Orlando temple celebrates Buddha's birth

by Jeff Kunerth, Orlando Sentinel, May 15, 2011

Orlando, Florida -- Orlando's Buddhist Guan Ming Temple was at capacity Sunday for the celebration of Buddha's birth. Men carrying incense, women bearing candles, children with fruit and flowers, walked solemnly down a red carpet to offer symbolic gifts to the founder of their faith.

With proclamations from Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, rows of dignitaries that included Rotarians, the mayor of Tavares, representatives from other temples, and officers of the Buddha's Light International Association, more than 300 people observed the ceremonial cleansing of the mind, body and spirit.

"Having good thoughts is purifying to our minds," Venerable Chueh Fan, the temple's director, told the gathering. "Let us all make good vows to ourselves."
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By the end of the day, the Buddha's birthday celebration was expected to attract 1,500 people for the event, which included food and craft vendors, an upstairs exhibit of flower arrangements and statuary, entertainment, and a raffle for an iPad, laptop computer and 42-inch LED flat screen.

The ceremony concluded with the ritual of bathing the Buddha, where participants ladled water over the shoulders of Buddha statuary. The bathing, and the celebration of Buddha's birth, is a time of purification, reflection and rededication for Buddhists.

"By bathing the Buddha, we are cleansing our speech, our thoughts and our actions," Venerable Fan said. "It is a day of happiness for our father's birth. It's a day we all want to celebrate."

One of three major holidays in the Buddhist faith, the birthday celebration honors Shakyamuni Buddha, who was born more than 2,600 years ago as a prince in northern India. When he was 29, he renounced his royalty and became a monk.

The Guan Ming Temple on Hoffner Avenue opened in 2007. Built in traditional Chinese imperial style, it is the largest Buddhist temple in Florida.