I have always had a somewhat troubled relationship with Buddhist holidays. I realized this last year when two students from the University of Applied Sciences in Ghent approached me with questions about Buddhism for a presentation they had to give. They sent me a list and one of the questions was about Buddhist holidays. It turns out that parties weren’t lively for me. I wasn’t familiar with it. I probably won’t be alone in this. A confusing statement, as it goes against the meaning of my practice. My life revolves around meditation, study of texts, daily rituals, volunteering, volunteering: my work as a chaplain, visits and correspondence with a man serving a life sentence, weekly meetings with residents of a nursing home, etc. Living in the sign of being present, listening and laughing a little at the absurdity that life offers us. Contradiction: With the intent to live out the bodhisattva vows, but due to a perceived cultural divide, he withdrew from the celebration of Buddhist holidays. Until last month, when I joined the Hanamatsuri celebration via the Zoom link and became the “Invisible Visible”.
I will mention here some of the most important Buddhist festivals. Hanamatsuri, also known as the Flower Festival, is celebrated on April 8 in Japan as Buddha’s birthday. It is one of the most important festivals in the Mahayana tradition. The Chinese Chan tradition celebrates Christmas a month later on May 8 with Vesak. At the same time, the festival of enlightenment and Parinirvana of the Buddha are also celebrated. Vesak is celebrated in almost all Buddhist traditions around the world. To celebrate Buddha’s enlightenment and parinirvana, there are separate holidays on the calendar in addition to Vesak, such as Rohatsu on December 8 and Parinirvana on February 8 or 15. Finally, there are all kinds of local ceremonies that have a special significance in the cultural context of the countries involved.
In addition to the birth of Buddha in Hanamatsuri, the Japanese also celebrate the beginning of spring during the same period when the cherry blossoms (sakura) bloom in Japan, I imagine, with the beauty and strength of the emerging trees in our country. Shrubs and trees bloom profusely, evoking Buddhist images of the garden in Lumbini, which was prolific at the time of Buddha’s birth 2,500 years ago.
Both ends hanamatsuri and hanami carry the symbolism of the new life that simultaneously carries the transience. The delicate beauty of cherry blossoms, which rotate after a short flowering period and form carpets of flowers on the ground, symbolizing creation and death, rebirth and death, the cycle of life and death. Hanami celebrates lavishly and people flock to stroll under the trees with family, friends and loved ones late at night by lighting up lanterns hanging in the trees. Crowds of people gather at Hanamatsuri Festival. They gather in long lines in front of the temples. The tradition goes back to the fifth century. Visitors drink sweet fragrant Cuban tea, while cha, with a bamboo spoon, then gently pour it over the image of the Baby Buddha. The hydrangea tea symbolizes the two streams of water with which Siddhartha Gautama and Maya were sprinkled by the gods on his mother after childbirth, and the flower tea is sweet because, according to legend, the dew that was on the leaves on the day of birth was sweet. The kids are part of the party. They represent the young life and wear flowers in their hair in honor of Ludha the Child.
Unexpectedly, I myself was a participant in this party. You have signed up for Ango, the Spring Practice Period of Upaya Zen Center In New Mexico the hanamatsuri rites fell into the middle of that period. The liturgy was in Zendo and centered around the altar decorated with tulips and daffodils with the Child Buddha in the center. While reading textsThe celebrant performed a ritual bath, followed by the attendants present, who walked two by two to the altar and each poured fresh water over the statue with a wooden ladle. The ritual ended with the recitation of the verse: The Rape of Buddha.
Traditionally, Buddhist holidays are celebrated around the world in temples according to the traditions of their dynasty. Unless you’re affiliated with a temple, it takes a great deal of determination for a lay practitioner to participate in, say, a party like this. Not to mention the cultural divide that can be a barrier to participation. In my twenty-five years of practice, a Mahayana festival as important as Bathing in the Buddha may not have been able to appear at all because of this. I have seen it mainly as a folklore ritual and know my position on cultural differences. I wasn’t completely intimate with her, I totally eluded the value and meaning of the ritual.
Until the moment I opened my eyes and my heart it unexpectedly became a part of the ritual last month at Upaya. But my heart really opened when I saw parallels with the birthday of the Christian tradition I grew up with. Christmas, the date of which is associated with the date of the solstice in the ancient Roman calendar, which celebrates the promise of light and the coming spring. Christmas party is associated with the seasons and the movement of the sun and planets. Suddenly, there was an association with the Buddhist Christmas in the spring, which turned everything upside down and touched the ritual bathing, like when I was allowed as a child to put a cotton wool blanket over Baby Jesus, so he could. Warm up in this bald manger and light a candle, while Christmas carols play at dusk.
In Buddhist festivals, important events in Buddha’s life, birth, enlightenment, first sermon and parinirvana are celebrated. Objectively, there is an analogy with the Christian holidays of the liturgical calendar, which commemorate the important moments in Jesus’ life, namely birth, death, revelation and resurrection. Given the similarities between the two, Buddhist festivals opened up and became meaningful, as they are, but more happened. The festivals of both traditions became more important, because the (cultural) barriers disappeared and I could synchronize with them. This is the meaning of the connection with the liturgy of feasts and religious rites, they give meaning to my life; For our own birth, our awakening, and our death. They say something about us and our relationship to the world, and they say something about our relationship to life and death. The four elements on the altar: earth (flowers), fire (candles), wind (incense), and purifying water that always gives life, are the building blocks of our physical body and at the same time symbolized by all the generations who preceded us in rituals, our practice that can deepen It renews itself at every moment.
With great gratitude to all the great teachers and educators who have preceded us, and in deep gratitude to all who have been our guides on this ancient path.
 There are 400 cherry trees in the Amsterdam forest: Prunus Yedoensis. Each tree has a name: 200 trees have a Japanese feminine name, and 200 trees have a Dutch feminine name. Donated by the Japanese Women’s Club to Amstelveen in 2000.
 Ama cha is an aromatic tea with a sweet taste from anise seed. The leaves come from the Hydrangea Macrophylla, a flowering plant in the Hydrangea family.
 Upaya with the Circle of the Way temple, where Rōshi Joan Halifax is abbot of the monastery.
 Hanamatsuri – Buddha’s Birthday, Upaya Zen Center