There are a lot of holidays this weekend, Passover, Easter, and Vesak (Buddha’s birth) to name a few. As part of our ongoing diversity initiatives, a few members of our internal Diversity Task Force have written blog posts to share information and experiences around two of these holidays today. For more blog posts on diversity, click here.
The first part of today’s blog is on Easter, and is contributed by Austin Recovery’s Katie Compton, CFLE, and Parent Educator for our CRADLES project. The second part of the blog is on Vesak (Buddha’s birth) and is contributed by Lynda Guerrero, UR Account Specialist at Austin Recovery. Enjoy!
By Katie Compton, CFLE
What comes to mind when you think about Easter? As a child I often thought of Easter baskets, egg hunts, pastel candies, and bunnies. Then as a teenager, I transitioned to celebrating the end of lent, being a part of Passion plays at church, and the deeper meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. But, my most meaningful insight about Easter came when I visited Israel in my late twenties.
Easter is recognized as a defining moment in Christianity as it marks the day Jesus ascended to Heaven and brought new life to the world. Many Christians accept that Jesus traveled through Israel and spent much of his later time in Jerusalem but I was never before aware of the dispute surrounding the location of the crucifixion, entombing, and resurrection until I experienced my own voyage through the famous city of faith.
Many holy sites in Israel are shadowed with disagreements. Some as to which religion they belong to (like the Dome of the Rock), others as to differing scientific evidence (like the location of the city’s outer walls), and a few to varying cultural interpretations (like if Jesus was born in a cave). But the disagreement that brought the most interest to me was the debate between whether the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the Garden Tomb was the authentic place for Jesus’s last few days in Jerusalem.
First, I walked along the Stations of the Cross through the Muslim marketplace alleys that led to the church of the Holy Sepulchre where the Greek Orthodox Church recognizes both Golgotha (site of the crucifixion) and Jesus’s tomb. We waited in line to touch the “hole” from the cross and then moved to another space inside the enormous church that secures and protects the small burial tomb. Tourists from many religions took in the awe of the gilded walls, extensive mural paintings, and the realization that they may be standing where Jesus once was. The experience was overwhelming and left memories imbedded in all of my senses that I can still recall.
A few days later, we visited the “alternative” site of Calvary called the Garden Tomb. We were shown the claimed sight of the crucifixion from afar (it was on top of a mountain side) and then were taken inside their site of the tomb. They showed many facts and research that authenticated their site, understanding that it was not as well recognized. The atmosphere was as its name suggests, encompassed by a lush garden. As a part of this tour, the group shared a holy communion and we were given time to reflect in silence and prayer. The experience here was also overpowering and became quickly entrenched in my being.
From this experience, I have found the value of trusting my higher power and even rejecting tradition or scholarly knowledge as I allowed my soul to confirm where the authentic presence of God was for me. Words cannot describe the connection I felt with my savior and the flush of the Holy Spirit I sensed. I encourage followers of all faiths to visit Israel and experience the amazing journey through the holy sites so that you too can come to your own conclusion as to where the physical location of a Christian’s most spiritually significant story occurred, on Easter Sunday.
By Lynda Guerrero
Vesak is not necessarily a holiday as much as it is a festival that celebrates the life, journey and death of this worlds Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. It is celebrated in the spring at various points depending on which calendar the people follow. I know that some cultures will start to celebrate it in the next few weeks, but I usually observe it during the Indonesia Mahayana (a subdivision of Buddhism) festival. The festival is usually in may but because of leap year is in June this year.
Siddartha was born under very unusual circumstances. Queen Maha Maya had a dream that a large white elephant had used its tusk to open her right side and entered her body on the night Siddhartha was conceived. Queen Maya, waning to be close her family when the baby came, decided to journey to her father’s kingdom. On the way Siddhartha was born. While holding onto a Sal Tree, Queen Maya lifted her right arm and from her side gave birth to the miraculous baby.
Twenty-nine years after his birth the spoiled prince who had never seen unpleasantness went on a trip outside of the palace walls. On this trip he saw first and old man, then a diseased man, then a dead man. Not being familiar with these images he questioned his escort who explained that men age, get sick and die. Lastly he saw an ascetic, a person who lives with only what they absolutely need to survive. Overcome with sadness at what he had seen and confusion over the disparity between the village and the palace Siddartha decided to leave the palace. His journey then took many turns in search for the one truth. Eventually resolved to find the truth he parched himself under a Bodhi tree and there after 3 days he became fully enlightened in wisdom and compassion. This is the day he became Buddha. From that day forward he was resolved to help others reach a higher level of enlightenment in their own lives.
Buddhism is one of the very first world philosophies considered to be a religion. Many of the major world religions have fundamentals that can be traced back to Buddhism. It has influenced art, history, culture, family structure, and the image of self in the “Eastern” world and it continues to become more and more popular in the United States and the other “Western” countries Buddha Gautama is the embodiment of what each Buddhist practices to become. This festival honors the only person in this cycle to have accomplished that transformation.