Photo of Hanamatsuri ceremony

The Birth of the Buddha is Significant Beyond Cake, Ice Cream and Birthday Candles

Rev. David Fujimoto
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Oftentimes, we are told the story of Hanamatsuri — the birth of Siddhärtha Gautama, who later became the historical Säkyamuni Buddha. It is a tale of the protagonist Siddhärtha Gautama, who was born over 2,600 years ago to Queen Maya and King Suddhodana of the Säkya Clan and is filled with wondrous tales and symbolism. What are we supposed to get from all of this?

We do know that it was tradition at that time for females to return to their hometown to give birth. However, Queen Maya stopped at the Lumbini Garden to rest. While there, she went into labor. It is said that the birth was painless and was met with many events. The earth is said to have trembled in joy and that many celestial birds appeared and sang. Additionally, beautiful flowers bloomed, and a sweet, gentle rain bathed the newborn baby.

It was in that moment, when the newborn child took seven steps as lotus blossoms bloomed under each step, that he viewed the four corners of the earth and declared, “In heaven above and on earth below, I am the most honored one. I shall dispel the suffering thatPhoto of lady celebrating Hanamatsuri with flower display fills the world.”

Those telling the tale through the generations have filled it with many metaphors that help us to understand how special he was going to be and help us understand the potential all of us have in common — the Buddha’s desire to save all of us.

What do these seven steps signify? The Buddha took these seven steps to signify going past or surpassing the seven types of suffering: birth, old age, illness, death, encountering things we don’t like, having to part with things and the inability to fulfill our desires.

In life, all of us come face-to-face with these types of suffering. However, the Buddha was able to overcome the hardships of these sufferings, and through the teachings he left behind for all of us, we are in better control to handle these situations.

In celebrating birthdays, we often get caught up in the pageantry of the party — the cake and ice cream, and the presents — just as Buddhists often get caught up in the splendor of the Buddha’s birth every April 8. However, the Dharma School teachers here at Mililani Hongwanji Mission always make it a point to remind our Dharma School students that we must not forget the appreciation and gratitude that is an integral part of celebrating birthdays, whether their own or their family members or friends, or even the birth of the Baby Buddha. It is a form of gratitude in the realization of just how wonderful is our birth, our life. And through that realization, we live our life applying the teachings of the Buddha to our everyday life.

The Rev. David Fujimoto is the resident minister of Mililani Hongwanji Mission. He has been a Shin Buddhist minister in Hawai‘i since 2010.


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