My first time celebrating the Birth of the Buddha was in 2010 at the Shinnyo-en Buddhist temple in White Plains, NY. The Feast of Buddha's birth is called Hanamatsuri--the Flower Festival--in Japan.
The women of the temple volunteer in an event that is called gohashi. They hand-make the paper flowers that adorn the roof of the hanamido--the small blossom altar that houses the baby Buddha statue. Creating these beautiful flowers was an exercise in beautifying our hearts and minds.
A sweet tea with flower petals was made to use for the bathing of the new-born Buddha. The tea was known as amacha, which is made from fermented hydrangea leaves. This sweet tea is associated with the alternating warm and cool rains that Sāgara--the Dragon King--sent in celebration of the Buddha's birth, and is also known as the dharma water of Amrita.
The Sanskrit word amrita mean "immortality" and refers to an elixir of perennial youth and longevity that bestows immortality. Over time the word came to be associated with nirvana, which itself is ever-present, enduring, and transcends death.
For Mahayana Buddhists the popular tradition is to pour water that has been scented with flower petals over a statue of the baby Buddha, three times. This ritual symbolically purifies our body, speech, and mind in accordance with the Buddhist path and teachings.
As you poured the offering over the head of the newborn Buddha this year, I hope you made a sincere vow in your heart to convey the teachings of our timeless spiritual masters to as many people as possible so that they too may attain liberation and awakening.
Rev. Anwol Devadipa
Buddha's Birthday is a major Buddhist holiday and observed on different dates throughout East Asia. In some, primarily South East Asian countries, Buddha's birthday is celebrated as part of Vesak, which is a festival combining Buddha's Birth, Awakening, and Death. It is poignant to note that this year was the first time a Buddhist holiday, Vesak, was celebrated in the White House, with Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana representatives to participate. This is a good indicator that Buddhism is finding a home in the United States.
Buddha's birthday is officially celebrated as a national holiday in South Korea and observed widely throughout Vietnam on the 8th day of the 4th month of the Lunisolar Calendar. In 2021 Buddha's Birthday is on May 19th. Lotus Heart Zen typically observes the holiday on the same date since our practice lineage comes from Korea and Vietnam.
How Buddha's Birthday is celebrated differs from country to country. In South Korea, the Lotus Lantern Festival draws people from around the world to Seoul on the Saturday before Buddha's Birthday to enjoy a huge parade of 100,000 or more individuals carrying beautiful glowing lanterns. Each lantern represents one's commitment to the practice of dharma and the light of Awakening. Temples and homes also hang lotus lanterns during the whole month. The temple lanterns often have paper cards hanging from them with blessings that individuals, families, and businesses pay for financial help to the temple and to spread good merit. On the date of the holiday, many temples provide free breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Buddha's Birthday has such a long history in Korea that it is as much a cultural holiday as a religious one, celebrated by those of all religions.
In South Vietnam Buddha's Birthday is no longer a national holiday, but it is still quite popular. In addition to temples offering free meals, pagodas around the country are decorated and temples hold celebrations, with religious rituals and services, as well as lectures about the Buddha's teachings. One of the most important rituals is Bathing the Baby Buddha, in which a statue depicting a juvenile Buddha is ceremonially bathed with flower perfumed water. Additionally, it is a time when lay practitioners volunteer their time to help clean the temple and decorate the altars.
The Lotus Heart Zen sangha has celebrated Buddha's Birthday in a variety of ways, one year we made lotus lanterns and decorated the practice room with them. In more recent years we have held the Bathing the Baby Buddha ritual and offered the Threefold Refuge ceremony for those wanting to become Buddhist practitioners.
Last year, we didn't have a Buddha's Birthday celebration of any kind. Initially, we all believed by May (when the holiday was going to be observed) we would all be able to practice together and the True Nature Zen sangha from Maine would be coming down to celebrate with us. None of us really knew the extent to which the pandemic would be altering our lives at that time. But as our practice proves, all things are impermanent, and the situation we all found ourselves in last year has changed. Our situation is not back to how it was before the pandemic, and truthfully, we will never return to the way things were. But we can embrace the return to in person practice while it's safe and we are careful.
This year we will be celebrating Buddha's Birthday on Sunday, June 27th. The service will be held both in person at the temple and online via Zoom. Those who come in person will have been fully vaccinated, healthy, and free from exposure to the virus. After the service will be fellowship, food, and celebration. This part will not be held online.
