Buddha’s Birthday 2016
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.
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.
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.
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.