This weekend brought the biggest, brightest full moon for 100 years and right on Vesak Day. This moon’s closest approach to the earth in its elliptical orbit resulted in the largest apparent size as seen by us earthlings. Legends of the full moon’s effect on humans have long been debated. Interestingly the words “lunacy” and “lunatic” are derived from the same Latin root that gives us the word “lunar.” People have often attributed intermittent insanity to the phases of the moon.
The tsunami happened on a full moon day, and this last weekend astrologers were happily predicting an intense emotionally packed weekend. Although increased risk of events such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions were also predicted none of that came to pass.
Here in Dhaka, they call it Buddha Purnima or Buddha’s birthday. Most here in Dhaka have only a feint idea of Buddhism or what Vesak means to Buddhists. They are not that different from my co-workers in a library in Liverpool, UK. Many at that time knew little about Buddhism. I recalled how then my friend Angela tried to help me as I struggled to explain to a row of blank English faces what Buddhism was. She butted in saying “To know what Buddhism is you need to understand what this Buddha fellow (pronounced fellah) said….”
Buddhism thrived in Bangladesh region till the 12th century AD, an officially it is the third major religion. In the Chittagong division Buddhists make up about 12% of the population. The supermoon probably had some effect because I ended up visiting the Basabo Buddhist Monastery in Dhaka. My visit was arranged by my friend and colleague who is a Hindu and his wife a Muslim. We didn’t think of it then but as I write now I realise that we three represented the three major religions in Bangladesh.
There might be only a few Buddhists in Dhaka but the monastery was packed with people. It reminded me of past Vesak’s in Sri Lanka when we used to walk across Colombo to see the pandals.
The lights came on as we left, with crowds still streaming in. They came not dressed in white except for one elderly lady I saw lighting joss sticks. The clothes were colourful as always and there were plenty of cameras clicking away. My friends from Chittagong knew the young scholar priest Rev. Dharmananda and all of us joined another Buddhist who also came from Chittagong in a small ceremony to remember and bless our dead relatives. The monastery commenced in 1949 said another Buddhist dayaka who joined us and was pleased to know I was a Buddhist from Lanka. The priests chamber was a quiet haven amidst the throng of people outside. However, this was not the day for a discussion. We promised the young scholar priest that we would come for another visit to learn more about Buddhism in Bangladesh. I wanted to get back to the roof top of my apartment building to see the supermoon… Oops! I’ve come a full circle on this blog, so till next midnight blogging — bye.