June 28th, 2010
11:57 AM ET

A Buddhist celebration in Sri Lanka

Editors Note: CNN Assignment Editor Maggie Mazzetti recently returned from Sri Lanka and filed this report.

The sharp crack of fireworks punctuated the night sky and drew my attention to the other side of the street.  People who had gathered to watch the Vesak ceremony quickly moved out of the way as a shower of sparks rained down onto the sidewalk.

About 10 yards down the road, a second firework erupted, sending another group scrambling for cover.  Over the loud speaker, the droning chant of the Buddhist monks inside the main temple grew louder.

As a murmur went through the crowd, I got up on my tiptoes to see what was going on.  The throbbing sound of drums announced a throng of ornate dancers emerging from the temple entrance.  As they moved through the crowd, I noticed that they were only the beginning of a large procession.

Orange-clad monks and prominent political figures followed in front a large tusked elephant, decked out in red robes that covered his entire body and face.  As the parade turned the corner and moved away from us, I turned to our guide.  "Kanishka," I asked, "should we follow them?"  He smiled and pointed down the street.

Off in the distance I could see the spinning orange-yellow glow of fire dancers.  The beating drums, whilst growing distant, could still be heard.  Kanishka leaned close to me so I could hear him.  "Don't worry," he said, "the parade will come back this way,"

Last month, I traveled to Sri Lanka, a prominent Buddhist nation that houses some of the religion's most important relics and sites such as a Bodhi tree, believed to have been cut from the one under which the Buddha himself had sought enlightenment. We planned to travel the whole month of May, a month considered very lucky by Buddhists.

It is around this time that the first full moon marks Vesak, the annual holiday that celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha.  Weeklong celebrations ring out in Sri Lanka’s major cities and lavish parades and lantern displays pay homage to the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings of Buddha), and the Sangha (the community of Buddhists).  It was in the capital city of Colombo that I found myself on this particular holiday.

A rush of intense heat whipped my head around to face the oncoming parade.  With their faces wrapped in red rags, an endless line of men marched by on either side of the street.  Each one balanced a heavy, cast-iron fire basket on one shoulder.  Many of them looked seemingly ancient.

I looked at the faces of the people standing beside me.  To my left, a proud father was holding a baby who couldn’t be more than a year old.  She looked mesmerized by the spectacle unfolding in front of her.  I smiled, realizing that she too was seeing it all for the first time.  The drums were getting louder.  As I turned from the child, the crack of fireworks announced the parade’s arrival.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Buddhism • Holidays

soundoff (90 Responses)
  1. ganga

    Good place to talk about Buddhist issues for Sri lankans.


    September 15, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
  2. TygerTyger

    Can you describe a main difference between Buddhism and Hinduism? I don't know much about Hinduism, except it seems to have more emphasis on deities.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:38 pm |

      Buddhism is somewhat of a individual spin-off of Hinduism. It's like do-it-yourself enlightenment, while Hinduism rests more on trust and devotion to Higher Beings, such as gods and ultimately God Himself.

      July 15, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  3. VedicIndian

    There was nothing to suggest in vedic culture that people couldn't follow their respective beliefs. Therefore, the idea was, "Choose a path and stick to it but if you cant justify it to your conscience, find another." That said, Buddhism is just another philosophy attached to Hinduism. It is not even considered a separate religion In India by the masses because "Om" is the mantra that binds all people of vedic culture and all meditation practices that believe in it and vedic. Buddha never wanted to start a religion. He was a philosopher, a saint, a holy man who had attained Nirvana and became God, and as per vedic texts, an incarnation of God Vishnu. He just wanted people mired in meaningless rituals to understand the true meaning and power of meditation.

    June 30, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  4. secular

    There is lots of common among Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity. Check when was favorite weekday of God Mithra (Sunday), when was Mithra born "Solstice" and aligned to 3 start, 3rd day after winter solstice. And lot other practice which are adopted in Christianity...

    June 30, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
  5. TygerTyger

    As Mat and Bloke point out, Buddhism is NOT about nihilism or not-thinking, nor other popular misconceptions such as "going with the flow". Here are just a few of the many references to this fact:

    From the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment:

    "The second is the fault of allowing things to be as they are. If a man says: "I neither wish to sever birth and death nor seek nirvana. There are no conceptions of samsara and nirvana truly arising or perishing. I allow everything to take its course with the various natures of dharmas in my quest for Complete Enlightenment," this is a fault, because the nature of Complete Enlightenment does not come about through accepting things as they are."

    "The third is the fault of stopping. If a man says: "In my quest for Complete Enlightment, if I permanently stop my mind from having any thoughts, then I will attain the quiescence and equality of the nature of all [dharmas]," this is a fault, because the nature of Complete Enlightenment does not conform with the stopping of thoughts."

    "The fourth is the fault of annihilation. If a man says: "In my quest for Complete Enlightenment, if I permanently annihilate all vexations, then my body and mind, not to mention the illusory realms on sense faculties and dust, will ultimately be emptiness and utter nothingness. Everything will be [in the state of] eternal quiescence," this is a fault, because the nature of Complete Enlightenment is not annihilation."

    From the Lankavatara Scripture:

    "By the cessation of the sense-minds is meant, not the cessation of their perceiving functions, but the cessation of their discriminating and naming activities which are centralized in the discriminating mortal-mind."

    From the Discourse on Prajna in the Platform Sutra:

    "Learned Audience: when you hear me speak abou the void, do not fall into the idea that I mean vacuity. It is of the utmost importance that we should not fall into that idea, because then when a man sits quietly and keeps his mind blank he would be abiding in a state of the "voidness of indifference." The illimitable void of the Universe is capable of holding myriads of things of various shapes and forms..(here he goes on with a list). Space takes in all these, and so does the voidness of our nature."

    June 29, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.