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Buddha's Birthday

Buddha's Birthday Is Observed in Many Ways


Colorful traditional lanterns found all over the Beopjusa Temple in South Korea for Buddha's birthday.
MeganYoungmee/Wikimedia Commons

The birthday of the historical Buddha is celebrated on different dates by various schools of Buddhism. In most of Asia it is observed on the first full moon date of the fourth month in the Chinese lunar calendar (typically May). But in other parts of Asia the day falls a month or more either earlier or later.

Read More: For the dates of Buddha's Birthday, see "When Is Buddha's Birthday?"

Theravada Buddhists combine observance of Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death into one holiday, called Vesak or Visakha Puja. Tibetan Buddhists also combine observance of these three events into one holiday, Saga Dawa Duchen, which usually falls in June.

Read More: Vesak Puja

Most Mahayana Buddhists, however, separate observance of Buddha's birth, death and enlightenment into three separate holidays held at different times of year. In Mahayana countries, Buddha's birthday usually falls on the same day as Vesak. But in some countries, such as Korea, it is a week-long observance that begins a week ahead of Vesak. In Japan, which adopted the Gregorian calendar in the 19th century, Buddha's Birthday always falls on April 8.

Whatever the date, Buddha's Birthday is a time for hanging lanterns and enjoying communal meals. Joyous parades of musicians, dancers, floats, and dragons are common throughout Asia.

In Japan, Buddha’s birthday -- Hana Matsuri, or “Flower Festival” -- is celebrated every year on April 8. Those who go to temples bring offerings of fresh spring flowers.

Washing the Baby Buddha

One ritual found throughout Asia and in most schools of Buddhism is that of washing the baby Buddha.

According to Buddhist legend, when the Buddha was born he stood straight, took seven steps, and declared "I alone am the World-Honored One." And he pointed up with one hand and down with the other, to indicate he would unite heaven and earth. I am told the seven steps represent seven directions -- north, south, east, west, up, down, and here. Mahayana Buddhists interpret "I alone am the World-Honored One" in a way that "I" represents all sentient beings throughout space and time -- everyone, in other words.

The ritual of "washing the baby Buddha" commemorates this moment. A small standing figure of the baby Buddha, with the right hand pointing up and the left hand pointing down, is placed on an elevated stand within a basin on an altar. People approach the altar reverently, fill a ladle with water or tea, and pour it over the figure to "wash" the baby.

Read More: The Birth of the Buddha

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