Buddhist Temples throughout the world are packed with worshippers as people gather to celebrate the birth of Buddha on April 8. According to legend, Buddha was born five hundred years before Jesus in the garden of Lumbini in Nepal. He was called Siddhartha Gautama. The tales say he was the son of a king, raised in a palace with every imaginable luxury.
A Queen Has a Dream
The stories say that before his birth, his mother, the queen of a small Indian village had a dream. In the dream, a white elephant offered the queen a lotus flower, and then, entered the side of her body. When sages were asked to interpret the dream, they predicted the queen would give birth to a son destined to become either a great ruler or a holy man. One day, they said, he would either conquer the world, or become an enlightened being—the Buddha.
Within ten months, as a tree lowered a branch to support her, a baby boy was born, emerging from her side. It is said that when he was born the birds sang, the flowers bloomed and rain fell from the heavens to welcome him.
Wisdom through Pain
Shielded from pain and suffering, Siddhartha indulged in a life of pure pleasure. It’s believed that when he was sixteen, his father married him to his cousin. Eventually, they fell in love.
According to the legend, his father does all that he can to never let Siddhartha witness any suffering. But one day he goes outside and has several important encounters. First he sees a sick man and doesn’t quite understand what is wrong. He asks his attendant and the attendant explains that everyone gets sick.
Siddhartha realizes that it isn’t just one sick person, in fact pain is universal. According to legend, he keeps getting the chariot driver to take him out and he witnesses reality, which is full of pain and suffering.
It’s believed that on the fourth trip outside he sees a spiritual seeker. This is someone who has decided to live completely outside of Siddhartha’s world of materialism. That’s when Siddhartha decided to give up his life of luxury, leave his family, and turn to a life of poverty.
After almost starving to death, the man who would become Buddha realizes that punishing his mind and body is not the answer. According to legend, he realizes in order to find spirituality, he must look within.
Every pilgrim knows the story of how Siddhartha, after accepting rice milk from a young girl, put aside the rags he was wearing, bathed himself in a nearby river, and sat down in the shade of a tree, and began to meditate. Before the sun would rise, Siddhartha’s long search for enlightenment would be over.
Buddhist Pilgrims Today
Today, Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world make their way to the birthplace of Buddha. To be in the presence of a teacher whose life story is told through centuries of legends.
Inside every temple in Japan a Hanamido, or flower hall is prepared, where a statue of the baby Buddha sits adorned with flowers. Visitors pour hydrangea leaf tea on its head as an offering.
Throngs of pilgrims have flocked to Bodh Gaya, the town in northeastern India where Buddha is believed to have found Nirvana. Most Buddhists describe Nirvana as being present in the moment and not living in the past or future.