Hana Matsuri and the World-Honored One
Hana Matsuri and the World-Honored One

Hana Matsuri and the World-Honored One

Today, April 8th, Zen Buddhists all over the world are celebrating the birth of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical person who became the Buddha, or the Awakened One, approximately 2500 years ago.  In Japan, this celebration is known as Hana Matsuri, the Flower Festival.  Here in Ludington, friends and family of the Great Wave Zen Sangha celebrated Hana Matsuri with a mindfulness walk at Ludington State Park.  Afterward, we spent a few minutes helping the children decorate a small house with flowers, within which was a statue of the baby Buddha.  Then, in a tradition that goes back more than 1400 years, we bathed the baby Buddha with sweet tea.

As you can see in the photos shown here, the baby Buddha has one hand raised up, pointing to the sky, and the other hand down, pointing to the earth.  This particular pose is derived from a legend about the Buddha’s birth.  In that story, the Buddha, immediately after being born, walked seven steps in each of the cardinal directions, flowers blooming wherever he took a step.  Finally, pointing up and down, he uttered, “In heaven and on earth, I alone am the honored one.”

From our modern, western point of view, such a statement sounds rather self-aggrandizing.  (But, hey, if you can walk and talk right after being born, you might be justified in feeling your oats.  “Tain’t braggin’ if it’s so,” as the old saying goes.)

Still, the statement has a deeper meaning than might at first appear.  To see what I mean, you might consider why the Buddha said, “I alone . . . .”  It’s certainly possible for people to be honored by the whole world, but few would say they are “alone” in their being honored.  What is the significance of the Buddha being “alone”?  Does it mean that no one else matters, or that no one else is special?  Of course not.

Being alone also does not mean “lonely.”  It doesn’t even mean “solitary.”  It means “Onely.”  Unified or identified with everything.  A non-dual singularity.  And this itself is the real nature of being “honored.”  It is not merely the kind of honor that comes from the bestowal of praise and admiration but the kind that is part and parcel of being alive at this moment, right here, now.  As human beings, each of us has a fundamental dignity that is inviolate, pure, whole, and complete.  It is the flower house in which it is possible to be born with every arising thought, every physical act, every word we speak.

I hope you have a wonderful spring and that you discover your original honored being.

—Gendo Roshi