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Barbara O'Brien

Happy Birthday

By April 8, 2008

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Buddha’s birthday, often called Vesak or Visakha Puja, is celebrated on myriad dates by various schools of Buddhism. It most often is observed on the first full moon date of the fourth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, which in 2008 will be May 20. But in some parts of Asia the day falls a month or more either earlier or later.

Today, April 8, is Buddha's birthday in Japan. This is the day for Hanamatsuri, or “Flower Festival." It's a day featuring parades and the offering of fresh flowers at temples, in remembrance of the Buddha's birth in a grove of blossoming trees.

Another common ritual for Buddha's birthday is "washing" a figure of the baby Buddha with tea. As shown in the photograph, this baby Buddha figure stands, rather un-newborn-like, pointing up with one hand and down with the other. These and other traditions are explained in the story of the Buddha's birth.

According to myth, when the Buddha was born he stood, took seven steps, and proclaimed “I alone am the World-Honored One!” This part of the story is hard to square with Buddhist teachings on nontheism and anatman.

However, in Mahayana Buddhism it is said the baby Buddha was speaking of the Buddha-nature that is the immutable and eternal nature of all beings. On Buddha’s birthday, some Mahayana Buddhists wish each other happy birthday, because the Buddha’s birthday is everyone’s birthday.

Happy birthday!

Update: From the Chicago Journal:

A monk took a small statue of Buddha and placed it into a bowl decorated with flowers and filled with sweet tea. The monks took turns pouring water over the statue's head, bowing before each pour.

The tea-covered statue was approximately a foot in height, cast in bronze. The arms are pointed in opposite directions.

"He's pointing to the heavens with his left hand and pointing to the earth with his right," said Hiroko Sakomura, one of exhibition's organizers. "He is telling Queen Maya, [his mother], 'I will unite heaven and earth.'"

Photo Caption: Tea is poured over the figure of the baby Buddha.

Photo Credit: © Ximagination | Dreamstime.com

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