In the month of April we hold our Hanamatsuri Service celebrating the birth of Siddhartha Gautama 2,645 years ago in Lumbini, Nepal. One who diligently progresses on the path to Buddhahood over the course of many lifetimes is called a bodhisattva. The Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (The Larger Sutra) provides the following description of a bodhisattva’s birth in the lifetime in which they will attain awakening:
Immediately after [the bodhisattva’s] birth from [his mother’s] right side, he walked seven steps. A brilliant light shone from his body, illuminating all the ten quarters, and countless Buddha-lands shook with six kinds of tremors. He then said, “I shall become the supremely honored one in the world.”
(The Three Pure Land Sutras: Volume II, pg. 5)
This description seems improbable from a modern scientific worldview, but these words are an expression of religious truth rather than scientific fact. Scientific facts are based on empirical observations, such as what we can see with our eyes, hear with our ears, or measure with our hands. From that perspective this life begins the moment we are born with this body and ends at the moment of death. This way of viewing the world is limited by what can be measured.
Religious truth expresses the unseen reality that moves our hearts and minds. The truth taught by the Buddha arises from insight into the working of causes and conditions. For example, cherry blossoms bloom due to the causes and conditions, such as soil, rain, and sunlight. While it is possible to provide a scientific explanation for how flowers bloom, we cannot predict the precise day, hour, and minute when a certain blossom will open. This human I receive has come to be through the flow of causes and conditions going back long before my father met my mother, and before my grandfather met my grandmother. Moreover, this life of mine has continued down to the present moment thanks to the support I receive from countless other lives including the plants and animals that nourish my body and the trees that give off oxygen for me to breathe.
An honored life is one that is an expression of this religious truth. Siddhartha’s birth in this world was the culmination of countless lifetimes dedicated to seeking the path to awakening. The life he would lead settled on that path is expressed in the words, “I shall become the supremely honored one in the world.” All of our lives have been sustained by countless causes and conditions, so we too have the potential to realize that honored life.
How, then, are we to lead an honored life? There are many goals that we can strive for during this lifetime. One might seek a life of comfort and pleasure, or work to accumulate wealth, fame, or power and influence. Looking once again to the description we find in the The Larger Sutra of the life of one settled on the path of the Buddha, we find the following words: “Without being asked, they gave the Dharma to the multitude of beings, just as dutiful children love and respect their parents. They looked upon all sentient beings as their own selves.” (The Three Pure Land Sutras: Volume II, pg. 10) Here we see that the honored life of a Buddha is not one dedicated to attaining pleasures, wealth, fame, or power. It is a life dedicated to compassionately helping others.
After realizing awakening seated under the Bodhi Tree at age 35, Siddhartha dedicated the rest of his life to teaching the path to liberation from suffering. From that time, down to the present he has been revered as Sakyamuni Buddha, the Awakened One, Sage of the Sakya Clan.
Sakyamuni Buddha is a great hero to all those whose lives are guided by the wisdom and compassion of the Dharma he taught. His teachings have provided the strength and clarity needed to face great challenges for people of all walks of life through the generations. Those teachings show us the way to realize the honored life of awakening for ourselves.
Namo Amida Butsu