Over the next few weeks planning will take place--it will be a group effort to offer a beautiful and meaningful ceremony for the Lotus Heart Zen Sangha! I hope you will participate!
Yours in the dharma,
Ven. Myohye Do'an
A Blessing for the New Year
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
The gray window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colors,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the curragh1 of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the presence of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
~ John O'Donohue
1. (Irish/Scottish) a small round boat made of wickerwork covered with a watertight material, propelled with a paddle (also spelled: currach)
Happy New Year 2021!
There is much to do as we begin to recover from 2020. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to focus on this year. From my files I found the Blessing that sparked my desire to renew my commitment:
We hold the Earth. We hold sisters and brothers who suffer from storms and droughts intensified by climate change. We hold all species who suffer. We hold world leaders delegated to make decisions for life. We pray that the web of life may be mended through courageous actions to limit carbon emissions. We pray for right actions for adaptation and mitigation to help our already suffering earth community. We pray that love and wisdom might inspire my action and our actions as communities so that we may, with integrity, look into the eyes of brothers and sisters and all beings and truthfully say we are doing our part to care for them and the future of the children. May love transform us and our world with new steps toward life."
(From Interfaith Power and Light www.newyorkipl.org)
May you all have a healthy and safe New Year.
As we enter the final month of the calendar year 2020, I think we can all agree that this has been a unique year for all of us. We have had to adapt to a lot of change and process a lot of losses. The events and situations of 2020 have tested each of us multiple times in varying degrees. I am sure many of us would be happy to say goodbye to 2020.
Preparing to enter 2021, we might be hesitant to hold expectations for things to get better or worse. And it is wise to refrain from holding any expectations, as doing so risks increasing our suffering, especially if what we expect doesn't come to be. But refraining from holding onto expectations doesn't mean we are only to fly by the seat of our pants. It doesn't mean never looking ahead either. What is recommended instead, is to learn how to slow down and live consciously and intentionally. Living intentionally means remaining committed to knowing what we are doing and how we are keeping our minds moment after moment. Being rooted in the present as consciously as possible is how we make the most out of what we are given and establish our futures. Living consciously and intentionally is the very essence of the practice. Living consciously and intentionally slows us down. And when we slow down, we notice more. When we are able to notice more, we realize we have much more than ever realized, right where we are.
This Winter's Bodhicitta Gyeolje is the perfect way to commit to strengthening our skills in living intentionally and consciously. There will be some modifications to the Gyeolje, due to the corona-19 virus. The retreats held at the temple will not take place and instead we will schedule some virtual meetings and mini-retreats. This year the Winter Bodhicitta Gyeolje begins on December 8th, Bodhi Day, with a mini-retreat. We will launch our personal Gyeolje goals, meet our fellow retreat members, and practice some chanting and sitting meditation.
I hope you will consider signing up, establish your personal practice goals, and end 2020 and enter 2021 with renewed intention and a sharper consciousness!
For more information and to register for the Bodhicitta Gyeolje: https://www.lotusheartzen.org/gyeolje.html
December 8th: 7:00-8:30 (Gyeolje Opening & Chanting & Sitting Meditation)
January 17th: 10am (Formal Ceremony)
This year by the lunar calendar Bodhi Day falls on January 20th. Most sanghas celebrate Bodhi Day on December 8th (or as in our case the nearest Sunday to the 8th). But this is a strange year, for a lot of reasons, and as a result, the organization required to set up the service is going to take some time. So we decided to celebrate in January.
However, as I have thought of it, and because this has been a strange year, and for many of us a very difficult year, I thought it would be helpful for us to acknowledge Bodhi Day in a smaller, more personal way on December 8th and hold the formal service on Sunday, Jan 17th. December 8th will also be the start of the Bodhicitta Gyeolje and we will use that time to kick off the winter gyeolje.
Therefore, on Tuesday, December 8th 7:00-8:30 pm I will hold a chanting and meditation practice to honor Bodhi Day.
The link for that is: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83103712156
This is an image I came across on Facebook, posted by a Zen monk I follow. It came up at a time when my energy and spirit felt too heavy to lift. Like all of us, I had been feeling the weight of these past few months. Sometimes, it feels too difficult to do the very thing that helps the most--sit. Sit with the feelings, examine their sources, and letting the spirit settle.
It's more work, and more difficult, than I had thought it would be to do. It was easy to ignore this act of sitting when I used to do it all for me--my anxiety, my stresses, my health. I had a day when I was especially tempted by the thought in my head that said "I'm too tired to sit today." Then this image reminded me: We do this for others as much as we do this for ourselves. So off I went to sit. What I do for me, is also done to help those around me.
