wesak day @ buddhist maha vihara, brickfields, kl

So there was this dude who lived in Nepal/India 2,500 years ago. He was born into a family of great power, wealth, status and respect. Like Britney Spears before she got married, he had it all.

Then year before his 30th birthday, he sneaked out of his palace in search of the Truth to suffering. For 6 years he laboured and tortured his body by not eating, beating himself etc (as was the practise that time that extreme asceticism would lead to the truth). He probably couldn’t take it anymore, drank some milk offered by a cowgirl, sat under a tree and meditated and arrived at Enlightenment.

That is why we have Wesak Day (aka Vesak Day). If I remember correctly, it wasn’t the exact date of the Gautama Buddha’s birth, but it is now celebrated as such, as well as to commemorate Him reaching Enlightenment and His death. You can say that it is also to renew your commitment and vows as a Buddhist.

Last Friday, me and Fireangel went to snoop around the Buddhist Maha Vihara in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. It was established in 1895 as a place of Theravadian worship for Sinhalese from Sri Lanka in Tanah Melayu (now known as Malaysia :P ) and today you get all sorts of people — black yellow white orange brown all congregated in this place to celebrate Wesak.

It was my first Wesak away from home (and in 5 years). Ever since the management of a small town temple I used to go got their heads all swelled up from pride and feelings of self-importance, I sort of became detached. Plus the Young Buddhist Fellowship gang that I used to hang out with everyday dispersed due to personal commitments. It just isn’t fun singing Buddhist hymns at the top of your lungs with strangers who may think your behaviour way out of line. I don’t know, I’m just saying based on what I’ve heard from very reliable sources…

Anyway we got up bright and early (haha) and made our way to Brickfields. We had to park quite a distance away and got squeezed out of RM5 by those illegal ‘parking people’ who really didn’t help much. That’s daylight robbery for you.

There were lots of people walking up and down the road leading to the temple. There were lots of stalls selling flowers, books, vegetarian fare, ice cream and so on. There was even a makeshift booth for a major bank’s credit card services. There were plenty of beggars by the roadside, some healthy and some severely crippled.

Wesak Day @ Buddhist Maha Vihara, Brickfields 2005 - 01 entrance
At the Brickfields Maha Vihara Sanchi Gate

We made it to the main gate, also known as the Sanchi Gate. Lots of people. Lots and lots of people. Claustrophobic tendencies setting in. But for someone who generally dislikes people and hates kids, I did pretty well :P

We walked around and started snapping photos.

The Bodhi Tree

Wesak Day @ Buddhist Maha Vihara, Brickfields 2005 - 02 Bodhi Tree

The Bodhi Tree, aka Ficus religiosa is so named because Gautama Buddha achieved Enlightenment meditating under this tree species. Of course it isn’t the exact same one you see in the photo above — apparently the two Bodhi trees in the Maha Vihara were saplings from a 2000 year old Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka. Devotees like to clasp their hands in prayer walking around the tree, maybe because it’s sacred, or they believe the tree would bless them or something, I don’t know. Hopefully it is just a reminder of the Buddha’s enlightenment for them — damn wrong for a Buddhist to be asking for blessing from a tree.

Offerings of flowers, light and incense

Wesak Day @ Buddhist Maha Vihara, Brickfields 2005 - 04 more lotus candles

Flowers are offered as a reminder of impermanence. That’s one of the most important things the Buddha taught — that is to let go because sooner or later everything would come to an end. By letting go, you are freeing your mind of earthly burdens and worries and thus could see things more clearly. Of course this is not to be a form of escapism from the daily grind, monetary worries and such. I suppose it has more to do with death, the loss of a loved one, etc. The flowers bloom so beautifully today but they will wilt in a short span of time. This is a reminder that things change and you too will die. Something like that. Kind of gloomy isn’t it? Though you can take solace in this verse of a hymn (Life Never Dies) that I loved a lot:

“There is no death” all nature cries.
The rose will reappear.
Its petal will more perfect be.
After the winter drear.

