COLUMBIA — Paper lanterns and balloons adorn the ceiling.
Colored sand and face paints are set up for children on several tables. A cake featuring a brightly colored image of Buddha is placed in the dining area.
It’s time to celebrate Vesak at the Vipassana Buddhist Church’s Center for Buddhist Development in Jefferson City.
Vesak is a major Buddhist festival that celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. Although Vesak is a Buddhist festival, the center welcomes anyone to participate in the activities.
“Buddhism is pretty wide open,” said Dhammaruchi, whose real name is William Edwards. Dhammaruchi founded the center in 2001.
On Saturday, the center’s Vesak festivities were focused on children. One table was set up for face painting. At another table, children could create flags that resemble Tibetan prayer flags.
“Tibetan prayer flags are found at temples and national monuments like Mount Everest,” said Maridee Edwards, who is Dhammaruchi’s wife. “The flags are said to take your prayers off to the wind.”
A mandala, or sand painting, was crafted by some of the parents in attendance and by Dhammaruchi’s 13-year-old son, who is also named William Edwards. The mandala features an intricate design, requiring patience and steady hands.
“The mandala is my favorite part of the Vesak celebration,” William Edwards said.
Mandalas are an important art form in Buddhism. There are various forms and designs of mandalas. Once a mandala is completed, it is destroyed.
“Tibetans work sometimes for a month on a particular mandala, then a lama comes and destroys it,” Dhammaruchi said. “This is done to represent impermanence.”
Maridee Edwards came up with the design for the center’s mandala. She based the design on the Dharma Wheel, which symbolizes the endless cycle of birth and rebirth.
After the children are finished with crafts, the bathing of the baby Buddha takes place. A basin of water was set in front of figures representing Buddha at birth, enlightenment and death. Small cups were used to retrieve the water and bathe the figure of the infant Buddha.
After the bathing ceremony, everyone gathered in the dining area to eat cake and sing happy birthday to Buddha.
“I want to eat Buddha’s head!” Keeley Clark, 4, said.
Keely’s mother, Stephanie Clark, said she was glad there were activities for children at the celebration.
“Not only is this a time for the children to learn about the life of Buddha, it also gives them a chance to hang out with other children in a fun, relaxed environment,” Stephanie Clark said.
Saturday was just one of three days the center has dedicated to Vesak. On Friday, the center held a pizza and movie night. They showed the film “Seven Years in Tibet” and collected food and cash donations for the Samaritan Center of Jefferson City.
“We were pleased with the turnout Friday night, even though there were terrible storms,” Dhammaruchi said.
On Sunday, the Center will hold a tea ceremony. Dhammaruchi will also give a speech about his trip to the United Nation’s International Vesak Day conference in Hanoi, Vietnam. Dhammaruchi said he was the only Buddhist cleric from Missouri who attended the conference.
This year’s festivities were larger than the center has had in the past. The center was recently remodeled and is now larger.
“The center is a place that practices the teachings of Buddha with an open heart,” Dhammaruchi said. “Vesak is a chance to study the teachings of a man who lived over 2,500 years ago and changed lives and the destinies of nations.”