Vesak Day, a day where Buddhists around the world commemorate the enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha, fell on 5 May this year. Tzu Chi volunteers and staff in Sri Lanka marked the festival by holding Buddha Day Ceremony before and after the day in Hambantota (in southeastern part of the island) and capital Colombo this year.
The Singapore procession, led by Brother David Liu, our former CEO who was appointed by Master Cheng Yen to superintend Tzu Chi’s missions in Sri Lanka, arrived at the Hambantota Tzu Chi liaison office around noon on 4 May. The team got down to work as soon as they arrived to begin decorating the hall of the liaison office.
A long table was placed in front of the hall with a gigantic, white ceramic Buddha statue standing prominently on it. The table was meticulously decorated with leafy plants brought from Singapore and fresh flowers plucked from the garden outside. The end product was a simple yet graceful ceremony altar which brings a stately feel to the space.
The ceremony began sharp at 3pm when close to 100 residents and volunteers filled the venue hall. Sugath, the master of the ceremony, briefed the participants on the significance behind Tzu Chi’s tri-celebrations of Buddha Day, Mothers’ Day and Tzu Chi Day and the meaning of the ceremony rituals. Residents and volunteers then proceeded with the solemn ceremony to pay homage to the Buddha.
Out in the neighbourhoods, one can see houses joyfully decorated with festoons and residents basking in the spirit of Vesak. Vesak Day, which falls on the following day, is an important festival in Sri Lanka as Buddhists account for 70% of its total population. Almost all government organizations, companies and shops are closed on that day. Local households will put up white octagonal lanterns and everyone will don white costumes that symbolize purity and visit the temple to pay homage to the Buddha as well as chant and seek blessings.
“Tzu Chi’s chanting of the Buddha’s name in the ceremony was very soothing. The music and singing filled me with much inner peace and comfort. When I dipped my hands in the (fragrant) water, I imagined Buddha standing in front of me. It was a very, very moving moment for me,” recounted Sujeeva, a resident of the Great Love village which Tzu Chi helped to build after 2004 South Asian tsunami disaster, with slightly teary eyes.
Thamara, another villager, had never missed any Tzu Chi’s Buddha Day Ceremony in Hambantota. The Sri Lankan received her grey Tzu Chi uniform in 2010 and had since participated actively in the Foundation’s charity case visit and aid distribution activities.
However, she appeared unhappy to the fellow volunteers that day at the ceremony.
“I haven’t been able to volunteer as much since I started working, and I don’t feel good about it,” Thamara confessed to her Tzu Chi friends. The volunteers present consoled her and kept her company throughout the ceremony, hoping to help her feel better.
At the end of the event, a smile began to appear at the corners of Thamara’s mouth. “While I was paying homage to the Buddha just now, I realized that He is always guiding us onto the right path,” shared Thamara. “I must follow the path the Buddha points out to us.”
She added that volunteering with Tzu Chi and helping her countrymen to overcome their adversity is something very meaningful and dear to her heart. “I will try my best to resume my volunteer work here,” said the Sri Lankan.
The Buddha Day Ceremony at Colombo took place two days later on 6 May at the Ciyanka Reception Hall after the first local volunteer training session. The 101 trainees, who just attended their first ever training lesson with Tzu Chi, gladly stayed back for the special ceremony.
“This is my second year participating in the Buddha Day Ceremony. It’s simple but also very calming, very much like the Buddha’s spirit,” commented Asoka, a busy lawyer who began volunteering with Tzu Chi last year. The Buddha’s teaching is deep in the Buddhist’s heart and so when he first learnt of Tzu Chi, he was very receptive and soon began involving in its charity case visits as well as visiting a mental home with other Tzu Chi volunteers to bathe to and help feed the residents.
To this grey-haired volunteer, “Tzu Chi is a good organization because it gives me a place to contribute”.
Asanga, Asoka’s nephew who followed him to the ceremony that day, thanked Asoka for bringing him. Asanga admitted that he has an edgy temper but the ceremony had managed to calm him, which was quite unbelievable to the first-timer. “I hope I will be able to volunteer with Tzu Chi in the future and make my life more meaningful,” said the newcomer.
To the global Tzu Chi communities, the Buddha Day Ceremony presented a collective occasion for many to pray for world peace and to cleanse their mind of afflictions. We believe that countless Bodhi seeds have been planted in the minds of the participants, regardless of their nationality and ethnicity, and that Buddha’s teachings will forever be our beacon, guiding us in our life’s direction.