Buddhist monks praying on Vesak Day are streamed on social media by a volunteer at the Buddhist Maha Vihara temple in Kuala Lumpur on May 7, 2020. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu

Malaysian Buddhists celebrate Vesak from home during pandemic

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (RNS) — With all temples in Malaysia closed to the public in an effort to curb the coronavirus outbreak, the country’s 5.4 million Buddhists — the second largest faith group in the mostly Muslim nation — observed Vesak, or Buddha Day, from home this year. This important holiday commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha. 

Mala, 43, has been volunteering during Vesak Day at the Maha Vihara temple in Kuala Lumpur for six years. She prayed in the temple pagoda for the coronavirus pandemic to end and for world peace. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu

Some prominent Buddhist temples broadcast their Vesak ceremonies on social media to worshippers celebrating from the safety of their homes. “We are here to serve the people in unpredictable times. Even if people cannot come in person, we try to offer them ways to participate in the celebration using technology,” said Sri Dhammaratana, chief high priest of Malaysia.

As in other faiths around the world, worshipping via internet has its challenges and its opportunities. “This year with COVID-19 is an eye-opener for us, as we are trying our best to reach our audience online,” said Dhammaratana. “Sometimes 100-200 people come to the temple for service, while online 400-500 people participate, so we must be prepared to reach them in the future by new means. They have the opportunity to learn about the teachings of Buddha using modern technology, so we are planning to implement this on a regular basis for the future.” 

Monks at Kuala Lumpur’s Thai Buddhist Chetawan temple stream mantras on social media on Vesak. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu

Malaysia, with about 6,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases to date, has been under a lockdown order since March 18 and has seen a steady decrease in the number of new daily cases. Buddhists who usually crowd their local temples for Vesak donated online to have oil lamps lit for their loved ones, and sent Vesak wished to be printed and hung in wishing trees by temple volunteers.

Buddhist monks pray during Vesak, or Buddha Day, ceremonies, on May 7, 2020, in Kuala Lumpur. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu

This story has been updated to correct the name of Sri Dhammaratana. RNS apologizes for the error.