Monday, May 19, 2008

Buddha’s Birthday

The full moon of May that occurs tonight in the Himalayas and tomorrow night here in the West is known as Buddha Purnima, the Buddha’s Birthday, and is celebrated by many Theravada Buddhists and Hindus at this time. The Tibetans will observe this auspicious occasion at the full moon next month.
I had the pleasure of attending the prayers and festivities for Buddha Purnima years ago at Swayambunath, the iconic stupa with the all seeing eyes of Buddha finely painted on pure gold, that represents Kathmandu and Nepal in the minds of many.
High atop a dusty hill, west of this ancient city, and reached by a very steep flagstone stairway, pilgrims stoically ascend through mists and smoke in a tiny woods populated by a tribe of very charismatic monkeys, ever alert and very well fed by passers-by. More than a dozen small stupas painted white, Tibetan prayer stones etched with powerful incantations, and orange robed seated Buddhas are scattered about the grounds. They provide an excellent excuse to stop and linger and catch your breath as yet two more wizened grandmothers pass easily ahead and up the steep incline.
On reaching the main platform crowds of people, sweet smoky incense, garlands of orange marigolds and millions of tiny oil lamps mingle as Tibetan prayer flags snap in the breeze. Everyone falls into a loosely formed line to circumambulate the main stupa going in a clock-wise direction and spinning large prayer wheels that line the base at shoulder height. Music plays, women draped in shawls and gossamer skirts barely missing the tiny tongues of fire everywhere, chant their prayers and stop to light more candles for requested blessings. Every human sense is stimulated, old friends excitedly greet each other, hands folded, Namaste softly spoken… It is a lovely Birthday party,and surely enjoyed by all.
I sit many years and a world away from the dusty knoll of Swayambu in my lush green hills of New England. A strong wind is roiling through the sea of electric green leaves. Trees moan and creak as they sway from the next forceful wave. The rhythm of the rustling leaves makes me momentarily forget that I am landlocked, until a brilliant scarlet tanager startles my eyes and quickly disappears into the tender,leafy,surf.

May you and yours find many blessings and personal illumination on this auspicious night!

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