Bathing Buddha Day
The celebration of bathing the Buddha is to commemorate Shakyamuni Buddha’s birth. Around three thousand years ago, Lady Maya dreamt of a six-tusk white elephant entering the right side of her body. As a result, she became pregnant. Ten months later, on her return to her maiden home, in Lumbini Garden, she saw the wonderful fragrant Ashoka trees and raised her right arm to hold on to the tree branch. At the moment, the Buddha was born from the Lady’s right side. The newborn Buddha walked seven steps in the four directions. In each step a great lotus appeared from the ground. The newborn Buddha, with one finger pointed up towards heaven and one finger towards the ground. He said “Above and below the heavens, I alone am the most honored.”(the “I”here means the Buddha nature of all living beings.”At the moment, the earth was shaking and heaven rain down flowers. The four heavenly kings used twelve fragrant broth and famous flower to bath the newborn Buddha’s golden body. Nine dragons spouted water on the baby Buddha. The heaven and human beings both rejoiced the birth of the Buddha. The Buddha brings wonderfully refreshing Buddha Dharma to the living beings with burning afflictions in the three realms and lead them to the path of liberation.
“The meaning behind Bathing the Buddha celebration”explained in four parts
1. brief biography of Shakyamuni Buddha
Shakyamuni Buddha was born in Kapilavastu, India (which is Lumbini, Nepal today) 2500 years ago. He was the son of King Suddhodana. Siddhartha was his name. At a young age he had already demonstrated unparalleled talents in both literature and martial art. At the age of 19, Prince Siddhartha refused to succeed the thorne and wealth and left the home life on February 8th. He spent five years to look for wise teachers then spent another six years practicing austerities in the snow mountains. Shakyamuni Buddha was enlightened on December 8th when he was 30 years old. He spent the next 49 years to preach Dharma and spoke in more than three hundred assemblies. Shakyamuni Buddha, 79 years old, entered Nirvana under two Shala trees at the bank of Nairanjananadi River on Feb 15th.
2. The origin of bathing Buddha ceremony in Buddha's birthday
The birthday of Buddha should be unified across the globe. In Buddha’s time, there were numerous states in India. Each state had different calendar systems so the exact birthday of Buddha could not be verified. Whether or not the birthday is exact does not comprise the goals of celebrating Buddha’s birthday. Even though the Theravada and Mahayana traditions have no unified dates on Buddha’s birthday but the dates are not too far off from each other. The Theravada tradition celebrates on the 15th of April. The Mahayana tradition is on the 8th of April, only seven days apart. Even though the traditions are different, all Buddhists celebrate this great and holy day sincerely and respectfully to honor the Buddha’s great compassion and vows to cross living beings over.
The record of bathing the Buddha ceremony can be traced back to Master Dharmaraksa and Master Zhi Qian’s time translating Buddhist scripture in Ancient China. In the Basic Cultivation Practice Sutra and The Buddha Speaks Crown Prince Rose to Auspiciousness Sutra there were records of Buddha bathing. For example, the Basic Cultivation Practice Sutra says “the dragon king brothers rained warm water on the left and rained cold spring on the right”. The Buddha Speaks Crown Prince Rose to Auspiciousness Sutra says "(the crown prince) was born. The four heavenly kings carried the prince to a small golden table and bathed the prince with heavenly fragrance.”
In the end of Han Dynasty, Buddhism had not been in China for very long. One military general named Guan Rong believed in Buddhism with reverence. He supported monastery construction, Buddha statues, and Dharma assemblies. On April 8th, he hosted his own Buddha Bathing ceremony, being the first in Chinese history. He used the best food and drink to make offering to the Buddha. He organized a grand feast and spent a lot of money on the ceremony. Some said Guan Rong’s ceremony did not adhere to Buddhist traditions. However, Guan Rong did not have much knowledge in Buddhism. In the later eras, Chinese had many different ways to celebrate the birth of Buddha. Some had baby Prince Siddhartha’s statue in a flower-decorated cart or on top of an elephant’s back for parade.
3. How is the Buddha Bathed?
The procedures are stated in “The Merits of Bathing the Buddha Sutra”:
(1) Use materials such as: Cow Head Melia Azedarach (or more commonly known as the Indian Lilac),
White Cedar, Chen Sink Rosewood, Boswellia Thurifera Tulip, Dragon Brain Incense, Lingling Sink Incense, etc.
We place them on a clean stone and grind them into paste for perfume. Then place it into a clean container.
(2) The sandalwood, made with good soil, can be rectangles or circles. The shape and size can vary according
to the bathing bed where the Buddha is placed.
(3) The Buddha is first bathed with fragrant tea(soup) then bathed again with clear water.
As a result, the water must be clean.
(4) Taking the fragrant tea, we bathe the golden buddha from the shoulders three times to eliminate our greed,
anger, delusion and karmas.
(5) The movements of the hands should be light and delicate in order to prevent the pure water from spilling out and be stepped on.
(6) We use a soft cloth to dry the Buddha and light incense to pervade the four directions.
4. According to “The Merit of Bathing the Buddha Sutra”, bathing the Buddha has the following benefits and merit:
(1) Enjoy current blessings and happiness, and live long without any sickness.
(2) One’s vows and wishes will all be fulfilled.
(3) One’s family, relative, and friends will be in harmony.
(4) One will be distant from the eight sufferings, and leave the source of suffering permanently.
(5) One will not attain life as a female, and quickly complete the proper enlightenment.