Happy Buddha-mas!

Sunday morning, the choir stood in front of the congregation. The organ started up a four part hymn, and we sang along in four part harmony, reading out of our programs:

Softly Blew the Breezes
By Paul Carus and R.B. Bode

Softly blew the breezes
On that glorious morn
In Lumbini's Garden
Where the Lord was born.

From the earth sprang flowers
Birds in warbles sang
While through earth and heaven
Strains of music rang.

Gods and men and angels
All for worship came
Glory to Lord Buddha
Glory to his name.
Organs and hymn harmony, folded chairs, and meandering talks by aged ministers are not the sole providence of protestant Christianity. At least in Hawaii, the sects of Buddhism that were imported with the Japanese plantation workers have morphed into something with plenty in common with the Baptist or Episcopalean churches down the road. George Tanabe gives a wonderful description of this Hawaiian Buddhism in his article, "Shaka Buddha."
Sunday was Hanamatsuri, Buddha's birthday, and was officially declared "Buddha Day" by the mayor. We followed a family in Sunday best as they filed into the Veteran's hall. They paused in front of a lei-decked fountain with a carved canopy and poured a small dipper of sweet tea over a glistening little statue of a lean standing Hotoke-sama, or Buddha. Then they bowed with their juzu beads between their hands.
I love ritual, but I'm a wimp, and just gave the little Buddha a shrug and a nod as I went past. Which is more disrespectful-- skipping the ritual, or aping it without understanding what it is or how to do it? I'm not sure, but my bashfulness won out, and I went, unshriven to my chair. Rosie recognized Sari-chan from playgroup and the two pudgy toddlers chased each other around the hall.
In the program, the Kambutsu-e, or the rite of "bathing the body of the Buddha" is explained.
A flower shrine known as a hanamido is set up in front of the main altar as a symbol of Lumbini Garden. In this shrine is placed a statuette of the infant Buddha, pointing his right hand toward the heavens and his left hand toward the earth. The sangha offers flowers and pour sweet tea of the image... This simplified reenactment of the Buddha's birth signifies glory and joy that filled the worl at this event.

The choir sang, the ministers of the various sects and missions on the island entered in a procession, most of them in starchy black robes and stiff silk collars. They each offered flowers and tea, and lit insence before a large alter on the stand. The Jodo missions, the Hongwanjis, the Shingon mission all seemed to be cut of the same cloth-- their ministers are mostly young men from Japan, with their clean and attentive young families bowing and smiling to their congregants, greeting them in heavily accented English and answered in heavily accented nisei Japanese.
The one notable exception was the Tibetan buddhist minister-- a middle aged white guy with a fluffy ponytail, white slack and sandals, and his congregation of two tall and floral-dressed blonds. Afterwards they stood in a knot by the muffin table while the room full of nisei and sansei sworled around, greeting each other ("Oh Mrs. Nakamoto!" "Mrs. Ishisawa. How are you?")
Some things reminded me of the smidgeons of Buddhism I saw in Japan: Sari-chan's daddy chanted the Sutra "Kan Moku Ge" in a high intense tone, a bell chiming, the insence filling the air. Then some things seemed straight from sunday school: awkward teenagers passed around koa collection bowls, and an aging minister gave a slightly rambling account of Siddharta's birth and early life, with snippets of buddhist wisdom sprinkled in.
I was mostly chasing my toddler, but one Dharma or teaching caught my ear: "Be your own light." If you are hungry, does your friend offer to eat for you? If you need to go to the bathroom, does your friend go for you? of course not. So if you are seeking enlightenment, you have to get it for yourself. Life is the cataclysm-- be here and now and don't worry too much about the mysteries of the past and the future.
With my Christian background, Matthew 6:34 echoed in my mind: "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

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