Pin It
Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Celebrating the Buddha’s Birthday

By
Doug McLean/ raising-global-citizens

Throughout much of Asia, spring is the time to observe the Buddha’s birthday in Mahayana Buddhism. For Japan in particular, the ancient “8th day of the 4th month” has been updated to match the Western calendar, and thus every year on April 8th is the holiday of Hanamatsuri: the Festival of Flowers. The name derives from the story of the Buddha’s birth, when the gods of India scattered flowers from the sky in joy. Flowers are an ancient symbol of joy and celebration, and the birth of a Buddha is said to be extraordinarily rare in the world, so much so that the next Buddha (Maitreya) will not appear in the world for billions of years. The occasion is thus something not to be missed.

 

Throughout Japan, you will see small shrines in every Buddhist temple, featuring an image of the baby Buddha with one hand pointing upward, while the other points downward. This derives from the legend that as the baby was born, it took six steps and proclaimed, “Above heaven and below heaven, I alone am the world-honored one,” referring to his unique status as a Buddha-to-be. The baby statue is laden with flowers all around, and children and adults can pour a ladle-full of sweet tea over the statue as an offering and gesture of respect.

 

Unlike other Buddhist holidays, which can be more of a solemn affair, the Buddha’s birthday is festive through and through. I can remember in 2010, while staying in Tokyo, my wife, daughter and I spent Hanamatsuri at a famous temple downtown. In the morning, a service was held and new members were sworn in to the temple. But once this was over, the parking lot outside was treated to a parade from down the street, including a giant life-sized statue of an elephant, a royal symbol in India, and children dressed up and marching with batons. But this was only the beginning. The parking lot soon swelled with food stalls, including delicious Indian curry from the local Indian community in Tokyo, stalls selling Buddhist wares such as rosaries, prayer books and images, and even booths from the community firefighters and police force. Children could dress up as firemen, or ride in a real fire engine. Elsewhere in the parking lot, performances enlivened the atmosphere with Taiko drumming, demonstrations of the Tea Ceremony and so on. In the spirit of Buddhist compassion, one could also find other stalls where charity causes distributed flyers and pamphlets and sought donations for places like Afghanistan and Africa.

 

In the warm April heat, I remember my little one wearing her pink sun bonnet and enjoying ice cream, while being admired by Japanese grandparents who sat nearby. Her exotic looks and good behavior earned their adoration, but she didn’t seem to notice. She was too busy dancing to the Taiko drums. As for me, I wished I had brought some sunscreen that day as my European ancestry was becoming a liability in the hot Tokyo weather.

 

Of all the days I could remember in Tokyo, this was in some ways the most Buddhist. It was a gathering of the local community, all united in celebrating the birth of Shakyamuni Buddha, and enjoying the warm weather. As the Buddha wished for all beings to be well in the famous Metta Sutta, the spirit of the Buddha’s birthday is about happiness, sharing and wholesome, family-oriented fun.

 

Even with the tragedy in Japan right now, I know that from what I’ve seen in the past, people will come together for this one day and find some joy and relief in the world even in the midst of their loss.

 

While they cannot control what’s happened, they can still find peace through one another and strength through adversity. Even if the celebrations are not as lavish as they once were, it’s the people that matter. Life will carry on with or without the extra trimmings. This is something the Buddha taught and embodies the beauty of this holiday.

 

And for Buddhists around the world, may this coming holiday be a merry one for you too.

© 2011 – 2012, Doug McLean. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


Family History

Who knew that becoming a mother merged our histories of loss and grief

Ten Reasons Parents Should Read Multicultural Books to Kids

Why it's critical all parents read books that reflect diversity

Don’t Touch My Child! Lessons from Asia

Has the West taken fear too far?

How I Moved to Thailand with my Family on Less than $1000

It's cheaper than you think to make that move abroad you always dreamed about

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Doug McLean works as a computer technician for a large company in Seattle, and is a Japanophile and linguistics hobbyist in his spare time. He is now the father of one three-year-old princess, and a husband to a loving and down-to-earth wife. In his spare time, he enjoys blogging at Japan: Life and Religion, as well as amateur writing on the side. They are raising their daughter Buddhist.

Leave us a comment!









Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!



A Children's Book for Raising Global Citizens

Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!
For quite sometime, whenever there were articles that surfaced the internet concerning whether it was appropriate to breastfeed in public, I was so baffled. As a Mongolian, I was so shocked that som...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
For quite some whenever there was articles circulated on the internet concerning whether it is appropriate to breastfeed in public. As a Mongolian, I was so shocked that some countries considered i...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
I live with my Czech in laws with my four children and my Czech is crap I try to learn but the baby doesn't sleep well I'm a constant zombie and the brain just doesn't work. Plus being tired makes m...
From How I Reclaimed My House from My Mother-in-Law
I am so glad I found this site. I am happy to see that I am not alone in experiencing 'family issues' after getting married. I am not from the West but I am married to a Canadian. I never truly unde...
From How I Reclaimed My House from My Mother-in-Law
[…] my most favourite article about breastfeeding called Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan by Ruth Kamnitzer. I have no doubt that Mongolians would find our social stigmas around [R...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
[…] sources and reasons for the rules of these countries too, such as China, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, and Hungary (see above re “Titanic”).  Has anyone got s...
From International Baby Naming Laws–Are They a Good Thing?
[…] Source Inculture Parents […...
From Lotus Lanterns for Wesak (Buddha Day)
If your nerves shat down your hormones , can you get pregnant by injecting a sperm in you to develop a baby . Please let me know...
From Baby-Making the Hindu Way
[…] Diwali Lantern from InCultureParent […...
From Diwali Craft: Make a Lantern

More The Religious Life of Children