Good morning to you all and welcome! How many of you noticed our beautiful new sign on the front lawn as you walked to the Temple? Isn’t it wonderful? Thank you to Rev. Matthew, Mike Croft, Monty Deorhing and Kris Nash for your help in making it all come together! Thanks to everyone who helped with setup yesterday. It was a lot of fun!
Today we celebrate Shakyamuni Buddha’s birthday! Let’s take some time and reflect on the birth story Rev. Matthew read to us. It is helpful to understand the meaning behind the legend. It sounds like a very fanciful story. The Buddha had many many lives before he descended from Tushita Heaven. In Dharma school we often read one of these Jataka tales and reflect on its meaning in our lives.
What interesting imagery is in the story? The White Elephant. The baby standing upright. The Seven Steps. And the “elephant in the room”from the beginning of the story - it is an immaculate conception of sorts. [to borrow a phrase]
Some parts of the story aren't fanciful at all. Queen Maya wanted to give birth at her family home with her mother there, but they didn't make it. That seems pretty realistic. It gives me a sense that this really happened, little surprises and all.
What about the six tusked white elephant that appeared in Queen Maya’s dream? You all saw it here - in this beautiful painting donated by Moon, Sunny and Dan especially for today's celebration. The White Elephant is a sacred animal representing fertility and wisdom. In several sutras, Bodhisattvas are said to ride on a six-tusked white elephant like this one.
And why six tusks?
The six tusks represent overcoming attachment to the six senses, we chant from the Heart Sutra - “no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind”. Remember in Buddhism we have six, including Mind. We get attached and cling to these senses and their sensations [sense objects]. But we need to let go. Life is joyful when we just let sensations happen - without our wanting, clinging, or aversion.
The six tusks can also represent the Six Paramitas - the six ways to the Other Shore - giving, morality, patience, diligence, contemplation, and wisdom. When we apply these values life becomes joyful.
When Shakyamuni Buddha was born he stood up straight, took seven steps, and declared "I alone am the World-Honored One." (so beautifully portrayed in Moon’s painting here) And he pointed up with one hand and down with the other, to indicate he would unite heaven and earth. The seven steps he took represent the seven directions -- north, south, east, west, up, down, and right here -- seven steps going beyond this self centered world of Samsara. He declares, "I alone am the World-Honored One" - showing his awareness that after so many lifetimes, he will be a great teacher and lead all sentient beings to a joy filled life - free from suffering.
When we celebrate the amazing birth of Shakyamuni Buddha we are also celebrating our own birth. We honor and treasure each birth today. It is a rare and unique event to even be born human, so we celebrate. The Buddha’s teaching of the interdependence of all things makes it clear that our birth is the result of sooo many causes and conditions. Realizing this we can see that our birth is truly a rare and wonderful gift. We have a deep obligation to live this life in mindfulness and Joy and compassion. Sharing the teachings of the Buddha when we can.
Shakyamuni Buddha was born a bodhisattva - a Wonderful Being - who fully realized his Buddha Nature. He taught that we are all born with Buddha Nature - it is universal. Why did Shakyamuni Buddha speak of Buddha-Nature? He wanted to tell us all that we each have Buddha nature - We have the potential of becoming a Buddha.
Bodhidharma’s insight says, “To find a Buddha, all you have to do is see your nature.”
Universal Buddha-Nature means that “All sentient beings have Buddha-Nature, but it is dormant (asleep inside of us), or covered with our delusions”. Amida Buddha was once one of us. It was through the perfect maturing of his Buddha nature that he completely rid himself of clinging and attachment for the sake of all sentient beings. Amida Once suffered as we suffer now, that brings us close to his heart, awakening our minds to the presence of Infinite Wisdom and Infinite Compassion - Amida Buddha - in us. Amida Himself is our Buddha-Nature. Amida's Great Love and Compassion is our Buddha-Nature. Nirvana (which we can easily realize in the Pure land) is our Buddha-Nature perfectly expressed. Amida’s Great Vow - “I will become a Buddha when, all Sentient beings can easily be born into my Buddha Field through my merits on their behalf.”
This is our Buddha-Nature fully expressed.
Everyone has Buddha nature, the potential to become a Buddha. It is in the sky-like nature of our mind. Utterly open, free and limitless, it is fundamentally so simple and so natural - it is never complicated, corrupted, or stained. It is so pure that it is beyond even the concept of purity and impurity. When we think of our Buddha nature as sky-like it helps us to imagine its all-embracing boundlessness; beyond that Buddha nature has an added quality - open and expansive and clear like the radiant sky but with awareness.
Because everyone has Buddha nature, we treat all with the highest respect and greet each other with deep reverence in gassho, a bow. This is a wonderful part of our teaching - we respect others, your family, friends, teachers and even people you do not know as a Buddha. This gratitude begins in our minds and expands out. This attitude in gassho can start to vibrate in our environment. It is through gassho that we can fulfill the Buddha nature within us. Buddha nature is the pure white lotus within us. The lotus flower grows in muddy water, rising and blooming above the muck - coming to full flower we experience enlightenment. The lotus reminds us of the expression of our true spirit, born in murkiness fully flowering in the Pure Land.
Why is Amida's Land called pure? Because Amida's Mind is pure, Pure Wisdom and Pure Compassion. The sentient beings born in His Land realize this same Pure Mind - the very same Pure Mind. Amida's Pure Mind and the believer's muddy mind become one and the same. Just as the white lotus rises out of the muddy pond pure and untainted.
Many Dharma talks were shared by Shakyamuni Buddha during his 45 years of giving his important teachings. About 2600 years ago. Often he taught about the Tathagata Amitabha (Amida Buddha). Amida was the truth he had found in his Enlightenment. Shakyamuni Buddha was a manifestation of Amida Buddha, he himself was Amida.
Today during this special Flower Festival service is a time for us to recognize our Buddha nature and rededicate ourselves as we contemplate the importance of the birth of our teacher, spiritual guide and friend, Shakyamuni - The Sage of the Shakya People - the Buddha.
We celebrate the Buddha’s birthday today. We remember to be grateful for all that he has taught us - grateful to be born human - this wonderful unrepeatable life, grateful for showing us that we are all connected to each other, grateful to know that we all are born with Buddha nature, and grateful for Amida’s Vow reaching out to all of us, no matter how troubled, no matter how happy - that we may find Joy in life.