Buddha’s Birthday 2016

Buddha’s Birthday 2016

maya

Queen Maya

Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born in Lumbini (modern-day Nepal) around the year 563 BC and was raised in Kapilavastu.  There are a number of interesting legends that have grown up around the birth of the Buddha which are rich in symbolism.  The majority of these legends and symbolic stories emerged during the first several hundred years after the death (or Parinirvana) of the Buddha.

Siddhartha’s father was King Suddhodhana who was the leader of the Shakya (some scholars spell it Sakya) clan and his mother was Queen Maya who was the King’s consort and cousin.

Queen Maya’s Dream

According to legend, on the night of a full moon, Queen Maya (or Mahamaya) had a dream that she was carried away by four devas (similar to angels in Abrahamic religion) to a lake in the Himalayas.  The devas bathed her in the lake, then clothed her and anointed her with heavenly perfumes and decorated her with divine flowers.  Then she saw a white elephant holding a white lotus flower in its trunk who circled her three times and entered her womb through her right side.

The symbol of the elephant is one of greatness in India, and it is said that the Buddha who was residing in the Tushita heaven decided to take the shape of a white elephant.  Soon after Queen Maya became pregnant and the pregnancy lasted for ten lunar months.

Buddha's birthday 2016

Dream of Queen Maya

Birth of the Buddha

When she was due, she traveled back to her own home to give birth as was the custom in India at that time.

On the way home on the 8th of April (according to the Gregorian calendar) she stopped to walk in a flower garden in Lumbini.  During her walk she gave birth standing up while holding on to a branch of a Sal tree and it is said that the Buddha emerged from her right side.

The devas then caused it to rain to wash the newborn, who was later named Siddhartha which translates to “he who has accomplished his goals”.

During the birth celebrations, the seer and astrologer Asita visited the newborn child and prophesied that he would either be a great warrior King or a great spiritual ascetic who will renounce the world.

Upon hearing this King Suddhodhana resolved that he would shield and protect Siddhartha from seeing suffering.  This symbolism implies that suffering is often the catalyst of spiritual awakening.

Seven days after his birth, Queen Maya died and was reborn in the Tavatimsa Heaven.  Queen Maya’s sister Prajapati then became Siddhartha’s foster mother.

Holiday Observances

buddha's birthday 2016

Birth of Prince Siddhartha Gautama

In many Asian countries the Buddha’s birthday is celebrated in many different ways.

For example, in China people come to Buddhist temples and light incense and give alms (food offerings) to the monks.  In Japan, people go to the Buddhist temples to give offerings of flowers which is also known as the Flower Festival (or Hana Matsuri in Japanaese).

The Buddha’s birthday is also an occasion that involves communal meals and parades throughout Asia.  However, in Theravadin countries, the birth of the Buddha is celebrated together with Buddha’s enlightenment and death in one holiday known as Vesak.

Conclusion

The occasion of the Buddha’s birthday is an important one for Buddhists all over the world and it is the perfect time to become more mindful and act in a kinder, more compassionate manner.

The following is a kid-friendly animation of the story of the Buddha’s birth:

If you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Please check out my recommendations for further reading from Amazon below.

 

Tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Buddha’s Birthday 2016

  1. Edwin says:

    I am very new to the buddha.I always thought it was an Indian thing. I didn’t realize that this was big in China.

    I am not a big religion fan or buff, but I appreciate the insight on the history of the buddha.

    You talk about how important his birthday, but you don’t mention when it is. Are there any other important days for the buddha?

  2. James says:

    I must admit, I’m not a religious type, however, if I were forced to “choose” a religion then it would definitely be Buddhism. I love the wisdom and philosophy that comes from Buddhist teachings.

    I’ve learned a lot about the Buddha since I’ve lived in Thailand for the best part of 15 years now.

    Vesakabucha, is what they call that day in Thailand. They also have Machabucha and another one I can’t remember the name of.

    Wonderful story and nice blog post.

    James

    • Ian H says:

      Hi James,
      Thanks! Buddhism is also one of the more no-nonsense forms of spirituality out there. I have great admiration for the teachers of the Thai Forest tradition (which is probably what you’ve encountered) such as Ajahn Chah.

  3. Igor says:

    Hello!

    Very interesting reading! I am definitely not an expert and I did not know that the actual date for Buddhas birth is known considering the fact that he was born 2500 years ago.

    But I wonder how long has he actually lived and where did he died. I heard Osho one saying that he lived dangerously and moved a lot. Is that true?

    Thanks for the interesting article about Buddha!

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Igor,
      The date is approximate and based on various passages in the sutras. Originally time was reckoned according to the lunar calendar in Buddha’s time where it was said that he was born on the 8th day of the fourth lunar month. According to the sutras, he lived to be about 80 years old and spent his life teaching the Dharma. The Brahmins were not too happy with him since he rejected the caste system. He was a revolutionary in a peaceful and loving way.

  4. Derek Marshall says:

    Hi there,

    There is a lot of “claim” to the Buddha by people of differing nationalities. Indian people consider the buddha to be an Indian man, due to his place of birth now being in modern times northern India. YOU are totally correct is stating that he is or was, in fact, Nepalese due to his place of birth being at the time part of Nepal, and the fact he was born into the Nepalese Royal Family.

    About his enlightenment, not so long ago, just after Christmas 2012 the 2600 year anniversary of the Buddhas enlightenment was celebrated as special separate celebration in Thailand.

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Derek,
      Thanks for the comment! Sometimes the Buddha is depicted as Chinese with a big belly as well, which is simply the influence of the Chinese culture on the image of the Buddha. I guess it makes it easier for the Chinese to relate to the Buddha.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *