On Sunday, April 10 at 9:30 a.m. we will gather at the San Mateo Buddhist in Celebration of the birth a very special baby. According to the traditional stories of the Buddhist tradition, this baby did something truly marvelous at the moment of his birth. Immediately upon being born, he is said to have taken seven steps and raising one hand to the sky, declared, “Above the heavens and beneath the heavens, I alone am the Honored One.” Flowers bloomed and rained down at that time as heavenly beings and people of this world paid reverence to him. He was given the name Siddhartha, which means, “he who has accomplished his aim.” His name was Siddhartha Gautama, and in his life he came to be revered as Sakyamuni Buddha, the Awakened Sage of the Sakya Clan.
Perhaps the most meaningful part of the story of the Buddha’s birth is his declaration, “Above the heavens and beneath the heavens, I alone am the Honored One.” These words are not meant to tell us how important the Buddha thought he was. These words tell us how much the baby Buddha meant to his family, and the people who were there at his moment of birth. They also tell us how important his life has been to Buddhists throughout the world whose lives have been guided by his teachings over the past 2,500 years.
The words “Above the heavens and beneath the heavens, I alone am the Honored One” express the way that loving parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and friends view a new baby who has come into their lives. Above the heavens and beneath the heavens, that new baby is truly a precious and honored person. Every new baby is born with the potential to one day become a Buddha. So we care for each child with the understanding that we are caring for a future Buddha. Just like the Buddha, we all have the potential to grow up and show wonderful kindness and caring for the people around us. But as newborn babies we need constant care and attention. Consider all the things we need to do to care for a baby—feeding, bathing, changing diapers, trips to the pediatrician, singing song and reading stories. Luxuries like uninterrupted sleep and movie theatres are temporarily set aside.
Each of us was once a baby. If you are reading this, you are alive today because someone cared for you as the “Honored One above the heavens and beneath the heavens.” Each baby is different and needs to be cared for in his/her own way. Just as we are all unique people, we were once unique babies. The way we treat a baby should be a lesson for us in the correct way to treat all people in our lives. I’m not talking about changing diapers and giving milk to drink in a bottle. Rather, we can treat all people as future Buddhas.
Each person who is born into human life has received the chance to become a Buddha. Shinran writes:
Considering then this human existence – hard is it to obtain; It is like the blossoming of the udumbara. Truly we have come now to hear the Pure Land teaching so rare to encounter; Truly we have encountered the opening of the dharma-gate of the nembutsu. (Collected Works of Shinran, p. 41)
Shinran compares receiving human life to the blossoming of the udumbara flower. The udumbara flower is a special flower described in the Buddhist sutras that is said to blossom only once every 3,000 years. So to receive human life is as rare as that flower blossom that comes only once every 3,000 years. Each of you is also a rare flower that has blossomed with human life through marvelous karmic circumstances.
How will you spend your precious human life? Who will you turn to for guidance? There are many wise teachings in the world that offer guidance in choosing the path of your life. The San Mateo Buddhist Temple is a place where we hear the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha. The Buddha calls us to recognize all the love and care that we have received in our lives from the people who have cared for us as the most Honored One, as a future Buddha. Likewise, we do our best to pass that kindness and caring on to all those future Buddhas we live with everyday at home, work, and school.
Namo Amida Butsu