Vesak: Buddha Day

by Bob Schwartz

Sakyamuni Buddha

Today is Vesak, the holiday also known as Buddha Day.

Around the world, especially in Buddhist Asia, Vesak combines a celebration of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing. This year the holiday was noted by the UN, by President Obama, by Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, and by many others. This is part of the growing recognition that the world might benefit from even a little bit of Buddhism added to our complex, crazy and chaotic affairs.

Here is the Mangala Sutta (The Sutra on Happiness), a wise and uplifting discourse of the Buddha that is one of the best-loved and most frequently recited texts in the Southeast Asian Buddhist world.  Only twelve verses long, it is a recital of auspicious things, and along with texts such as the Metta Sutta, is believed to bring happiness and good fortune when chanted or heard.

The Sutra on Happiness

I heard these words of the Buddha one time when the Lord was living in the vicinity of Savatthi at the Anathapindika Monastery in the Jeta Grove. Late at night, a deva appeared whose light and beauty made the whole Jeta Grove shine radiantly. After paying respects to the Buddha, the deva asked him a question in the form of a verse:

“Many gods and men are eager to know
what are the greatest blessings
which bring about a peaceful and happy life.
Please, Tathagata, will you teach us?”

(This is the Buddha’s answer):

“Not to be associated with the foolish ones,
To live in the company of wise people,
Honoring those who are worth honoring—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To live in a good environment,
To have planted good seeds
And to realize that you are on the right path—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To have a chance to learn and grow,
To be skillful in your profession or craft,
Practicing the precepts and loving speech—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To be able to serve and support your parents,
To cherish your own family,
To have a vocation that brings you joy—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To live honestly, generous in giving,
To offer support to relatives and friends,
Living a life of blameless conduct—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To avoid unwholesome actions,
Not caught by alcoholism or drugs,
And to be diligent in doing good things—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To be humble and polite in manner,
To be grateful and content with a simple life,
Not missing the occasion to learn the Dharma—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To persevere and be open to change,
To have regular contact with monks and nuns,
And to fully participate in Dharma discussions—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To live diligently and attentively,
To perceive the Noble Truths,
And to realize nirvana—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To live in the world
With your heart undisturbed by the world,
With all sorrows ended, dwelling in peace—
This is the greatest happiness.

“For the one who accomplishes this
Is unvanquished wherever she goes;
Always he is safe and happy—
Happiness lives within oneself.”

Translated by Thich Nhat Hahn