In the springtime, Buddhists throughout the world hold special observances in celebration of the birth of Sakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha who lived in Northern India roughly 2,500 years ago. Japanese Buddhist communities celebrate Sakyamuni Buddha’s birth on April 8, which is called Hanamatsuri, or the “Festival of Flowers,” inspired by the traditional account that flowers spontaneously bloomed at the moment when Sakyamuni was born. We hope you will be able to join us at the San Mateo Buddhist Temple for our Hanamatsuri Service on Sunday, April 12, 2015 at 9:30 a.m. This year, we will also have a special “Kids’ Hanamatsuri” for children to celebrate the birth of the Buddha with snacks, sweet tea and crafts from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 11.
Since the time of the Buddha, it has been customary in many Asian cultures for pregnant women to return to their ancestral home to deliver their babies. While on her journey home, the Buddha’s mother Queen Maya stopped to rest in the gardens of Lumbini, a site located in present day Nepal. We are told that while delighting in the beauty of the gardens, she gave birth to her son from her right side while standing up and holding onto the branch of a tree for support. Immediately upon being born, the future Buddha is said to have taken seven steps representing his resolution to transcend the six realms of death and rebirth. It is said that a lotus flower blossomed under each of those seven footsteps. We are told that he then raised one hand to the sky and declared, “Above the heavens and below the heavens, I alone am the Honored One.” Flowers bloomed and rained down as heavenly beings called devas and people of this world paid reverence to him. At that time, two pleasant streams, one warm and one cool, poured down from the sky to bathe the future Buddha.
In one sense, this story expresses the joy that all families feel with arrival of a new baby. Every baby that is born is a future Buddha. Each child should be nurtured and cared for as we would care for the Buddha himself. This means providing for each child’s material needs like food, clothing, shelter, and medical treatment. Beyond material needs, children also require a quality education, so that they can realize their true potential and a foundation of spiritual understanding. Providing children with a spiritual foundation does not mean religious indoctrination—it does not even need to occur in the context of an organized religious tradition. The important matter is to instill in our children a deep sense of gratitude for the precious opportunity we have received in this human birth.
We bring our children to the temple with the sincere hope that that through their encounter with the wise and compassionate teachings of the Buddha, that they may learn to see the world in the clear light of the Buddha’s wisdom. The compassionate eyes of the Buddha look upon each life with the same care and concern as if it were his only child. This is called the mind of nondiscrimation, the mind that has no favorites and despises no-one. In his Hymns on the Pure Land, Shinran writes:
When a person realizes the mind of nondiscrimination, That attainment is the “state of regarding each being as one’s only child.” This is none other than Buddha-nature; We will awaken to it on reaching the land of peace.
(Collected Works of Shinran, p. 350)
When we learn to gaze upon our own lives with these eyes of compassion, we see that in declaring “I alone am the Honored One,” the future Buddha is not implying that his life is more valuable than that of others. This declaration is expresses the truth that each individual life is precious. Inspired by the story of the Buddha’s birth, the poet Issa saw this truth reflected in the bamboo shoots that sprout in Japan around this time of year:
Even the lowly bamboo shoot takenoko mo
Proclaims to all the world: nanoru ka
“Truly, I alone am the Honored One!” yui ga dokuson to
(Quoted in Buddha’s Wish for the World, by Monshu Koshin Ohtani, p. 10)
Issa is said to have lived deeply in the Nembutsu, and many of his poems, like this one, describe the world viewed in the light of the Buddha’s wisdom. Each life is precious, no matter how humble. Each life is to be celebrated. Let us take this Hanamatsuri season as an opportunity to celebrate the birth of Sakyamuni Buddha, whose teachings help us to see that we live each day surrounded by beings worthy of being honored.
Namo Amida Butsu