Light represents wisdom, in this case the Buddha’s wisdom. It is also meant to dispel the darkness of ignorance. Reminder: burning a candle and burning a forest (those paper offering stuff) are different things. Buddhism is not Taoism, at least the one I (sort of) practise anyway.

Wesak Day @ Buddhist Maha Vihara, Brickfields 2005 - 19 even more joss sticks

Incense is another important offering for the Buddha’s altar. I can’t really describe its significance all too well, so I’ll just quote from a couple of sources.

From this site,

When incense is lit, it fragrance fills the air. This is like the spreading of the purifying effect of wholesome conduct. So offering incense, a Buddhist not only express his veneration for the Triple Gem but also reminds himself of the practice of Good Conduct.

… and from ‘Good Questions, Good Answers’ by Venerable Dhammika,

Incense: Aromatic incense purifies the atmosphere as well as the mind. Just as its fragrance travels afar, so do good deeds extend to the benefit of all. Burning incense also embodies the transience and dissolution of phenomena.

You don’t see a single incense in the photo above, do you? I suppose they were all being used inside the main shrine, maybe because it is not financially viable to purchase incense in bulk this way, but I can tell you that this deal is rather dangerous. I was very nearly burnt by some lady who had a whole bunch of joss sticks and didn’t see where she was going.

People and other things

Wesak Day @ Buddhist Maha Vihara, Brickfields 2005 - 22 beggar

One of the two beggars I saw within the temple compounds (the rest were outside). I was observing him for a while; he was sitting by the steps of the main shrine, looking dejected while muttering to himself and praying a little (I think). I had wanted to take a photo of him looking up the steps to the main shrine, but there was stuff blocking my view and too many people were walking around. Also:

1) Other devotees may give me the evil eye for invading the privacy of the beggar.
2) The beggar may just suddenly stand up and hit me with his maggi in cup used as his alms bowl.

This being a holy place, the latter is more likely to happen than the former.

Wesak Day @ Buddhist Maha Vihara, Brickfields 2005 - 10 lighting up oil lamps

The lady above was making sure that the flames on your RM10 oil lamps do not go out..

Wesak Day @ Buddhist Maha Vihara, Brickfields 2005 - 11 Suanie and Fireangel

I have no idea who the n00bs above are.

Wesak Day @ Buddhist Maha Vihara, Brickfields 2005 - 16 portrait of Ven Dr K Sri Dhammananda

We waited 2 hours for an audience with the Chief High Priest of Malaysia and Singapore Venerable Dr K Sri Dhammananda which in the end turned to naught. It was just to see him, really. I mean, what are you going to say to this guy? He has done more for Buddhism than Keanu Reeves in ‘Little Buddha’; written so many books on the logical and practical aspects of Buddhism (What Buddhists Believe, Why Worry etc) and was instrumental in preaching religious tolerance in Malaysia and beyond.

The first time I saw him was in 1996 when he gave a talk at the temple I used to attend. He is 87 years old now, quite frail in health, when we saw him as he was assisted for lunch danna (offering) we were rather shocked by how ill he looked. That’s old age for you (The First Sight). The two previous times when I saw him, he looked so serene, for reasons I can’t explain I felt peaceful just looking at him. Must be some level 25 meditation aftermath going on.

Remind me to expand the wiki stub on the venerable.

Wesak Day @ Buddhist Maha Vihara, Brickfields 2005 - 21 cute lad

Cute kid at the lotus fountain, used as a wishing well by many people.

Wesak Day @ Buddhist Maha Vihara, Brickfields 2005 - 25 offering robes to monk

Devotees offering robes to a resident Sinhalese monk. One of those costs around RM100 – RM120. When our friend Chen Zhong was ordained and became Bhante Sumana, we offered him two of the robes as danna. That’s what he wore the entire year I guess :P

Why these simplistic robes? Well, Gautama Buddha is said to have worn something like that made of patched pieces of donated cloth ALL HIS LIFE. If members of the Sangha community wear something elaborate and outrageous, that wouldn’t do at all, would it? Though as Buddhism spread throughout the world, the designs and style becomes different due to the climate conditioning of the country. And of course, belonging to different sects would twist the styles a little.

