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 blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Sangha
Sun 9:00 am (Temple)