Hanamatsuri 2015

Hanamatsuri 2015

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The Significance Of Buddha's Birthday

Rev. Shuji Komagata
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Every year in April, Buddhists observe one of the most significant events in the history of our religion — the birth of Siddhartha Gautama.

There is much credible “historical” evidence that supports many of the events surrounding the Buddha’s life. Scholars agree that almost 2,600 years ago, between 563 and 560 B.C.E., a woman gave birth to a son. She had gone to her father’s home some 50 miles away for the delivery. It was customary in those days for a wife to lay in waiting away from home and then to return bearing a child to present to her husband. The baby was born in the Lumbini Garden at the foot of the Himalayas, which borders what is now India and Nepal. The garden was beautiful, known for its fragrant blossoms, where birds sang throughout the day. As she gave birth to the baby, she grabbed on to a tree branch, thus raining flowers down on her.

She named her son Siddhartha (meaning “he who has achieved the goal”) Gautama. He was no ordinary child — his parents were King Suddhodana and Queen Mahamaya, rulers of an ancient warrior tribe called the Shakyas. Their kingdom was small but prosperous, and the king was especially ecstatic about having a son who could, hopefully, succeed him in the future as king.

Every year, each of us celebrates our own birthday. In our youth, we are anxious to reach adulthood, and in old age, we attempt to cling to our youth. What is the meaning and reason for celebrating our birth? If you ask most children, they likely will answer, “cake” or “presents.” When I mention an upcoming birthday to my mom, she responds half-seriously, “Ugh, don’t remind me about it.” When we do get around to celebrating our birthday, much of its meaning is often lost in the flurry of gifts and the sweetness of the birthday cake or our attempts to redirect attention from the fact that we are indeed getting older.

Instead, the celebration of our birth should be an expression of gratitude. This gratitude is extended to our friends, parents and to life itself. This gratitude grows from an understanding that our birth is the result of many people and that our lives are intertwined with all others.

Understanding the Buddha’s teaching of the interdependency of all things will make it clear that our birth is the result of many causes and conditions. Realizing this, we can see that our birth is truly a rare and wonderful gift and we have an obligation to live out this life in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha. This obligation to live our lives to the fullest becomes even more striking when we look at the symbolism and the significance of the flower.

As with all human beings, the flower has its moment of youth and beauty that, inevitably, begins to fade until it eventually dies. Our birth is like the blossoming of a beautiful flower, but it is the seed of our own demise. When we can understand our own impermanent nature, then it becomes very clear how we should live our lives.

From the murky depths of this difficult life, there still are occasions when sentient beings may, out of sincerity of mind, effort and intelligence, produce pure thoughts that may bloom into the ultimate purity of the white lotus, enlightenment. Hanamatsuri represents one of these occasions. It is a time for us to show our gratitude and rededicate ourselves as we contemplate the importance of the birth of our teacher, master, spiritual guide and friend, Shakyamuni Buddha.

The Rev. Shuji Komagata is resident minister of the Soto Mission of Aiea Taiheiji. He earned his bachelor’s degree in religion from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa and has also studied religion and education at Waseda University and the University of San Francisco. “Rev. Shuji” has been the resident minister of Soto Mission of Aiea Taiheji since 2005. That same year, he and his wife Jaymie founded Somei Taiko in ‘Aiea. They are also directors of Hawaii Matsuri Taiko, a group founded in 1984 by his mother, Faye Komagata.

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