Hana Matsuri or Flower Festival commemorates the birthday of Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.  Shakyamuni Buddha was born on April 8th more than 2500 years ago in India (present day Nepal).

Shakyamuni’s birth took place in the beautiful Lumbini Flower Garden where Queen Maya stopped to rest on the way to her parents’ castle.  Journeying to the parents’ home for the event of giving birth was the custom of the time.  The baby was born from her right chest when she tried to cut a branch of Ashoka tree.  This indicates that the baby was born into the warrior class.  The warrior class was the second highest class next to the class of the Brahman or priest class.  (Those of the Brahman or priest class were believed to be born from the head of the mother.)

A legendary story states that sweet rain fell from the sky to bathe the body of the baby.  For the Hana Matsuri service, we decorate a little shrine with various beautiful flowers depicting the beautiful flower garden of Lumbini where the baby Buddha was born.  Inside the flower shrine, we place a little statue of the baby Buddha in a bowl of Amacha or Sweet Tea.  During the service, we pour sweet tea over the top of the statue to bathe the baby Buddha in celebration of his birth.

It is said that the newly born baby took seven steps, pointed his right hand to the sky and his left hand to the earth and proclaimed, “Above the heaven and below the heaven, I am the Most Honored One.”  The seventh step indicates the world of enlightenment which exists beyond the six realms of the unenlightened world.  The baby was named Siddhartha, which means ‘every wish fulfilled.’  When he became the Buddha, the Enlightened One, at age 35, he was also addressed Shakyamuni, which means ‘Sage of Shakya Clan.’  Combining both titles, we often call him Shakyamuni Buddha.

The Buddha expounded upon a profound truth of our life.  For example, the four characteristics of Buddhism reveal realities of life:

1.  Everything is constantly changing – impermanence (anitya).

2.  Everything exists interdependently (anatman).

3.  Everything does not go according to one’s desires (duhkha).

4.  There exists a state of bliss (nirvana).

The foremost teaching of the Buddha is compassion.  Compassion is described as “The mind of the Buddha is great compassion” in the Amitayurdhyana Sutra.  We often ask such question as Who is the Buddha? or What is Buddhism?  The answer should be found in the realization of compassion in our lives.  Unthinkable numerous causes and conditions have been given to us in order to maintain our lives.  This discovery leads us to a life of gratitude.  Buddhism has been in existence for over 2500 years to guide the welfare of all beings.  The great compassion that Buddhism teaches is essential to a global religion that the entire world needs to realize today.

Dr. Edward Conze, a well known Buddhist scholar, stated in his book, BUDDHISM: Its Essence and Development, that “The Buddhist community is the oldest institution of mankind.  It has survived longer than any other institution except [for] the kindred sect of Jains.” 

Let’s celebrate the birthday of the great religious leader, Shakyamuni Buddha!

Rev. Hoshu Y. Matsubayashi, Ed.D. (April White Path, 2001)



Shinran - The Great Teacher Who Revealed the Truth

Shinran - The Great Teacher Who Revealed the Truth

A famous Buddhist scholar, Dr. Daisetz T. Suzuki, once said that “The Japanese may not have offered very many original ideas to world thought or world culture, but in Shin (Jodo Shinshu Buddhism) we find a major contribution the Japanese can make to the outside world and all the other Buddhist schools.”  He further said that “Of all the development Mahayana Buddhism has achieved in the Far East, the most remarkable one is the Shin teaching of the Pure Land school.  It is remarkable chiefly because geographically its birthplace is Japan and historically it is the latest evolution of Pure Land Mahayana, and therefore the highest point it has reached.”

Buddhism has been existing in Japan since it was introduced into Japan in the middle of the 6th century, but in those days Buddhism was a somewhat aristocratic religion and the Buddhist monastries were confined to the noble people and was isolated from the ordinary people.  Jodo or Pure Land idea grew first in India and developed in China during the Tang dynasty.  Shinran founded the Jodo Shinshu or the True Pure Land Buddhism in the 13th century in Japan.  He had a profound understanding on human nature and the needs of the ordinary people for their enlightenment.  Shinran taught us that Amida Buddha is constantly shining upon each one of us with his guiding light of the great compassion and wisdom .  This is the function of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha.

A history book of the Japanese Canadians entitled One Hundred Year History of the Canadian Immigration describes the life of a Japanese immigrant, Mrs. Fude Nakatsu, who was born in Wakayama Prefecture in Japan and married Mr. Yasutaro Nakatsu in Canada in 1916, when she was 26 years old.  She states that her mother’s last words at the time of her departure were, “Fude, I will send you off at home, but when you miss your father or mother, please recite Namo Amida Butsu!”  “Namo Amida Butsu” is our realization of oneness with the great compassion and wisdom of Amida Buddha.  Shinran reminded us that we are always embraced by the great compassion of Amida Buddha even though we are living through hardships and discriminations.

Shinran was exiled into northern country of Japan by the government because he taught a way of the Nembutsu for the ordinary people by ignoring aristocratic Buddhist practices.  He was the first Buddhist priest to lead a married and family life and partook in regular meals, which included fresh meat.  Shinran emphasized that the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha does not discriminate against anyone because of the social or physical conditions or the life-style.  He declared himself as neither priest nor layman.  He stated that “When I carefully consider the Primal Vow which Amida Buddha brought forth, I find that it was only for me, Shinran, alone!  How gracious is the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha who resolved to lead me to enlightenment!”  He assured us a true way to enlightenment is a way of the Nembutsu, Namo Amida Butsu.

After Shinran passed away and as time went on, Shinran’s real character and teaching were truly recognized in Japan and Jodo Shinshu Buddhism became one of the largest denominations today.  In 1877, six hundred fifteen years after his death, the Emperor Meiji of Japan honored him with the special title of “Kenshin Daishi” or “The Great Teacher who has revealed the Truth.”  Let us all appreciate the dedicated religious guidance of Shinran and a way of the Nembutsu, Namo Amida Butsu.

Rev. Hoshu Y. Matsubayashi, Ed.D. (White Path, May, 2003)


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