In the Japanese calendar today, the 8th of April is Hanamatsuri.
It’s becomes a flower festival honoring the birth of Gautama Siddhartha.
The Buddha’s birthday is celebrated at other times in other Buddhist countries. Most of Asia likes May. With that, a wealth of possibilities to choose from.
Of course that’s because we don’t really know when Gautama Siddhartha was born. The bet we can do is reasonably assume he was a real human being who lived four or five, possibly six centuries before our common era, and beyond that a few details marking his life.
What we know of these things about his life are what we can glean from the suttas or sutras, texts written in Pali or Sanskrit some three, maybe four, possibly five hundred years after he died, and incidentally all in languages he himself didn’t speak. So, everything about the Buddha, absolutely all of it must be taken with a grain of salt. Or, an ounce. Or, a pound.
Now, unlike religions that depend upon their founder being something special, unique in history, real actual lived historical history, for those of us attracted to Buddhism, the “truth” of what we have received isn’t judged by whether or not the putative teacher of them is a real person at all. But, rather the only that really matters are whether the teachings are true. And by true we mean do they realistically represent the problems we encounter in life? And do the various fixes to the problems it identifies work, do they bring us to what is promised?
What we are offered is a path. And, yes, in fact several paths, although they all share a family resemblance. But for all of them the path is clearly marked out, and the invitation is for us to find the particular one most resonant, and then to put our own feet on it, and to make our own way. Each of us.
All this said, stories matter. They reflect how human beings think. And so they ground the teachings, give us an opportunity to see them as stories about us. And we very much have a story of the life of the Buddha. Okay, a couple. Or, perhaps more accurately several variations on a theme.
According to one of these stories the queen Maya dreamed how four angels came to her and carried her away to the highest mountains, where a white elephant holding a lotus in its trunk, circled around her three times, and then walked into her right side.
In one version her husband the king Suddhodana consulted sixty-four sages to interpret what had happened, in another it was the ascetic Asita cast an astrological chart. Whether the sixty-four or the one it was prophesied that the queen would give birth to a remarkable child, one who would given circumstances either be the greatest emperor history had ever seen, or the savior of the world.
Not long after the baby was born.
And with that the real story begins.
Would that we all followed those precepts.
Who knows what world that would look like?
Okay, we have hints. But. Also. We have an invitation. Another one of those holy birthdays where we are all of us invited into our own new birth, our own new possibilities.
Here’s a vision of the birth from the film “Little Buddha.”
And, here’s another by way of a Jodoshu temple.
And, just a joy!