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Thread: Hana Matsuri - Celebrating Buddha's Birthday (April 8th in Japan)

  1. #1

    Hana Matsuri - Celebrating Buddha's Birthday (April 8th in Japan)

    Dear All,

    April 8th is traditionally celebrated as Buddha's Birthday in Japan, where the day is known as Hana Matsuri (花祭り), or the "Flower Festival"!

    Our Zazenkai this coming Friday/Saturday will be dedicated to the celebration, in the best way possible ... Zazen ... so please sit with us when you can.

    One interesting fact about the Buddha's Birthday in Japanese Buddhism: the event is marked on a different day from most of the rest of Asian Buddhism, where the date varies year by year according to the lunar calendar, usually late April or in May in most other countries. However, having two or more birthdays is no problem for a Buddha! Truly, his/her/their birthday is your birthday, and all is born every moment. In 2021, Vesak, as the event is also known in much of Asia, will be celebrated May 26 in most places, sometimes with elaborate public festivities. In Japan, Hana Matsuri is not a public holiday, and is barely noticed by the general population, unlike many other places in Asia. Even in temples, it is usually celebrated rather quietly. In many temples, a small stature of the Baby Buddha is placed, and adults and children bathe the child in sweet tea.

    In some descriptions, the story is told 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.

    (from Thich Nhat Hanh's "Old Path, White Clouds")
    That is one version of the story ... and in many versions, it is further embellished, as the Baby Buddha is said to have been already walking and speaking wisdom 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. [This is the source of the tradition in Japan of bathing the Baby Buddha statue in sweet tea.] The baby Prince immediately took seven steps and seven lotus flowers sprang from beneath his feet.

    Flowers drifted down from the heavens. [The flowers in this scene are said to be the original of the name "Flower Festival"] 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."
    One need not take the symbolism of magic elephants, heavenly dragons and talking babies literally to realize that we will be celebrating together a truly monumental event!!

    In Zen teachings, we often say that the Buddha's Birthday stands for the ever renewing birth of all beings and all things in each moment.

    Gassho, Jundo



    By the way, we also have some suggestions for "At Home" family events to celebrate the holiday sometime this week with children, when the family is all together ...


    Some of the family ideas there include ...

    Bathing The Baby Buddha On the day of Vesak, participate in a ceremony (at home with your family) in which all participants bathe a figure of baby Buddha ...

    Celebrating Nature Vesak is a holiday of birth and Spring and ever new beginnings and hope for this world. Go outside with your family, if weather permits, and touch nature.

    Practice of Dana (Giving) As a family, make a donation of money, food, clothes, etc. to a foodbank, shelter, or other charitable organizations.

    Lighting Vesak Lanterns Make Vesak lanterns with the kids! INSTRUCTIONS ARE AT LINK ABOVE. Each family member should make one to symbolize both the Buddha's light and the light within each of us ...

    A Birthday Party For Baby Buddha! Celebrate the holiday with a typical child's birthday party, but with the Baby Buddha as the Birthday Boy! Invite other, especially Buddhist children. Cake and ice cream (in moderation) ...

    Read To Kids The story of Buddha's birth, early life and continue up to and slightly after, his enlightenment. This story can be found in a few different versions like "Becoming Buddha" ...

    Elephant Hunt Much like an egg hunt, families with small children could enjoy an "ELEPHANT HUNT" - elephants because Siddhartha's mother dreamt of a white elephant while she was pregnant with him ...

    Of course, a little family Zazen is always good too!

    Last edited by Jundo; 04-07-2021 at 06:15 PM.

  2. #2
    Thank you for the suggestions of ways to celebrate with family! I look forward to planing an outside activity and choosing a local charity to donate to with my family!

    Gassho, Jim

    Sent from my SM-T510 using Tapatalk
    No matter how much zazen we do, poor people do not become wealthy, and poverty does not become something easy to endure.
    Kōshō Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought

  3. #3

    Kaido (有道) Every Way
    Washin (和信) Harmony Trust
    I am a novice priest-in-training. Anything what I say must not be considered as teaching
    and should be taken with a 'grain of salt'.

  4. #4
    Just finished my annual Gotan-e celebration here at home, wirh zazen, Heart Sutra, Verse of of Homage to the Buddha’s relics, Life Span chapter and The harmony of difference and equality! Also, tea and fruit for the Buddha See you all tomorrow for more celebration!


    Join me on Insight Timer
    Help me feed those in need by joining my Share The Meal team HERE

  5. #5
    I recently found a tiny plastic baby that I guess got stuck under some flooring decades ago and it's in need of a bath! I'll clean him up and put him on my altar today.

    Happy birthday Butsu!



  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    In Zen teachings, we often say that the Buddha's Birthday stands for the ever renewing birth of all beings and all things in each moment.
    Thank you for this.

  7. #7
    Thank you everyone/
    Sat/ lah
    A monk asked Yun-men, "What are the teachings of a lifetime?" Yum-men said to him, "An appropriate statement." Zen Mondo

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