Let it begin with me

by Dennis Fujimoto, The Garden Island, April 7, 2008

Reflections on Buddha’s birthday

Kauai, Hawaii (USA) -- The overnight showers reminded Alton Miyamoto of the scene that took place more than 2,500 years ago.

Miyamoto, the emcee for the annual Hanamatsuri services, said, “This morning’s rains are similar to the conditions in Lumbini Gardens when the Buddha was born.”

Each year, the nine Buddhist churches who belong to the Kaua‘i Buddhist Council celebrate the birth of the Buddha in a collective service where several hundred people came together at the Kaua‘i Veterans Center for the festive service, yesterday.

“Every year we always celebrate our own birthdays,” Miyamoto said. “The celebration of birth is in gratitude because it takes many people for us to be born. Our own birth is a result of many causes, and Hanamatsuri is a time to show gratitude as well as pay tribute.”

Hanamatsuri, or translated to mean flower festival, is one of the most joyous occasions for Buddhists as it commemorates the birth of Gautama Buddha, the founder of the Buddhist religion.

Buddha was born on April 8 in Nepal about 2,600 years ago, according to Dr. Randy Hirokawa, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Hawai‘i, Hilo.

About 2,600 years ago, in the northern kingdom of Kapilavastu, the Sakya clan was ruled by king Suddhodana and queen Maya.

For more than 20 years, the couple was childless until one night Maya had a dream of a white elephant entering her body and she became pregnant.

In the saga of the Buddha’s birth, relayed by keynote speaker Dr. Warren Tamamoto, first vice president of the Aiea Hongwanji Mission, Maya was enroute to her parents’ homeland to give birth as was the tradition at that time.

On a stop at the Lumbini Gardens, Maya reached up to pluck one of the many spring flowers in bloom when the prince was born.

According to the Hanamatsuri program, the prince took seven steps, the right hand pointing to heaven, and the left hand pointing to the earth.

“This is a story that should be retold because it is so inspiring,” Tamamoto, who grew up as a Buddhist with the Papaloa Hongwanji Mission on the Big Island, said. “In fact, it should be made into a movie.”

During his young years, a sage visited the palace where the prince was growing up, attracted by the radiance that emanated from the castle, Tamamoto said.

At that visit, the sage predicted that the prince would grow up to be a fine king. But if he left the palace, he would become a Buddha.

The king tried to shield the prince from life, but the prince saw the human suffering and sought answers to remedy it. At that point, he was 29 years old. He renounced all of the material wealth and luxury which surrounded him to seek a way of salvation for the people who suffered from illness, poverty and spiritual dissatisfaction.

At 35 years of age, the prince became enlightened under the branches of a Bodhi tree, and became known as Sakyamuni, or the sage of the Sakya, according to Buddhist scriptures.

The hanamido, or a little shrine, surrounded by flowers, is the focal point of the Hanamatsuri service as it represents Lumbini Gardens when the Buddha was born. Sweet tea is poured over the statue of the Buddha housed inside the hanamido.

The tea symbolizes the gentle rains that fell on the day he was born.

In a proclamation, Mayor Bryan Baptiste stated that Buddhism is one of the world’s major religions and has played an important positive role in the development of the state of Hawai‘i and the island of Kaua‘i for more than a hundred years.

Tamamoto said, “Buddhism spread from India to the East and the West, and in Japan, Buddhism was introduced about 1,400 years ago. In Hawai‘i, Buddhism was introduced about 100 years ago.”

This international spread of the religion has resulted in a number of different schools of Buddhism, but all trace back to April 8 when the Buddha was born.

In Hawai‘i, Buddha Day was recognized officially by the state legislature in 1963. Since then, the governor has proclaimed the first week of April as Buddha Week in Hawai‘i.

Tamamoto, in speaking of Buddhism, referred to a book written by Rev. Dr. Ken Tanaka which describes life as B-I-I-G.

“B” stands for bumpy road, or suffering, Tamamoto said, describing that suffering as things not always going the way we want them to.

“I” symbolizes impermanence, or the fact that nothing stays the same from one moment to the next.

Tamamoto said when people understand this, they become more fully alive.

“I” symbolizes none self, Tamamoto said.

“It means you not only think of yourself, but you are the product of many influences,” he said. “We are only a small part of the universe, and in the latest news on the environment, we are all interdependent with other living things.”

The “G” symbolizes how people can find joy in living, Tamamoto said. “Life is what you make of it.”

Drawing from an ancient sutra, Tamamoto said, “With our minds, we make the world.”

Hanamatsuri, then, he said, is a time to reflect on and give gratitude for what the Buddha left behind.

Church members include the Kapa‘a Jodo Mission, the Kapa‘a Hongwanji Mission, the Kaua‘i Tibetan Buddhist Dharma Center in Kapa‘a, the Lihu‘e Hongwanji Mission, the Koloa Jodo Mission, the Kaua‘i Soto Zen Temple Zenshuji in Hanapepe, the Waimea Higashi Hongwanji Mission, the West Kaua‘i Hongwanji Mission with temples in Waimea, Hanapepe and Koloa, and the Waimea Shingon Mission which will be celebrating its centennial in May.