As we leave the temple for lunch, we noticed a bare-footed fake monk asking for donations from one of the stall keepers. Why was he fake? How would we know? Maybe because the fact is that Buddhist monks are not supposed to go around asking people for money, regardless of the different orthodox sects. Traditionally Buddhist monks are only allowed to beg for food. However in Malaysia and most places, Buddhist monks are quite well-taken care of by the level 20 devotees who would cook for them or offer them food twice a day (because they only eat breakfast and lunch, no dinner). So if you see one of those fake monks going around dinner/clubbing places with a begging bowl, please do not contribute to their scam. More importantly, please do not think that this is typical Buddhist monks’ behaviour. They have more integrity than that.

*calms down*

I’ll end this post with another one of my favourite hymns. It was one of the first songs I learnt to play using the guitar (5 basic chords) and never failed to make us sing gaily during our hymns sessions. Times like these I remember Shan Chong. Wesak has never been the same without him.

Wesak Dawn

Wesak dawn has paced in softly
Tip-toed thro’ the moonlit night
Breathed the flowers and incense smoking
Laughed thro’ bars of purple light

Bids you now to waken gently
Lift your troubled eyes of sleep
Tend’ring thoughts of homage holy
cross Samsara’s Ocean deep

To the One who taught the Dhamma
Of the Noble Eightfold Way
To the Buddha, dearest sister
Lift your tender mind today!

Entire Flickr set here.

Comments

  1. 3 of my fave Buddha’s quotes:

    “A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker. A man is not considered a good man because he is a good talker.” (Rings a bell?)

    “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

    “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

    ;)

    Suanie:
    1) I can think of many cicumstances for this :P
    2) It came from kalama sutra… alright maybe not the way I wrote it, but the idea’s there :P
    3) okay that one is a bit corny :P

  2. Calvinsanity says:

    Ah…wesak dawn..that buddhist hymn…and all ur explanations of the offerings..just remind me of the buddhist camp which I have to conduct the sunday morning puja services…and have to give explanation on the offering..plus playing the guitar for the buddhist hymn section…and of course the maha vihara temple…that some says is from Seck Kia Eenh temple in malacca which is where all my secondary school buddhist society memories came back… making the wesak day float…met my first gf there too also…oh man..getting emo nowadays..

    Suanie:
    oO I disliked doing the puja, my timing for knocking the fish bowl to lead the Gr8 Compassion Mantra was either too fast, too slow or both at once. Hence during camps when I had absolute power, I’d make other committee members lead the puja sessions. no one complained… :D

    The Seck Kia Eenh temple was established in 1920, the Maha Vihara temple was established in 1895, so how can the latter copy the former? But not important la all these things :P

    Eh? :P

  3. Suertes says:

    I was there, I think it was much earlier, before the crowds turned up. I have done oil lamp duty before..

    Suanie:
    that place was darn hot…

  4. After drinking the milk offered by the girl, the Dude overheard a guitarist teaching his son to play said “if you tighten the string too much, you will have Steve Vai and if you loosen them up too much, you will have Korn, Limp Bizkit. In order to get Eric Johnson, the string must not be over-tense or under-tense…

    Suanie:
    hahahahhaa indeed :P

  5. Suertes says:

    Oil lamp duty – i skived off around noon – before it got way too hot. That was a few years ago.

    Suanie:
    yeah? I almost set myself on fire. damn big bags

  6. beefstew: I thought the Dude overheard the guitarist first before realizing that he had to drink the milk and shoot the ball down the middle to score?

  7. That’s a wonderful writeup you have there Suanie. It’s amazing how much you’ll learn about a celebrative event every year despite the lifetime spent merely observing it as a public holiday.

