed out the successful measures taken by Sri Lanka in managing the disease here.

The Non-Aligned initiative comes at a time when the world community is distracted from its goal of international collaboration by inter-state rivalry and brash public posturing in pursuit of national politics. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa joined other global voices in urging a greater focus on the priorities of dealing with COVID-19 at this time.

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