Shepparton Buddhists celebrate Vesak

Buddhist Association of the Goulburn Valley founder and president Sam Atukorala at Vesak 2021.Millions of Buddhists worldwide celebrated Vesak Day on May 26 — the day of May’s super full moon and lunar eclipse — but Victoria’s snap lockdown forced the Buddhist Association of the Goulburn Valley to cancel plans. Patiently they waited for a time when it was safe to observe the festivity.

Vesak is an officially recognised United Nations observance that commemorates the birth, enlightenment (nirvana), and death (parinirvana) of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Association president Sam Atukorala said Vesak was the most important festival on the Buddhist calendar, yet organisers did not allow themselves to despair when it was postponed.

‘Buddhism is about simplicity, letting go, not attaching yourself to emotions and physical things and people,’ he said. Mr Atukorala said becoming attached to too many things could cause grief when those things were lost, and organisers took a calm approach to rescheduling. ‘We thought okay, yes, it’s something that we have to deal with because the health is the most important thing,’ he said.

One month later, Shepparton’s Vesak celebration was given the all clear to go ahead, albeit with strict capacity limits. Buddhist religious rituals and Vesak speeches were held at the Shepparton Senior Citizens’ Centre on Saturday, June 26, before the group moved outside, where the lantern festival cast a peaceful glow in Queen’s Gardens.

Mr Atukorala said celebrating in a garden was important to his community, who were connected to nature through their spirituality. ‘Buddha was actually born under a tree, got enlightened under a tree, and passed away under a tree,’ he said. ‘His teaching was to be natural.’ Without access to a temple or a Bo tree — the sacred type of fig Buddha sat beneath — the Buddhist community chose Queen’s Gardens as the next best spot to light lanterns at dusk. ‘It is beautiful, I can’t actually explain how charming it is,’ Mr Atukorala said.

A sermon from internationally regarded Buddhist monk Galigamuwe Gnanadeepa Thero was delivered via video — his first in English. ‘Buddha said our suffering is created by our own mind . . . one has the capacity to rise above the suffering and experience true happiness and face the nirvana,’ he said. ‘These colourful decorations and peaceful gatherings symbolise how grateful you are for his timeless teachings.’

Mr Atukorala said it was a quiet and peaceful event, and attendees found a sense of calm through chanting and meditation. He was proud and grateful for the help from the community, from the food to share brought by Nattaya Tranter of Shepparton’s Aloi Thai restaurant, to powerful outdoor heaters donated by Shepparton doctor Nihal Nanayakkara. Vesak 2021 was also supported by Greater Shepparton City Council, the Ethnic Council of Shepparton, People Supporting People, Shepparton Interfaith Network, Victoria Police and the local Buddhist community.


Buddhists at Queens Gardens
Celebrations: The Buddhist Association of the Goulburn Valley gathers at Queens Gardens, Shepparton


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founder and president Sam Atukorala at Vesak 2021.

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