Sit well, they need you.
With deep bows,
Growing older has its charms, as most of us live harmoniously with the bucking rodeo that this life can be. With time on our side, we have the ability to know that the road ahead eventually straightens out. We turn to softer moments and quiet times for nurturing and have figured out how to sidestep drama and gossip in favor of friendship and caring.
It doesn't stand to reason then why sometimes the negativity of other people crawls into our heads and takes us hostage, robbing us of peace. Whether it happens on a scale large or small, these demons nevertheless take a bite. We have learned that there is no safe place: not our churches, our schools nor our places we work.
It can seem futile then to count blessings and give thanks when the fury has outscored love and kindness. Close-knit communities unravel, and for lack of a better word ugly prevails.
Or does it? With the display of power-hungry, moral-poor action, a voice comes out of the wreckage, and we pull together. We are tired, with tears flowing, shoulders drooping. But as weak as hate tries to make us and tear us apart, we come together and find that the bigger the tear the more fiber we will make to sew it back together.
We need to teach this lesson to the younger generation because they will hold the needle and thread in the future. For every wolf in sheep's clothing and every assault on mankind, the goodwill prevail, and love will champion.
Rev. Anwol Devadipa
Watch this video from the Metta Center and consider how you might let go of the Old Story paradigm and open up a New Story. What actions can you adopt today to help put an end to the Old Story and bring about the New Story? Think of such things as learning more about ahimsa and living nonviolently, practicing Skillful Speech more mindfully, considering a Skillful Livelihood, learning to listen more objectively, practice transforming fear and anger into forces for good, etc.
Ahimsa is the Sanskrit word for “non harm” (a = non + himsa = harm). It is often understood and translated as nonviolence, however, nonviolence is only one aspect of ahimsa. It is the central teaching of Jainism, but also holds an important role in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and other religions. Ahimsa for the Jains holds a much wider spiritual meaning for it guides all actions, all speech and all thoughts from inflicting harm onto other living beings.
Ahimsa is not simply negation or elimination of violence. It serves to promote a positive and rational approach in regard to life in relation to oneself and others. Mahatma Gandhi expanded the dimension of ahimsa in the modern secular world by transforming its principles into an effective instrument for political and social change. These expanded practices guided Martin Luther King Jr. to adopt a Christian nonviolent social activism, where nonviolent active resistance is paired with the Greco-Christian form of love called agape. Agape is universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance, it is considered to be the love that comes from God or Christ.
However, even love comes second to ahimsa—for love without ahimsa can be harmful, aggressive, even violent. When expressing love toward another, what could be a more powerful statement than: “I will do you no harm.”
Gandhi’s legacy of ahimsa has left a deep impact on the world. He was able to demonstrate to the modern world the immense power of ahimsa by using it as an effective tool to achieve independence for India without war and virtually no blood shed. Gandhi who was Hindu, was heavily influenced by the Jain scholar Rajchandra. Gandhi wrote:
“For me there is no religion other than the religion of truth, no duty other than ahimsa. Ahimsa is the greatest religion for me. I can say with assurance, as a result of my experiments, that a perfect vision of truth can follow a complete realization of ahimsa.”
It is my assertion that to put an end to violence and cultivate true peace, it must come with a resurgence of dedicated practice of ahimsa. Ahimsa can easily be integrated into our Buddhist practice, and in light of the many tragic events in previous years and months, it is sorely needed.
I would like to provide the tools and skills to integrate the practice of ahimsa into our daily lives, and that will include leading some workshops for the sangha exploring the basic concepts of ahimsa and facilitating some study groups for those who would like to take what they learn of ahimsa and bring it into effective social change. If our foundation is established by the practice of ahimsa, then anything we do, whether it is personal cultivation or both personal cultivation and non-violent activism, will be tempered and strengthened by the transformative power of ahimsa.
I will be sending out a separate letter detailing the workshops, study groups and explore dates and times, etc. I urge you to seriously consider learning and integrating this important aspect of our practice into your life. There is no more time to wait. The dharma is precious, and to have come to it is like finding a rare, priceless jewel. But it is not enough to simply covet and polish this precious jewel, for its pricelessness comes in the urgency and necessity of putting our practice into action. Time is short, we must be engaged now, so that we can live our lives fully, help ourselves, and help each other.
A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Sangha
Sun 9:00 am (Temple)