Celebrating Wesak Day in the new normal


Buddhists in Malaysia will celebrate Wesak Day, commemorating the birthday, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha, tomorrow at home in the new normal forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, without the usual temple festival and night float procession.

The Movement Control Order (MCO) over the pandemic may have been relaxed to the Conditional MCO up to May 12 to allow the restart of several economic activities but the prohibition on mass gatherings still stands.

As such, many Buddhists are turning to technology to participate virtually in e-Wesak services made available by temples and associations nationwide, carrying the theme Tolerance and Understanding Begins with Me.

Teacher Foo Yuan Han, 36, will miss meeting up with fellow Buddhists in the temple for the celebration.

“Usually Wesak Day is a time when all of us will gather at the temple to participate in prayers and bathe the statue of the infant Buddha by using fragrant water three times. But now, with the new technology, we can perform the great significance online and participate in these auspicious activities at home through the YouTube video and Facebook, as well as practise the Buddha’s teachings,” he told Bernama. 

Bathing the Buddha symbolises cleansing of body, speech and thoughts to eradicate anger, greed and ignorance in order to purify the mind to cultivate merits and wisdom. 

Insurance manager Lye Yik Ming, 32, has built an online platform for devotees to participate in Wesak rituals.

“I built it together last month with my wife who works in the IT sector. It is available in Mandarin and English in http://butterworthlaybuddhist.com under Butterworth Lay Buddhist Society e-Buddha Bathing.  Although we both work in the Klang Valley and can’t go back to our hometown in Butterworth due to the MCO, we still can participate and prepared this platform for the devotees to celebrate Wesak Day virtually,” he said.

Retiree Liew Yong Yu, 60, said this year’s celebration is a meaningful one as all the devotees can celebrate at home. 

“This is the time to practise ourselves to care for others, in order for us to stay healthy. We too have to ensure that the health of others is also maintained by celebrating this meaningful day at home. In fact, I can enrich my innermost being to understand and nurture reverence to Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha through online videos and virtual discussions during the MCO, ” he said.

Dr Tan Chan Sin, youth leader of the Perlis Buddhist Society, said Wesak Day will be celebrated online via Facebook with prayers done in the homes of Buddhists.

Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation Kuantan volunteer Ng Kim Hwa, 59, said Tzu Chi volunteers in Malaysia will perform the Bathing the Buddha ritual on Sunday that can be followed online by clicking on the Join the Ceremony button on its website.

She also said that Tzu Chi will also host an online Buddha Bathing-cum-Prayers event at 7 am on Sunday via live broadcast from the Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall in Hualien, Taiwan.

“I am looking forward to participating in the prayers because it will be a new experience for me. We might be seen as celebrating on a small scale because it is done in our house but I view it as bigger than the previous year’s because all Tzu Chi volunteers are praying simultaneously around the world,” she said. 

In Seremban, businesswoman Tok Pek Huang, 46, expressed gratitude that she is able to celebrate the festival with her family although not on a grand scale.

“We can still pray at home. More importantly, we have to pray for this (COVID-19) pandemic to end soon so that we can go about our lives as usual,” she said.

In Ipoh, priest Kantaksilo of Wat Siribunyamagaram in Jalan Tambun advised Buddhists to celebrate the festival at home, saying the temple has remained closed since the imposition of the MCO on March 18.

Malaysian Siamese Women Association Kelantan chairman KC Ngian Eh Kuan said that usually over 1,000 Buddhists will gather at Wat Machimmaram (Big Sitting Buddha) in Kampung Jubakar, Tumpat, but this year the prayers and celebration will be at home.

She said the usual celebrations such as CitraWarna Siam, Songkran and Loi Krathong were also not celebrated at the temple due to the MCO.