Marking Indonesia’s official celebration of Vesak this year, the Young Buddhist Association (YBA) organized a series of events for the public to enjoy, aiming to raise awareness of the universal values of Buddhism and to promote harmony within social diversity.
“The Vesak festival this year was held from 31 of May–4 June,” the YBS shared with BDG. “The event was a celebration for ‘Trisuci Vesak,’ which is held annually in a public area, with the aim of introducing Buddhism’s universal values to the general public, as well as holding a celebration and appreciation of the Buddhadharma. This year’s Vesak festival was conducted in the spirit of supporting and developing the beauty of life in diversity in Indonesia, with the theme ‘Harmony in the Middle Way.’”
The Young Buddhist Association (YBA) is the leading Buddhist youth organization in Indonesia. Through a deeply held conviction in the Buddha’s message of compassion, growth, and liberation, the association promotes a positive lifestyle among the young in order to cultivate a society founded on wisdom, compassion, and gratitude. The association is involved in establishing Buddhist organizations nationwide, propagating the study of the Dharma among young people, and providing leadership training.
“Vesak Festival 2023 introduced Buddhism’s universal values to the general public,” the YBA emphasized. “A series of interesting dioramas was created for the occasion, one of which depicted the birth of the future Buddha from the Chinese tradition. There was also a 12-meter-tall statue of the Buddha, a diorama of the Buddha’s mahaparinibbana, a Tree of Harmony, and Ashoka Pillars from the Indian tradition.
“We also prepared more interactive installations, including ‘Dharma Roulette’ in the form of a spinning Wheel of Dharma, and a Wishing Tree where visitors could write down their hopes and dreams of living in harmony.
“Visitors were also entertained by various exciting and attractive cultural performances that reflected moderation in Indonesia’s diversity: traditional East Javanese dance; interactive Angklung performances from West Java; Turkish Sufi dance; Wayang Potehi [Chinese puppet performances]; and lion dances. There were also children’s performances from local Buddhist monasteries, plus various activities to support the beauty of cultural, social, and religious diversity.”
Vesak is observed throughout Indonesia, where it is known as Waisak Day. It has been celebrated as a national public holiday every year since 1983. This year, Indonesia’s official Vesak celebration fell on 4 June.
“The first day of Vesak coincided with the 730th anniversary of Surabaya, which was livened up by the arrival of Surabaya’s mayor, Cak Eri Cahyadi, and Indonesia’s 22nd Minister of Religion, Dr. (H. C) K. H. Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, along with Sangha Bhante Elders, and other special honored guests, who rang a bell to officially open the start of Vesak Festival 2023,” the YBA related.
“Cak Eri gave a speech, noting, ‘Surabaya will be in the hands of Buddhist youths, as we, the youngsters, will be the ones leading the direction in which Surabaya heads—for better or worse, it’s all in the hands of the youth.’ Dr. Lukman Hakim observed: ‘It’s incredible, in my opinion, that the youths gathered here by the Young Buddhist Association are able to capture how these religious values can be shared and communicated through mediums that are familiar to today’s youth.’ We were even able to achieve a record for the tallest indoor Gandhara Buddha statue in Indonesia, which stood about 12.3 meters.”
Although officially a secular state, Indonesia is home to a diversity of communities and religious and spiritual traditions. Islam is the most widespread religion, observed by 86.7 per cent of the population, according to national data for 2018. Christian traditions account for a combined 10.7 per cent, Hinduism 1.7 per cent, and Confucianism, folk, and other traditions account for a combined 0.08 per cent.
Buddhism, practiced by 0.8 per cent of the population—roughly two million people—is the second oldest spiritual tradition in Indonesia after Hinduism. According to historical accounts, Buddhism first flourished on the archipelago around the sixth century, which was followed by ascent and decline of a number of powerful Buddhist empires, including the Shailendra dynasty (c. 8th–9th centuries), the Srivijaya empire (c. 7th–12th centuries), and the Mataram empire (c. 8th–11th centuries). Today, the majority of Indonesian Buddhists are affiliated with Mahayana schools of Buddhism, although communities of Theravada and Vajrayana practitioners also exist.
“By putting forward universal values that can be accepted by the general public, this festival was an open platform for cross-religious and cross-cultural collaboration,” The YBA explained. “We really hope that these activities can play a part in establishing tolerance amid differences, especially within Surabaya and its surroundings, and to help bring happiness and peace that will unite all religions in Indonesia.”
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