The Rissho Kosei-kai Dharma Center of Oklahoma
Buddhism & the Holiday of Vesak
Buddhism originated in northern India approximately 2,500 years ago. Siddhartha, who would later become the historical figure known as the Buddha (awakened one), was the first-born son of the king of the Shakya clan. At birth, Siddhartha was prophesized would either grow up to succeed his father as a great king or become a great spiritual teacher. As often happens with fathers, the king hoped his son would eventually take the throne.
Due to his father’s wishes, young Siddhartha’s life was spent isolated in the palace, busy with royal preparations and privileges that you would expect any prince to experience. While Siddhartha’s mother (Maya) died when he was a week old, he was otherwise sheltered from seeing anyone who was ill, advanced in age, or dying. Eventually, Siddhartha experienced and acted on his sense of curiosity about the outside world as young people typically do. His explorations outside the palace (a secret from his father) lead him to see the aspects of life he had been sheltered from.
The explorations outside the palace happened when Siddhartha was married and a new father. The images witnessed during his exploration, his desire to solve the problem of suffering, and now having a son to succeed him; compelled Siddhartha to renounce his life as a prince to go out into the world as a spiritual seeker. Being a seeker at this time and place in history involved taking on ascetic practices in an effort to overcome desire, self-centeredness, and suffering.
Siddhartha’s journey of ascetic practice was sometimes in isolation and at other times with a teacher (guru) and other students. Over the course of seven years, from the age of 28 to 35, Siddhartha studied, practiced, and denied his wants and basic needs for nutrition and shelter. Starving and near death, he sat under a bodhi tree to meditate with the resolve to not move until he became enlightened. By dawn the next day, enlightenment was achieved.
One of the primary insights of enlightenment as an individual was the solution to suffering is found in the middle way, rather than extremes of luxury or asceticism. Another insight of enlightenment related to community is that cessation of suffering involves living with a sense of generous donation towards all other beings. This lead the Buddha to teach over India for the next 50 years with this question in his mind and heart:
“How can I cause living beings to
Embark upon the unsurpassable Way
And quickly accomplish embodiment as buddhas?”
The Dharma Center of Oklahoma of the lineage of Rissho Kosei-kai (RK) is based in Tokyo, Japan. RK is a sect founded by Rev. Nikkyo Niwano and Rev. Myoko Naganuma in 1938. RK operates centers across the span of 5 continents in over 200 locations.
As a Mahayana Buddhist group, RK is composed of lay practitioners working to apply Buddhism to everyday life with the intention to positively influence our family homes and the communities we live.
You will find monks and nuns working in a monastic environment in Theravada Buddhism and parts of Mahayana Buddhism. RK identifies as Ekayana Buddhism in that we see all forms of Buddhist practice as a valid way of working towards enlightenment. The variations within Buddhism are a skillful means to best suit each individual. In regard to the inclusivity of faiths, RK is involved in interfaith efforts both locally and internationally, as was the lifelong wish and effort of Rev. Founder Nikkyo Niwano.
Just as the historical Buddha chose to diligently teach for the last 50 years of his life before his death at 85 years old, members of RK view human birth as an opportunity to share and continue the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha today.
The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to recognize and transcend causes of suffering through skillful action (karma = action). Skillful action is always composed of a balance of wisdom and compassion. Teachings such as the Seal of the Three Laws, Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, and Six Perfections guide practitioners in their actions.
Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world, with just over 500 million members. Buddhists are spread all over the Earth, and with such a wide geographic and cultural distribution, there are substantial variations from one region to another. Vesak (aka: Buddha Jayanti, Buddha Purnima, or Buddha Day) is a holiday observed in South Asia, Mongolia, and Tibet. This holiday commemorates the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death on May 8th of each year. Within RK, we reserve separate dates to commemorate these three events.
Some Buddhists are vegetarian, some believe in reincarnation (but not all), karma is not about revenge but more accurately about action as it relates to cause and effect. One universal trait of Buddhists is “Taking Refuge in the Three Treasures” (or jewels). The three treasures are the Buddha, Dharma (Teachings), and the Sangha (community of practitioners).
An often posed question about Buddhism is this: “Philosophy or Religion?” The answer will vary among practitioners and can change throughout the experience of one’s life. Change (impermanence) is a central aspect of Buddhism, along with interconnectedness. Impermanence is the basis for gratitude for all we have (while we have it). Interconnectedness is a reminder that the greatest joy of life to experience is providing peace and joy to someone else.
In RK, we regularly chant: “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo” to express the highest ideal of The Threefold Lotus Sutra that everyone contains the seeds (potential) to fully awaken to buddhahood and peace to be achieved in this world.
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