Buddha’s birthday

Tonight we’re going to see the biggest and brightest full moon of the year as it gets to around 357,000km from earth, which is about 14% closer than when it is farthest away. That’s quite an ellipsis.

That today would be Siddhattha’s birthday and the anniversary of the day he awoke (was ‘enlightened’), and that of the day he died at Kushinara, now the Uttar Pradesh town of Kushinagar, after a tainted meal, was impressed on me by a good friend in a supermarket car park last night as we were discussing the apparent size of the moon in the New Zealand dusk.

If you’re in India or Sri Lanka and you’re a Buddhist, today you will probably be celebrating the Buddha’s birthday. But if you’re in South Korea you would already have celebrated these three events on 28 May, while one day later the folk in Tibet would have been celebrating, both days having been calculated according to a lunar calendar. In Japan though this celebration takes place on 8 April each year.

So tonight at 5:20pm I’ll be on Lyall Bay beach to watch the moonrise and the higher than usual tide come in, and I may contemplate on how much greater mileage the founders of the religion would have received had they scattered these three events on different days in the year.

Don’t get me wrong – I love poetry and the imagery it can evoke. It’s just that, as I told my friend in the car park politely, I stopped believing in fairy tales when I was small.

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  1. Ray Taylor
    Posted May 9, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    An interesting question for me is ‘What place does symbolism, labels and festivals have within secular buddhism?’.

    We have just finished watching Joesph Campbell’s DVDs on the ‘Masks of Eternity’ where he discusses the universal themes and symbols which appear in myths and religions.

    I wonder if, by doing away with symbols and myths, we lose the valuable signposts contained within them. Perhaps the concern should be my attachment to having them or not having them, rather than the actual events….

  2. Tony Reardon
    Posted May 19, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Hi Ray and Ramsey

    As i think will often be the modern middle way, i agree with aspects of both of your ideas. No problem with celebrating Buddha’s birthday – though i don’t – if that supports your practice i.e. i don’t think i could simply judge from the outside. I was at a retreat Centre associated with a Monastery last year and many of the participants bowed to the Buddha Rupa quite formally [i didn’t]. I did see that i could though in a way that wasn’t worship at all and did support my practice.

    I am sure that modern responses must be individual and able to evolve. On the Secular UK site someone questioned the definition of secular Buddhism and no one, as it proceeded, agreed with anyone else but there remained what i found to be an essence in common with the ideas overall. Personally i reserve ‘Buddhist’ for peoples religion and think of myself as practising what i make of The Dhamma. I can see that we need to discuss principles but i also find that discussions tend in the direction of trying to determine something like the truth. I’d be interested to hear from both of you what you do personally ‘do’ and why you do it.

    I don’t generally practise, or privilege, sitting meditation – or any other technique. Attempting continual practice is my way. I do have various Buddha Rupa. I’d like to give symbolic expression to what is important to me, in my modern world, and although i do paint trees, that’s not quite it yet.

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