Happy birthday Sakyamuni Buddha! The founder of Buddhism was born on the 8th day of the 4th lunar month and the Fo Guang Temple marked the special occasion with a little festival in Leicester Square this past weekend, only a few metres away from the Sultan's Elephant making its way around Trafalgar Square. It was altogether rather jolly and colourful in central London, despite the rain.
The Fo Guang Temple Buddha's Birthday celebration is the biggest annual outdoor Buddhist event in Britain and there were two days of processions, lion dances, music, puppet shows and dance performances. The marquee in Leicester Square was decked out in flowers and filled with art work, incense, an enormous display for the Buddha itself and a series of little Buddhas in pools of scented water that visitors could kneel in front of and bathe. The bathing of Buddha at this festival is an important part of the celebrations.
"It is because in limitless eons in the past he had bathed many other Buddhas. Bathing the Buddha is a way of commemorating the day Sakyamuni Buddha was born. The Buddha is greatly enlightened and truly understands everything. Basically, the Buddha's body is perfectly clean and he doesn't need a bath. The ceremony is a manifestation of our filial thoughts toward the Buddha. When Sakyamuni Buddha was born, nine dragons came to bathe him, so we follow their example and bathe the Buddha. As Buddhist disciples, we should remember our teacher and be filial to him."
Bathing Buddha Procedure
This ritual is to improve harmony and inner balance:
1. Kneel on cushion
2. Fill ladle and pour water over small Buddha statue 3 times
3. While pouring water, say;
1st wash: "May I eliminate all evil thoughts"
2nd wash: "May I cultivate good deeds"
3rd wash: "May I help save all living beings"
Londonist was positively encouraged by beaming helpers and cheerful monks to take part, take pictures, ask questions and try some of the delicious blessed vegetarian food. We each went through the bathing ritual minus the chanting which we didn't feel able to do and afterwards received our tiny laminated pictures of Buddha and a thimbleful of bitter ginseng tea that we were given as souvenirs. We went out into the rain with our little vegetarian lunch boxes and a sense of peace that is a rare, rare thing to feel in the heart of Leicester Square.