Most Buddhist groups celebrate Buddha’s birthday in April-May. The happy occasion is called Wesak. The Japanese call it Hanamatsuri, the Flower Festival.

The name Hanamatsuri derives from the story of Buddha’s birth when the earth was so glad that flowers sprang forth in full bloom. This joy of Mother Earth came about because there had not been a real Buddha on earth for centuries. The deities, too, were also so happy that they sent a shower of green tea accompanied by music. It is all very festive.

This festive event, actually a birthday party, is part of a total stream of experience by one, Gotama Siddhartha Shakyamuni, a real human being who was not always a Buddha. He, just like us, shared in the cycle of all life, that is birth, growth, illness and challenges, aging, death and rebirth. We share this with all forms of life, even with non-living things like mountains and stones—and the waters of the earth. They all go through this same experience. In fact our planet earth goes through the same cycle. As a Buddha, Shakyamuni, shared this with everything, pain, insecurity and joy, all in all.

Actually it is all one stream of being. It should be written: à birth-life-reproduction-aging-death-rebirthà. It sounds like a drag. It is a drag indeed if we don’t wake up and don’t experience it as a cycle of liberation so that hope, love and release emerge. One of the main purposes of the Buddha Dharma is to shift the cycle onto another track.

In the teachings of Shinran, our lives in the nembutsu become part of a recycling of the truth of Amida’s Bodhisattva Vow back into the world of suffering humanity. And this recycling program can start at any point on the cycle of à birth-life-reproduction-aging-death-rebirthà. In fact it embraces the whole process as it is.

So when we sing Happy Birthday to the Buddha in our Hanamatsuri service, sing your heart out.

Enjoy the day, it could be the starting point of something very important.

Happy Birthday Buddha.

Sensei Ulrich
April 19, 2009