What Is Hanamtsuri?
Q: What is Hanamatsuri?
A: Hanamatsuri is the name we give the service to celebrate the birth of Sakyamuni Buddha
Q: What is the birthday of Sakyamuni Buddha?
A: Sakyamuni Buddha's birthday is given as April 8.
Q: What does the word Hanamatsuri mean?
A: Hanamatsuri (花祭り) literally means Flower (花 hana) Festival (祭り matsuri)
Q: Why is Sakyamuni Buddha's birthday called Hanamatsuri?
A: The Buddha's birthday celebration is called Hanamatsuri because he was born in the middle of a garden that was abloom with all sorts of beautiful flowers at the time of his birth
Q: Does this garden have a name?
A: Sakyamuni Buddha was born in Lumbini Garden
Q: What is the structure that houses the baby Buddha statue called?
A: The structure is called a hanamido (花御堂), or “flower hall.” The first character “hana” (花) has the meaning of flower. The second character “mi” (御) is the character that lets us know what follows is “special” or “something to honor.” The final character “do” (堂) has the meaning of “hall” or “holy space.” This is the same character used for Hondo (本堂) or “Primary (Main) Hall.”
Q: Why do we pour tea over the baby statue of the Buddha?
A: Sweet tea, traditionally amacha (lit. “sweet tea), is poured over the Buddha's baby statue to correspond with the story of the Buddha's birth that states that after the Buddha was born the heavens were overjoyed with the birth of the child causing a sweet rain to bathe the infant (see Hanamatsuri story)
Q: Is there a significance to the elephant entering the right side of Queen Maya?
A: The right side is considered the “side of purity.” (please see oshoko video for more explanation)
Q: Do all Buddhist traditions celebrate Hanamatsuri?
A: Whereas all Buddhist traditions celebrate the birth of the Buddha, not all traditions celebrate Hanamatsuri. Instead, these traditions celebrate with the Vesak on the first full moon in the month of May. The Vesak is a celebration that commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death (pari-nirvana) of the Buddha.
Q: Is there a need to refer to the Buddha as Sakyamuni Buddha?
A: If the context is clear there is no need. However, the name Sakyamuni is used to distinguish Sakyamuni Buddha from other Buddha such as Amida Buddha. This becomes necessary because Buddhism is a religious path that is meant to help all beings become a Buddha. The goal of a Buddha is to help enlighten all beings or to help everyone become a Buddha themselves.
The Hanamatsuri Story
It is said that prior to the Buddha's birth his mother, Queen Maya, had a dream of a six-tusked white elephant enter her right side. This dream indicated that her son would either become a Cakravartin King¹, or the greatest spiritual ruler the world has ever seen.
When the day of the Buddha's birth neared, as was customary at the time, the Queen made a trip to have her child where her parents lived. En route the queen decided that she would rest at a beautiful garden she and her entourage were passing. The beautiful garden was Lumbini Garden.
When she went to take a look at a flowering tree it is said that is when the Buddha was born from her right² armpit³. After his birth, the Buddha is said to have taken seven steps⁴ in each of the four directions⁵. After taking these seven steps in each of the four directions the infant is said to then have pointed up and down and declare,
“Heavens above and heavens below,
I alone am the World Honored One⁶.”
Upon seeing the birth of this special child the heavens opened up and in celebration caused a sweet rain to bathe the child.
¹ A Cakravartin King is a king that will rule the entire world
² The right is considered the side of purity
³ Indian society at the time of the Buddha's birth had a strict hierarchy of four distinct classes of people. The most respected and influential caste was the Brahmin caste or the caste of priests and teachers. A Brahmin would be born of the head. The next class was the Kshatriya or warrior caste. This caste was born from the armpit. The Vaishya caste or the farmers, traders, and merchants are born from the waist. The Shudra or laborer class is born of the legs. There is one other major group of people or the Dalits. This group is not included in the caste group and are seen as outcasts. These individuals, relegated to the most menial and dirty of jobs, are said to be born from the soles of the feet. Sakyamuni Buddha would effectively eliminate the caste system within his order or the Sangha.
⁴ The seventh step is symbolic of the baby having transcended the six realms of suffering and thereby ending the cycle of birth-and-death or the life of suffering. The six realms of suffering are: (1) Heavenly realm, (2) Human realm, (3) Warrior realm (Asura), (4) Animal realm, (5) Realm of the Hungry Ghost (Gaki), and (6) Hellish realms.
⁵ The four directions are: East, South, West, and North. The four cardinal directions are given in this order because this is seen as the “flow of truth.”
⁶ “World Honored One” (世尊, seson) is an epithet for Buddha.