KUALA LUMPUR: It is the most important day of the year for Buddhists, yet the Maha Vihara Temple is silent, save for the chirping birds resting on the many trees on its sacred grounds.
For a second year running, Wesak, the day when Buddhists commemorate the birth, enlightenment, and passing of Gautama Buddha, is being observed in a low-key manner because of Covid-19.
This year, Brickfields’ narrow streets are clear. Only a handful of temple staff and monks are present at the temple, and there will be no float procession in the city centre.
Yet, Malaysia chief high priest K Sri Dhammaratana was grateful.
Dhammaratana says he, like all other Malaysians, is fortunate to be living in a multiracial and multireligious country where the people respect the faiths of others and are understanding of their religious practices.
“Usually, we have a big procession in the city centre on Wesak night. In the morning we have talks and prayers, and other activities at the temple. It is very festive.
“I have always appreciated that Malaysians are very understanding. When we have our processions you don’t have people honking or getting angry when traffic is blocked.”
He said prior to Covid-19, when thousands would throng the temple on Wesak, nearby Hindu temples and Christian churches would open their parking lots for their Buddhist brothers and sisters.
Dhammaratana who has been in Malaysia for over 50 years said the people of this country must treasure this.
The 73-year-old said the silver lining to the muted celebrations was that it allowed Buddhists to observe Wesak in a more spiritual manner.
This year, the temple held small-scale religious activities which were streamed on social media, while people were allowed to come to the temple in small numbers and give offerings until 2pm.
In accordance with Covid-19 rules, adherents had to check-in with MySejahtera, wear a face mask and maintain social distancing.
Still, it was a busy day for Dhammaratana. With the pandemic, he has turned to WhatsApp to stay connected with the community, some 60% of whom are senior citizens.
While speaking to FMT, he shared that he has over 1,000 unopened chats on WhatsApp. However, he said he did miss the usual atmosphere.
“That personal touch and presence is missing.”
Elsewhere, Wesak Day this year was truly a day of quiet contemplation as Buddhists around the country celebrated the day on a muted scale with the new normal practices in place.
Although devotees were not allowed to visit temples, the use of technology has helped them to take part in prayer services via online streaming, as carried out by the Subang Jaya Buddhist Association and Bandar Utama Buddhist Society.
Buddhist temples in Penang were mostly empty today despite it being Wesak Day, as the public are not allowed to take part in prayer activities.
Personnel from the Penang Island city council and police were seen conducting SOP checks at the Mahindarama Buddhist Temple in George Town.
Only the temple’s head and up to 10 committee members were allowed to conduct prayers inside the house of worship.
Meanwhile, Mahindarama Buddhist Temple representative Dr Surya Dharamdass urged the public to cooperate by adhering to the SOP and celebrate Wesak Day at home as the temple has made preparations for several activities such as the prayer and meditation retreat sessions to be conducted online.
In Ipoh, most Buddhist temples were closed to the public following the implementation of the enhanced movement control order in the Hulu Kinta subdistrict, covering Ipoh, Lahat, Chemor and Tanjong Rambutan in the Kinta district.
“Everyday, many people reach out seeking help and advice. A lot of the time, I’m serving the people on the phone and in person, advising people and giving spiritual advice to those facing family, career and relationship issues.”
Prayer services at the Wat Siribunyamagaram Temple, Jalan Tambun in Ipoh were conducted in full compliance with the SOP with only 10 committee members allowed to participate.
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