BIRTH, ENLIGHTENMENT AND DEATH (Buddhist Festival)
Date varies from year to year - please check the REonline Festivals Calendar
for Whole School or Class Assembly
To learn about how the
Buddha gained enlightenment; making an important discovery; to understand how
learning something new can change the way we think about things;
- The dates and
celebration of Buddhist festivals vary greatly. Buddhism is practised all
around the world but is particularly found in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand,
Tibet, China and South Korea. In Sri Lanka, Tibet, Burma and Thailand this
festival is celebrated in late May or early June. In Sri Lanka it is known as
Wesak (Sinhalese) or Vaishakha; in Thailand it is known as Visakha; and in
Tibet as Saga Dawa. Pure Land Buddhists, found particularly in Japan and the
United States, celebrate similar themes on Bodhi Day which falls in
- Please note that
this assembly shares the story and reflection of the Bodhi Day assembly, with a
new section in Focus on the themes about light and enlightenment.
- A picture of a
Bodhi tree (see the website at www.buddhanet.net) or a large drawing of a fig
- A picture of the
Buddha sitting cross-legged.
- A candle or some
object that could be a focus for the reflection, e.g. a flower.
- Explain that this is an important
time for many Buddhists, people who follow the teachings of a man who became
known as the Buddha. Buddha means 'enlightened one', or the one who has a
special understanding of things, someone who knows what is important.
- Talk in general about 'knowing'.
Explain that all of us know lots of things. We know how to play games, we know
how to put on our coats, we know that running into the road is dangerous. Talk
about some of the other things we know, perhaps relating this to recent school
topics. Go on to say that we know many things, but of course there are many
things that we don't know too.
But the Buddha came to know something
very different from all the things mentioned above. He recognized that in life
things do not always go the way we want them to. However much we know, things
still go wrong. People get ill, people are hungry, there are wars, people steal
from one another or are unhappy and everything in life comes to an end.
Buddhists believe that the Buddha came to know about what causes
suffering and unhappiness and what can be done about it. This was the special
understanding or 'enlightenment' that the Buddha received. Go on to tell the
story of how the Buddha reached enlightenment.
- Story. The Buddha was born
a long time ago - about 2,500 years ago. The Buddha was not the name he was
given at birth. His birth name was Siddhartha Gautama and he was a Prince. He
was born in a part of the world that we now call Nepal (the country that has
the highest mountains in the world). Siddhartha's father wanted to protect his
son and so Siddhartha grew up in the palace grounds. He never went outside the
grounds, and had no idea what life was really like for most people. He had a
rich and happy life, with everything he could possibly want: food to eat,
clothes to wear, and when he was old enough he married a beautiful girl and
they had a son. But still Siddhartha had not seen anything of life outside the
Soon he began to grow bored with his sheltered life and
one day he left the palace. Now he began to see the world as it really was. As
he rode around he saw suffering everywhere. He saw an old man who was weak and
nearly at the end of his life. He saw a man who was sick and in great pain, and
he saw a funeral with the family of the dead man crying around his body.
Then Siddhartha came across a holy man, a man who had devoted his life
to following God. This man seemed to be happy and peaceful.
things made Siddhartha think. He went back to the palace, but he couldn't
forget what he had seen. He decided he had to go in search of the answer to why
there was suffering in the world. On the night before his 29th birthday he left
his palace with its riches, beauty and safety. He left behind his beautiful
robes and put on the simple clothes worn by holy men and shaved off all his
hair just like the holy man he had seen.
For the next six years he
travelled around the country in search of the answer to the question of why
there is suffering in the world, but he could not find the answer. He travelled
on until he came to a great tree. Today we call this tree a Bodhi tree. It's
like a fig tree. He sat under this great big tree and began to meditate, that
is to think deeply. It was the night of a full moon. After a long time, the
truth came to him and discovering the truth gave Siddhartha a feeling of great
peacefulness. It was a feeling of release from all the things that had been
troubling him. Suddenly he was able to stop thinking about himself and his
worries. Siddhartha had become enlightened - he had found truth and so he
became known as the Buddha - the enlightened one.
The Buddha learned
many things while meditating under the Bodhi tree and he spent the rest of his
life teaching people about what he had learned so that they might find peace in
their own lives. One of the things he discovered is that very often people make
themselves and others unhappy because they are always wanting and needing
things. They are tied to the things they need and want, like a dog tied to a
tree. The more they want the more they get tied up in knots, like the dog
getting tangled in the rope that attaches it to the tree. The Buddha taught his
followers about how they could be free of the things that tie them down and how
this would give them peace and happiness. He taught them that they could become
enlightened too by following his teachings.
on the themes
Explain that at this time of year in
particular Buddhists celebrate the life of the Buddha and his enlightenment.
Very often they light lamps at night. Explore together why lighting lamps might
help Buddhists celebrate the life of the Buddha.
Go on to explain that
when a light shines it is possible to see things clearly. When the Buddha
gained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, he could suddenly understand things
more clearly - it was like a lamp being lit in the darkness.
Buddhist temples there is often a Bodhi tree and lights are placed around it to
help people remember the Buddha and how he gained enlightenment under the Bodhi
Think about the dog tied to the tree. Ask the children to think
of themselves as the dog. What are the things or behaviour or desires that
spoil someone's life and keep them tied up like the dog? e.g. always wanting
what others have, being unkind to others, trying to be better than others. The
children might like to draw this as a picture after the assembly with the dog
tied to a tree in the middle of a page and all the things that tie them down
around the outside. You could do this as a full assembly activity with the dog
and tree represented on an OHP surrounded by suggestions from children about
the things that tie them down and make them unhappy.
Ask the children to sit quietly. Explain
that the Buddha is often seen sitting quietly, cross-legged, meditating. By
sitting quietly and breathing deeply he was able to clear his mind of all the
things that worried him and focus on the things that were important. Explain
that this is what Buddhists do today. Very often they focus on a particular
object in front of them, usually something beautiful like a flower.
Invite the children to do the same. Ask them to sit as quietly as
possible. Give them time to find a comfortable position. Suggest that if they
would like to they can close their eyes, or they can look at the focus object
you have put out for them. Explain that there will be a time of complete quiet
in which no words will be said. Invite them to try to clear their minds of all
the things that they're thinking about or worried about, and to focus instead
on the object in front of them. If they find this difficult, suggest that they
just keep as still as possible and enjoy the quiet all around them. Indicate
how they will know that the time of silence has come to an end, e.g. by blowing
out the candle, or covering the focus object.
Keep silence for as long
as is comfortable. At the end you could suggest that the children talk to their
friends and teachers after the assembly about the experience of trying to
meditate. What was it like, how did they feel, was it a difficult thing to do,
was it helpful to be still and silent? Explain that it does take a lot of
practice. They could discuss how noisy our world is and think about why many
people believe that being quiet and still helps them to cope with the busy,
Note: A useful resource on using silence to
develop children's spiritual awareness is Don't Just Do Something, Sit
There by Mary K. Stone (RMEP, ISBN 1085175-105-X)