Sweet birthday: On Apr. 8, Buddha gets special tea shower for special day

File photo
File photo

Sweet birthday: On Apr. 8, Buddha gets special tea shower for special day

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Japan

Have you ever seen anyone pouring sweet tea onto a small statue in the garden of a temple in April and wondered why they were doing it?

Most likely they were celebrating Buddha’s birthday. In Japan, Buddha’s birthday is celebrated on April 8. On this day, Buddhist temples place the statue of Baby Buddha in a small shrine so visitors, using a ladle, can pour sweet tea over it.

Although not a national holiday, many Japanese observe Buddha’s birthday, including students. When I was a student many years ago, my elementary school teachers would bring our classes to a nearby temple to take part in the traditional service.

“We celebrate April 8 with a traditional Buddhist service and let worshippers pour sweet tea onto the statue of Baby Buddha in the small flowery shrine,” said Shobo Shimizu, a monk at Chokoku-ji Temple in Tokyo. “Buddha’s birthday is important. It is one of Buddhists’ three holidays, along with the day of Buddha’s enlightenment (Dec. 8) and that of his death (Feb. 15).”

So why the sweet tea? According to the legend, when Buddha was born in Nepal on April 8, 566 B.C., a lot of beautiful lotus flowers blossomed from the earth and surrounded him while celestial birds chirped beautiful songs. Perfumed blossoms rained down from heaven, and two streams of sparkling water poured from the sky to bathe him, legend has it. Pouring sweet tea onto the statue of Baby Buddha symbolizes the scene.

“On the day, we urge visitors to recall the preciousness of life,” Shimizu said. “Since Baby Buddha, just after his birth, took seven steps and stated ‘throughout Heaven and Earth, I alone am the honored,’ that means every single creature is very important and honored just like I am. We urge those who visit the celebration to remember the blessing of their lives and ask them to set a high value on their lives and that of others.”

According to Shimizu, Buddhism’s goal is to escape life’s suffering and reincarnation by attaining the status of Nirvana (extinction of desire or thirst) through meditation and the observance of certain moral precepts.

“According to Buddha’s teachings, anyone can become a Buddha, or an enlightened one, by their efforts and meditation,” Shimizu said. “The most important part of his teachings is to stay in peace of mind. We are always troubled by earthly desires because we try to compare ourselves with others. So, regard yourselves as precious ones and don’t compare with others, thus you can stay much more at ease. The celebration of Buddha’s birthday on April 8 is really a good opportunity for all of us to remember such teachings of Buddha.”

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