Hanamatsuri - The Birth of the Buddha April 18, 2021
From Leicester, England
Reverend Caroline Brazier
The Cleveland Buddhist Temple welcomes Rev. Caroline Brazier. Rev. Caroline is a Jodo Shinshu Priest. She took Tokudo in 2019 in Kyoto and currently lives at the Tariki Trust Buddhist centre in Leicester, England. She writes, teaches Buddhist psychology and trains people in Buddhist approaches to psychotherapy and ecotherapy. This summer she plans to retire and spend more time with her children and grandchildren. www.tarikitrust.org, www.buddhistpsychology.info
Buddha in the Window
Rev. Caroline Brazier
Walking through our village, I see a Buddha statue in the window of a house. A flutter of anticipation. Have I stumbled across a fellow practitioner living nearby? Might we make contact? But then, of course, I realise that the owners of the house are not Buddhist at all. This was not a religious statue, but a popular version of a Buddha, the like of which I have seen in many gift shops and garden centres locally, most probably bought as a decoration with little thought for its significance.
In the past, when I have seen Buddhas being sold in such shopping outlets I have felt some irritation. Why should a religious artefact, important to Buddhists, be sold as a decorative item? How would Christians or Muslims feel if symbols of their faith were sold as garden or household ornaments to non-believers? In general, Buddhists are more tolerant in their attitudes, but I have known some who would be outraged at such trivialization.
But then I start to think about what lies behind this popularity.
There is no denying that, almost invariably, if one looks at the range of statuary on sale in these garden shops and department stores, Buddhas rank pretty high. We are looking to move house shortly and, having viewed a number of houses recently online and in actuality, it seems as if almost everyone in the UK has a Buddha tucked away somewhere in their home. I commented on this to one lady we visited, who smiled and responded, “Oh yes, I rub his tummy every day for luck!”
Of course, as Buddhists, we can regard such comments as superstitious nonsense. On the other hand, maybe in doing so we miss the point.
If you talk to people who have no real knowledge of Buddhism about why they have a Buddha statue in their home they will usually say something like “It makes me feel peaceful.” Whilst they may know next to nothing about the Buddha’s teaching, the figure sitting in meditation or standing calmly with hands outstretched evokes a response in them. The inward smile and settled posture speak of something which they intuitively long for. Connecting with the image brings a moment of calm; a pause in the onslaught of daily life. It satisfies a hunger.
The fact is that there is something represented in these popular statues that touches deeply into people’s hearts. These images, drawn with varying degrees of liberty from traditional iconography, call out qualities in people which they experience as life enhancing. They connect in an instinctive way to something fundamental.
So, I ask myself, is this basic instinct that connects to the statue on the window sill really so different from what arises in our hearts, that we give voice to in the nembutsu? It is often commented, at least here in the UK where I live, that Pure Land Buddhism is difficult for Westerners to grasp. Westerners, we are told, are attracted to the pragmatism of meditation, of individual practice and of personal effort. Pure Land Buddhism is too relational and too religious. Perhaps, however, this view does not take into account the hunger for spiritual connection that so many people seem to feel, expressed in these many casual purchases of Buddha figures.
I am not saying that everyone who has a Buddha in their garden is a fledgling nembutsu follower, but perhaps the impulse that leads people to select a Buddha from the stone ornaments in the local store holds something of that same response, the same calling of the heart. Shinran’s teaching reached out to ordinary people, and Pure Land Buddhism has always had a popular aspect to its practice. Amida’s vow is for everyone, not discriminating by wealth or taste or education. It is our deep connection to the greater Buddhaness that is always with us, deeply intuitive and beyond ordinary words.
Amida’s vow speaks to people in different ways. Maybe for some people the Buddha’s light comes from the daily sight of their favourite ornament. Maybe for some, daily devotions can even be the rubbing a Buddha’s tummy.
Namo Amida Butsu
Rev. Caroline Brazier
Excerpts of Buddhist voices across teachings, across contients, across time.
(An ancient retelling of) The Birth of the Buddha
Now the moment when the future Buddha made him so incarnate in his mother’s womb, the constituent elements of the ten thousand world systems at the same instant quaked and trembled and were shaking violently. In the ten thousand world systems an immeasurable light appeared. The blind received their sight, as if from very longing to behold his glory. The deaf heard the noise. The dumb spake one with another. The crooked became straight. The lame walked. All prisoners were freed from their bonds and chains. In each hell the fire was extinguished. In the realm of the hungry ghosts hunger and thirst were allayed. The wild animals ceased to be afraid. The illness of all who were sick was allayed. All people began to speak kindly. Horses neighed, and elephants trumpeted gently. All musical instruments gave forth its note, though none played upon them. Bracelets and other ornaments jingled of themselves. All the heavens became clear. A cool soft breeze wafted pleasantly for all. Rain fell out of due season. Water, welling up from the earth, overflowed. The birds forsook their flight on high. The rivers stayed their waters flow. The sea became sweetwater. Everywhere its surface was covered with lotuses of every color. All flowers blossomed on land and in water. The trunks, and branches, and twigs of trees were covered with the bloom appropriate to each. On earth tree-lotuses sprang up by sevens together, breaking even through the rocks; and hanging-lotuses were born in the sky and rain down everywhere a rain of blossoms. In the sky deva-music was played. The ten thousand world systems revolved, and became as it were a woven wreath of worlds, as sweet smelling and resplendent as a mass of garlands, or as a sacred altar decked with flowers. The palace was filled with joy and peace. Auspicious clouds trailed in the sky and enveloped the tile roofs of the lofty towers.
One day in the last month of pregnancy, his mother Queen Maya decided that she would like to pass the spring day in a flower garden. Attended by a retinue of ladies in waiting she had herself driven to the Garden of Lumbini. The trees were abloom with beautiful flowers which gave off pleasant fragrances; the deep blue grasses were like the tail feathers of a peacock and they sway like soft fine silk blown by the wind. The Queen took a pleasant stroll; she leaned on the limb of an Asoka tree which had drooped down by the weight of its flowers. At that moment, the Bodhisattva was born, suddenly yet peacefully. Immediately after birth, he took seven steps in each of the four directions and proclaimed, “In Heaven above and Heaven below, I am the most honored one; I shall dispel the suffering that fills the world.”
The divine beings residing in space raised the virtues of the mother, Queen Maya. The Naga King rained down cold and warm water and bathed the body of the Bodhisattva. The great world… trembled and shook with joy like a ship tossed by the wind; and from a cloudless sky there fell a shower full of lotuses and water lilies, perfumed with sandalwood.
Excerpt from the archived files of the Cleveland Buddhist Temple with notations from C. H. Hamilton, Buddhism; Buddha-Dharma, The New England Edition ; Buddha – Carita.