The text on this page comes from a pamphlet published by the Northwest Ministerial Association, Buddhist Churches of America.
Hanamatsuri, literally flower festival, is celebrated on April 8, commemorating the birth of Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha became enlightened as Sakyamuni Buddha and this marks the release of sentient beings from suffering and sorrow.
According to our tradition, the historical Buddha, Sakyamuni, was born in Nepal on April 8, 566 B.C. He was born the son of King Suddohana and Queen Maya. There are many flowery descriptions of the scene at his birth, including celestial birds singing beautiful songs, beautiful flowers, and a sweet gentle rain bathing the baby Buddha. It is not necessarily the beauty of the flowers, the sounds of the celestial birds, nor the sweet gentle rain that fell, but the vibrant fact that on this day was born the greatest of sentient beings who became the Enlightened One, the Buddha.
Every year we celebrate our own birthday. In our youth we are anxious to reach “adulthood,” and in our old age we attempt to cling to our “youth.” What is the meaning and reason for celebrating our birth? Much of the meaning of our own birth is often lost in the gifts and the merriment. The celebration of our birth is an expression of gratitude. This gratitude is extended towards our friends, parents and to life itself. This gratitude grows from an understanding that our birth is the result of many people and that our lives are in- tertwined with all others.
Understanding the Buddha’s teaching of interdependancy of all things will make it clear that our birth is the result of many causes and conditions. Realizing this we can see that our birth is truly a rare and wonderful gift, and we have an obligation to live out this life in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha.
This obligation to live our lives out to the fullest becomes even more striking when we look at the symbolism and the significance of the flower. The flower, as with all human beings, has its moment of youth and beauty, but its beauty soon begins to fade and eventually it dies. Our birth is like the blossoming of a beautiful flower, but it is the seed of our own demise. When we can understand our own impermanent nature, then it becomes very clear how we should live our lives.
From the murky depths of this quagmire of life, there still are occasions when sentient beings may, out of sincerity of mind, effort and intelligence, produce pure thoughts which may bloom into the ultimate purity of the white lotus, enlightenment. Hanamatsuri represents one of these occasions. It is a time for us to show our gratitude and rededicate ourselves as we contemplate the importance the birth of our teacher, master, spiritual guide and friend, Sakyamuni Buddha.