A funny thing about Buddha's Birthday in Japanese Buddhism ... it is on a different day from the day in most of the rest of Asian Buddhism, where the date varies year by year and the holiday is known as "Vesak". Vesak in Japan (known in Japan as Hana Matsuri ... Flower Festival) is celebrated on April 8th each year ... although he was born in late April or May in most other countries (having two or more birthdays is no problem for a Buddha. Truly, his birthday is your birthday, plus he is born every moment). It is not a public holiday in Japan, and is barely noticed by the general population, unlike many other places in Asia. Even in temples, it is usually celebrated rather quietly.
In some descriptions, the story goes like this ...
One day during a midsummer festival, his wife Queen Maya retired to her quarters to rest, and she fell asleep and dreamed a vivid dream. Four angels carried her high into white mountain peaks and clothed her in flowers. A magnificent white bull elephant bearing a white lotus in its trunk approached Maya and walked around her three times. Then the elephant struck her on the right side with its trunk and vanished into her.
When Maya awoke, she told her husband about the dream. The King summoned 64 Brahmans to come and interpret it. Queen Maya would give birth to a son, the Brahmans said, and if the son did not leave the household he would become a world conqueror. However, if he were to leave the household he would become a Buddha.
When the time for the birth grew near, Queen Maya wished to travel from Kapilavatthu, the King’s capital, to her childhood home, Devadaha, to give birth. With the King’s blessings she left Kapilavatthu on a palanquin carried by a thousand courtiers.
On the way to Devadaha, the procession passed Lumbini Grove, which was full of blossoming trees. Entranced, the Queen asked her courtiers to stop, and she left the palanquin and entered the grove. As she reached up to touch the blossoms, her son was born.
It is said that auspicious signs herald his birth, the sky was clear with brilliant sunshine, flowers bloomed and birds sang. Directly after his birth nine heavenly dragons appeared and emitted two steams, one cool and one warm, of the purest fragrant rain from their mouths that gently cascaded to bathe the newly born Prince. The baby Prince immediately took seven steps and seven lotus flowers sprang from beneath his feet.
Flowers drifted down from the heavens. The young Prince purified in body and mind from the rain, pointed one hand towards the heavens and one towards the earth and he said,
"Heaven above and earth beneath, I am the Honoured One, the One who liberates all who suffer in the Three Realms."
But whether with or without magic elephants, heavenly dragons and talking babies, we can be inspired by this truly wondrous story (or stories)
Oh, and today's talk is inspired by David Loy's little book 'The World Is Made Of Stories'