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
A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Meditation and Study Group members