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Wesak: Buddhist celebration

Buddhist celebration of the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha (May)

by Jude Scrutton

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)

Aims

To know and understand the importance of key events in religious calendars.

Preparation and materials

  • Optional props you could use include a birthday cake, pretend wrapped birthday presents and a large map of the world, displayed, and a statue of Buddha, plus a small jug of water and a waterproof tray.
  • You will need a candle and means of lighting it and some gentle music to create the right atmosphere to help the children meditate.

Assembly

  1. Ask the children (and staff) to put their hands up if it is their birthday today.

  2. Ask the children to share how they celebrate their birthdays. Bring in the props listed above at appropriate moments, if using.

  3. Ask the children what is special about 25 December. You could ask them if they know what Mawlid celebrates (this is the birthday of the prophet Muhammad).

  4. Discuss the fact that 6 per cent of the people in the world are Buddhists. Ask the children if anyone can say where Buddhism originated? (India.)

  5. Explain that Buddhism is largely based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who was a prince, but left his life of luxury to embark on a long and hard journey to enlightenment. He was born somewhere between 563 and 483BC(historians still debate the exact date) on a day with a full moon. The young prince was named Siddhartha, which means ‘the one who brings all good’. His parents ruled a small kingdom in northern India.

  6. Wesak celebrates the birth of this prince who later became Buddha and is the most important of the Buddhist festivals for the millions of Buddhists around the world.In thousands of temples across the world, from Tokyo in the East to San Francisco in the West, Buddhists pay homage to this Indian prince who gave up the pleasures of a royal household to bring peace and happiness to humanity.

  7. Today, Wesak is celebrated with lots of colour and happiness. Homes are cleaned and decorated. In many countries, during the festival, Buddhists visit their local temple for services and teaching and give offerings of food, candles and flowers to the monks. Chanting and praying are an important part of Wesak.

  8. Stand the Buddha statue on the tray, together with the jug of water, if using.

    We pour water over the shoulders of the Buddha statue as a reminder that we need to purify our own minds of greed, hatred and ignorance. In Wesak, gifts are taken to an altar to be offered to the Buddha statues. This shows respect and gratitude to the Buddha for his life and teachings.

Time for reflection

Light the candle and play the gentle music you chose to help the children meditate.

Many people of faith spend a lot of time meditating, which is when you try to empty your mind of any distractions. For the next minute, I want you to try and think of nothing. Relax, breathing gently in and out, sit very still and perhaps close your eyes and think about the candle flame or look at it. Empty your mind and think about nothing. You may find it hard to do, but it gets easier with practice.

Alternatively, you might like to say thank you to God for Buddhists and the great influence they have in the world for peace. 

Prayer
(Buddhist Prayer for Peace)

May all beings everywhere plagued with sufferings of body and mind quickly be freed from their illnesses.
May those frightened cease to be afraid, and may those bound be free.
May the powerless find power, and may people think of befriending one another.
May those who find themselves in trackless, fearful wilderness – the children, the aged, the unprotected – be guarded by beneficent celestials, and may they swiftly attain Buddhahood.

Song/music

You could sing ‘Happy birthday’ to Siddhartha Gautama, Buddha and any children (and members of staff) who have a birthday today.

Publication date: May 2013   (Vol.15 No.5)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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