    Amazing photos too! May I know the camera you used?

    Suanie:
    Thanks Azmeen :P I’m using an old Sony cybershot 4.0, works well at night but a bit peh in daytime

  8. hur hur hur… trip back to memory lane!

    Sometimes I wanna scream to those who wanna practise buddhism. DO IT AT HOME!! Not symbolically(sp!?) at public places with loads of flowers, josssticks, getting their knees and hands dirty updowning every 3 steps yadda yadda…

    Its all a beeeg beeeg show lah. Believing that if you pray to the medicine buddha you’ll get good skin… trust me… exact words coming from Mr Holy Know It All Buddhist in my company.

    And stop modernising Mr Gautama’s life. Sacrilege! I’ll call the jeehard on ya!

    Girl we need another drinking session.

    Suanie:
    OoOOoo garangnya…

    remember last time 3 bu 1 bai? those who managed the feat would stagger back to be treated like kings… :P

  9. So playing good girl and no-alcohol during wesak day?

    Suanie:
    of course not.. ahem….
    dude, terence and saint’s wedding on wesak night … u think leh???

  10. ‘So there was this dude who lived in Nepal/India 2,500 years ago.’

    Oh, so he’s my age then?

    ‘he sneaked out of his palace in search of the Truth to suffering.’

    He didn’t need to sneak out, he just needed the internet and a link to my blog! :-)

    ‘black yellow white orange brown ‘

    Orange Hutan? Who would have thunk it! ;-)

    ‘vegetarian fare’

    YEAH! Somewhere I can eat at last!!! w00t!

    ‘I have no idea who the n00bs above are.’

    I think one is Suangel, and the other is Fireanie … something like that!

    Or it’s Chip and Dale … I’m never sure these days! :-)

    ‘instrumental in preaching religious tolerance’

    I think that’s important in any religion!
    Of course, we can also only tolerate what is tolerable … I just include that in case someone thinks I’m saying we should tolerate religions which practice human sacrifice or child molesting!
    [Darn, have to include disclaimers for everything!]

    ‘Remind me to expand the wiki stub on the venerable.’

    Expand the wiki stub on the venerable.

    There you go! :-)

  11. Yunarie says:

    I hope Shan Chong is in a better place now…

    Suanie:
    I hope so too :)

  12. MorpheusX says:

    FA got the better pictures..
    The lotus candle and the oil lamps…those were classics..

  13. Teddy Cuddly Bear says:

    Suanie…
    When you visit Penang, come knocking on my door. I’ll take yea to the Mahindarama Buddhist Temple.

    Suanie:
    all right, will hold you to that :D

  14. dabido’s comment is surprisingly short compared to this article.

  15. Er, OK. That was deep. Usually, my Wife just say, go her, I go here. Then she say, go there, I go there. End up, we come here every year to get blessings while I contemplate which toys to buy at the road stalls.

    OK, got photos of you guys shooting the front gate though. So sorry the my intro was brief as Wife wants to go home asap.

    Suanie:
    oO nice to meet you nice to meet you :) send lah the photos :P

  16. Professor KY, as the foremost expert in the study of Dabidology [the study of Dabido's comments] can you offer some deeper insights as to why this may be? :-)

  17. Nice pictures Suanie. My dad is Buddhist … he also talks about the needlessness of certain rituals etc. Siddhartha talked about dying to your needs and wants ie. dying to self and to cravings. Anyway, I respect your beliefs and appreciate your sharings in this blog. Hope we can be friends one day =).

    Suanie:
    oO your dad knows his stuff! :D

  18. thanx for the explanation!! makes it alot clearer about the flowers and incense and all!!! ;)

    Suanie:
    yw ;)

  19. Now that u mention OSC, below is excerpt from one of his fav songs…

    I will pray every night little pal,
    That you will come out right, little pal,
    So till we meet again, kamma knows where and when,
    Pray for me now and then, little pal.

    Sniff.

    Suanie:
    i remember that song well. he would do a solo everytime. hugs

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