Buddhism A–Z
What is Vesak (Buddha Day) in Buddhism?

Vesak is one of the most significant holidays in the Buddhist calendar. Also known as “Buddha Day,” it commemorates the birth, enlightenment (nirvana), and death (parinirvana) of Siddartha Gautama, the historical Buddha. These three significant events in the Buddha’s life are all said to have happened on the same day of the year. Vesak is a day of joy, peace, and reflection, reminding all Buddhists of the importance of compassion, kindness, and the impermanence of life.

When is Vesak?

Vesak, a modern rendering of Vesakha (Pali), is celebrated on the first full moon of the month of Vesakha in Hindu and Buddhist calendars, which usually falls in May or early June. Buddhists in China, however, follow the Chinese lunar calendar to plan their Vesak celebrations and observe the holiday on the eighth day of the fourth month of the lunar year.

How is Vesak Celebrated?

Vesak originated in Southeast Asia. It is largely considered to be a Theravada Buddhist holiday, but many Buddhist traditions also observe the day. The specific customs and traditions associated with Vesak vary depending on country and tradition. Many Buddhists celebrate Vesak by visiting temples, spending the day meditating or in prayer, and offering food and goods to those in need. Homes, streets, and temples are often decorated with lanterns, flags, and flowers.

In some countries, especially in Asia, devotees also engage in processions. Many Buddhists abstain from alcohol and meat on this day, and in some places, birds, insects, and animals are released as a symbolic act of liberation, representing the freeing of oneself from the cycle of suffering and rebirth.

In major centers in the United States, such as New York. Vesak is a day for Buddhists of all traditions to come together to celebrate their common history, practice, and philosophy. In recent years, Vesak has been marked by an annual commemoration at the White House.

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Celebrating Vesak (“Buddha Day”) 2024

Vesak, also known as “Buddha Day," marks the birth, enlightenment, and death of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. This year, it falls on May 23.

Buddhism A–Z

Explore essential Buddhist terms, concepts, and traditions.