Today was a special day at the Buddhist Temple of Chicago. Today we celebrated the birth of the Buddha. Most Buddhist congregations celebrate the Buddha’s birthday sometime in April or May. The happy occasion is called Wesak, in the Japanese tradition it is called “Hanamatsuri” which translates to “The Flower Festival”.
The name Hanamatsuri derives from the story of Buddha’s birth. The story says that when the Buddha was born, the Earth was so glad that flowers sprang forth in full bloom. This show of joy of Earth manifested itself because there had not been a real Buddha on Earth for centuries. The deities, too, were also so happy that they sent a shower of green tea accompanied by music. It is all very festive. (The Deities come from Japanese Mythology and are part of the Japanese culture not Buddhist)
This festive event, actually a birthday party, is for, Gotama Siddhartha Shakyamuni, a real human being who was like us was not always a Buddha. He, just like us, shared in Samsara (the cycle of all life, that is birth, growth, illness and challenges, aging, death and rebirth). Humans share this cycle with all forms of life, and non-living things like mountains and stones—and the waters of the earth. In fact our whole planet and Universe goes through the same cycle of impermanence.
In the teachings of Shinran, by living our lives in the spirit of a Bodhisattva we help recycle (teach) the truth of Amida’s Bodhisattva Vow. By living such a life we bring the Dhamma (Dharma) back into the world of suffering humanity. This program can start at any point on the cycle of, in fact it embraces the whole process as it is.
So when you sing “Happy Birthday to the Buddha” in your Hanamatsuri service, sing your heart out and enjoy the day, it could be the starting point of something very important.
Happy Birthday Buddha.
The images below are of the Dharma School children performing Kambutsu. This represents the washing of the newborn baby Buddha.