I Alone, Am The World-Honored One.” - Buddha
Hanamatsuri- In Celebration of the Buddha's Birth.
6th April, 2014
Hanamatsuri Service celebrates the birth of Gotama, Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Every year members of our sangha gather for a special celebration of the Buddha's birth, which includes pouring sweet tea over the statue of the baby Buddha and the eating of sweet Japanese rice cakes called mochi. The Hondo (main hall) is filled with many beautiful flower offerings as if we were in Lumbini Garden where Shakyamuni Buddha was born. It always brings a feeling of warmth, peace and happiness to all in attendance.
Shakyamuni Buddha was born as a prince of Kapi-lavastu in India over 2,500 years ago. According to sutras, Shakyamuni Buddha took seven steps as soon as he was born. With these seven symbolic steps, at birth, Shakyamuni Buddha had already transcended the Six Inferior Realms—the world of delusion of hell, hungry ghosts, beasts, fighting spirits, human beings, and heavenly beings—and stepped into the world of Awakening. Then the Buddha pointed to the heavens with his right hand and to the earth with his left, and proclaimed loudly, “In the Heavens above and on the Earth below, I alone am the World-Honored One. All that exists in the Three Worlds is suffering, but I will bring comfort.”
The gods, Brahma, and Sakra in the Heavens were said to have been so moved by his noble declaration that they rained down sweet tea in response which made many flowers bloom in celebration of his birth.
The Buddha’s famous words, “In the Heavens above and on the Earth below, I alone am the World-Honored One,” tend to be misunderstood as self-righteous. Actually, his words simply praise the dignity of life, meaning that all lives are beautiful and precious just as they are.
So Hanamatsuri is an important Dharma opportunity to contemplate the wonder of life which we have received in this world and to realize once again the preciousness of each life which is sustained by all living beings.
When I consider the world situation over recent years, I am always sorry that there are many crimes and conflicts around the globe which waste so many precious human lives. Although we must sadly acknowledge this reality, I wonder what we have learned so far and in what direction we will now set out in this life that we can only live once.
I think that it is most importantto realize the preciousness of the life that they have received. The gift of life that we receive from our parents has the magnificent history of the universe wrapped in our parents’ own boundless wishes for us. This life is a great favor that, no matter how hard we try, we cannot repay. We must realize how rare it is that we are able to be born into this world as human and that we are alive at this moment.
Shakyamuni Buddha addresses the difficulty of receiving human life in this world in a sutra called Zo-Agon. In it is a fable called, “A Blind Turtle and a Floating Board.”
One day, Shakyamuni Buddha posed the following question to his disciple, Anan: “Now suppose there is a blind turtle at the bottom of the boundless ocean. This turtle will be able to show his face at the surface of the sea only once in a hundred years. A board is floating on the ocean’s surface and there is a small hole in the middle of it that turtle can put his face into. When this turtle—which can come to the surface only once every hundred years—comes to the surface, can he put his face into the hole in that board even one time?”
Anan answered, “It’s impossible! Even if the turtle had hundreds of millions of years or even millions of millions of years to be able to put its face in the hole, it would be very hard to do it.”
Then Buddha said, “I know everyone thinks that it’s impossible! But are you sure? To be born into this world as a human is infinitely more difficult than a blind turtle putting his face into the hole in a board!”
Can you imagine this? One blind turtle drifts about at the mercy of the waves in the vast expanse of the sea for a hundred years, or even one thousand years, in order to look for the floating board. When he finally encounters it, he thinks he will be able to put his face in the hole. But quite unexpectedly a breeze comes up, disturbing the water’s surface and makes the board move and the turtle fails.
Another hundred years pass and again the turtle happens upon the drifting board. This time, ripples make the board move away and again the turtle fails. So it is extremely difficult for a blind turtle, dependent on wind and wave, to find the drifting board and to put his face in its opening even if a chance of once a hundred years comes.
Through this astounding fable, Shakyamuni Buddha teaches us the wonder of receiving life in human form in this world, a nearly impossible probability. There is another story by Shakyamuni Buddha which describes the preciousness of human life. One day, when Shakyamuni Buddha was walking along the banks of the Ganges River with his disciple, Anan, he scooped up a handful of sand and asked, “Anan, which has more sand? The palm of my hand or the banks of the Ganges River?”
When Anan answered, “Of course, the riverbank has more,” the Buddha said, “That’s right. The living things in this world are as countless as the sands along the ganges. However, it is only these grains of sands in my palm that represent those to be born into this world as humans.”
Then the Buddha stuck his forefinger into the sand on his palm and lifted some grains
with his fingernail and said to Anan, “Take a look at this. Even if one was fortunate to be born human, one who can encounter the Buddha Dharma is just like these grains of sand on my nail. To be able to hear the Buddha Dharma is even more difficult.”
Whenever I think of this story, the words at the beginning of the Three Treasures which we recite together during our Sanzenkai Service comes to mind: “Hard is it to be born into human life. Now we are living it.”
We who were born in human form have received a rare opportunity. When we become aware of this truth, we must then live accordingly. And it is most important for us to value our lives because one can only revere another life by first realizing the significance of his own. By wakening this truth, Buddha always leads us in the direction of a way of living that makes each life shine; that is, understanding one another and respecting and supporting one another, which is the way those of us who have received human life should live.
So as you can see, through Hanamatsuri, when we reflect upon the first words of Shakyamuni Buddha—“In the Heavens above and the Earth below, I alone am the World-Honored One”—we must realize that we exist as humans due to immeasurable causes and conditions, and that we are sustained because of the loving support of countless others. When we truly realize the preciousness of this life, we will rejoice in the embrace of the Buddha's teachings which we have been able to encounter because of the infinite guidance of others.
In conclusion let us reflect upon the words of the founder of our Soto Zen practice Dogen Zenji.
"Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken. Take heed, do not squander your life.”
Rev. Daito Zenei Thompson- Osho
Spiritual director Sarasota Zen Center