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    Celebrate Buddha's Birthday (April 8th in Japan)

    Dear All,

    April 8th is traditionally celebrated as Buddha's Birthday in Japan!

    Our Zazenkai this Saturday is dedicated to the celebration ... please sit with us when you can ...

    A little more information on Buddha's Birthday ....

    A funny thing about Vesak (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. Vesak (also known in Japan as Hana Matsuri ... Flower Festival) in Japan 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 ...

    Vesak, or Visakha (pronounced way-sak), is a celebration that commemorates the Buddha's birth .... It is named for the month of May and is celebrated on the full moon, when the Buddha's mother is said to have given birth to him in a garden in the Himalayan foothills while en route to her parents' home. (for different schools of Zen, which is a tradition of the Mahayana school of Buddhism, the Buddha's birthday is celebrated according to a different calendar and falls on April 8th [Jundo, in Japan, where it is called "Hana Matsuri" ... the Flower Festival]; his enlightenment and death are also assigned to different days). According to most Buddhist calendars, he would be 2,548 years old this month.

    Vesak is the most important holiday in the Theravada Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia, though its observance varies from culture to culture. In the United States, it has become the occasion for a common celebration that unites different Buddhist traditions and schools, Asian and non-Asian, immigrant and convert, Theravadin and Mahayana .

    Vesak celebrations are a time for the rededication of one's commitment to the Buddha's teachings and to practice. At temples all over Southeast Asia and in the West, lay devotees clean the building and festoon it with lights and lanterns. Sometimes, a special pavilion is built for monks to sit on as they meditate and chant through the night. At Metta Forest Monastery outside San Diego, a monastery in the Thai Forest tradition, lay practioners come for a candle-lit procession, to make offerings, to chant, and to sit through the night in meditation. The celebration ends the following morning with a communal meal served to the monks by dozens of laypeople. "It is a time to honor the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha, and to recommit to practice," says Thanissaro Bhikkhu, the monastery's abbot. "Something like a New Year's resolution."

    No account of the Buddha's birth was recorded at the time, but Buddhist legend describes how the baby sprang miraculously from his mother's side, in what is today Nepal. Recent archeological research claims to pinpoint the exact location. In Thich Nhat Hanh's elegant telling of the life of the Buddha, "Old Path, White Clouds," he describes the birth like this:

    "Mahamaya, Siddhartha's mother [the wife of a great king of the Indian Sakyan clan], had a premonitory dream before giving birth to him: A magnificent white elephant with six tusks descended from the heavens surrounded by a chorus of beatific praises. The elephant approached her, its skin white as mountain snow. It held a brilliant pink lotus flower in its trunk, and placed the flower within the queen's body. Then the elephant, too, entered her effortlessly, and all at once she was filled with deep ease and joy.

    "The king summoned all the local holy men to divine the meaning of this dream. Their conclusion: 'Your majesty, the queen will give birth to a son who will be a great leader. He is destined to become either a mighty emperor who rules throughout the four directions, or a great Teacher who will show the Way of Truth to all beings in Heaven and Earth.'

    "It was the custom in those days for a woman to return to her parents' home to give birth there. Mahamaya...set out for Ramagama, the capital of Koliya. Along the way she stopped to rest in the garden of Lumbini. The forest there was filled with flowers and singing birds. Peacocks fanned their splendid tails in the morning light. Admiring an ashok tree in full bloom, the queen walked toward it, when suddenly feeling unsteady, she grabbed a branch of the ashok tree to support her. Just a moment later, still holding the branch, Queen Mahamaya gave birth to a radiant son."

    The story goes that sages arrived at the scene and washed the baby in perfumed water (which is why practitioners of Zen and other Mahayana schools celebrate the birthday by pouring water over a figure of the baby Buddha). Then Mahamaya's attendants wrapped him in silk and carried him to the palace. But seven days after the birth, Mahamaya died (there is no account of how or why), and her sister, Mahapajapati, who was also married to the Buddha's father, became his surrogate mother. After the Buddha's awakening, when he began to teach, Mahapajapati became his first woman disciple and led the order of bhikshunis, or ordained nuns.
    Anyway, that is one version of the story ... and it leaves out the part where he was said to be walking and talking at birth ...

    ... 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 will be celebrating together a truly monumental event!!

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 04-05-2013 at 04:19 AM.

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