The Pittsburgh Buddhist Center in West Deer on Sunday celebrated Vesak, a holiday that commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha.
“The belief is that all of these events happened on a full moon in May,” said Bhante Pemaratana, chief abbot at the temple, explaining Sunday is May’s full moon. “It’s a time for us to be grateful for the Buddha, because he rediscovered the idea we could be enlightened.”
The idea of enlightenment, Pemaratana said, means that people have room to evolve their minds and better cultivate compassion.
During Vesak, one of the holiest holidays in the Buddhist faith, people try to follow the practices of Buddha’s teachings, he said. That often includes practicing generosity, focusing on compassion and spending time in meditation.
Sunday’s services included meditations, discussions about the Buddhist faith and activities for children.
It’s tradition for children to make lanterns of perishable materials — such as sticks and tissue paper — that they decorate in honor of the Buddha, Pemaratana said. But, because they are perishable, they will decay.
“It’s learning about impermanence,” he said.
Monks often offer additional programs or participate in retreats to mark the holiday, he said.
For Pemaratana, the objective of Vesak celebrations is to encourage people to be more kind and to help them to be wiser and more intentional.
“Kindness and compassion is something you can grow,” he said.
Sunday’s celebration brought about 50 people, though the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center has about 100 consistent members, he said.
Padma Karunarante said she attends the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center regularly. She said she particularly enjoys discussions with messages that help her overcome challenges, and she was eager to commemorate Vesak on Sunday as a reminder of “what Buddha did for humanity.”
“It gives you a nice perspective,” she said.
Another element she loves about the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center is that it welcomes people of all religions and beliefs, she said.
“The best thing is you can be whatever religion,” she said. “You can come and get what you want.”
Pemaratana said people of any faith are welcome at the center, and people interested in learning more about Buddhism can call to schedule appointments for personal visits. The Pittsburgh Buddhist Center, he said, can help people find new perspectives or ways to come to terms with challenges they encounter in life.
“We like people to know more techniques to handle their emotions and stay balanced in these difficult times,” he said. “People’s lives are hard. Everyone goes through different hardships, pains and sufferings. Everybody needs a place to get some solace and a new perspective on their problems.”
For Ramona Fernando, the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center provides that. She is Catholic, but has been going to the center for about 15 years.
“I just came for interest’s sake, because it’s part of our culture,” she said, explaining she is from Sri Lanka. “It really filled my soul. It resonated with me. I like the Buddhist teachings. It’s another way of looking at things.”
For Nancy Sargent, who became a Buddhist at age 17, the faith helped her to find meaning in life.
“When I was young, I wondered why we were on this ball going around another ball in the middle of nowhere,” she said.
She tried attending various Christian functions and exploring different ways of thinking, but ultimately found purpose and comfort in Buddhism.
In addition to services at their West Deer site, the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center organizes meditations at local libraries, Pemaratana said.
Though the Vesak holiday was celebrated Sunday, the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center will be joining next week with other Buddhist organizations in the region to again commemorate the holiday and meditate for world peace.
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