The season for celebrating the Buddha’s Birthday usually falls in May of the solar calendar. At Quan Am Nam Hai Monastery, we normally celebrate this day on the Sunday of the second week of May. During this time we celebrate the Buddha’s life and teaching, without which we would not have this practice in our lives. In order to honor Him and His teachings in a meaningful way, we use this day as a day of retreat for all Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. To celebrate this day is not only celebrating His birth (in Lumbini), but also: His renunciation of worldly life (for six years of austerities) and His Enlightenment (in Bodh Gaya), His beginning and continuing to teach the Dharma (for 45 years, starting in Sarnath), and commemorating His death, and entering Parinirvana (in Kusinagar).
We begin the celebration with Walking Meditation, so that we feel as if we walked with the Buddha as in His time. Dharma Talks are given by the Most Venerable monk present at the celebration. After the Dharma Talk, a group of young boys and girls make the traditional offerings of candles, flowers, fruits and incense to the Buddha, these are placed on the main altar. After the offering we recite specific chants and Sutras for the day, and perform prostrations as well. One of the main ceremonies is the Bathing of the Baby Buddha- everyone pours water over a statue of Siddartha (The Buddha’s name before His Enlightenment) as a baby; this statue is placed in a large basin, and mindfully everyone takes a ladle of water, breathing in and out slowly as they pour the water mindfully from the top of the head of the baby Siddartha; this emulates the legend of the Devas (gods) pouring nectar down from the Heavens when the Buddha was born, showing signs that the greatest being was born into the world to show the way to end suffering and to attain true happiness. When we bathe the Baby Buddha, we are showing our deepest respect, and also, in a way, cleansing ourselves in Body, Speech, and Mind.
After everyone has had a chance to bathe Baby Buddha, we all join together for Mindful Lunch. The Monastic Sangha practices the Alms Round during this meal. For this meal we come together as a spiritual family; we eat in silence and contemplation to be mindful and grateful for the food we receive. We are careful to eat our food slowly, to ensure we are able to absorb our food as medicine to nourish our bodies. When we have finished eating, we have a period of entertainment; everyone is welcome to share songs, poems, music, skits/plays, or other mediums to share gratitude and respect to the Buddha. When everyone has shared, we have a formal offering to the Hungry Ghosts (or Hungry Spirits), and this is the final ceremony for the day.
We sincerely invite all our friends, Buddhist or not, to attend this celebration so that together we can pay respect to the Buddha and His teachings, to feel the energies of the Buddha within ourselves, and to enjoy one another’s presence.