Bathing the Baby Buddha

Buddha’s Birthday

For the celebration of Buddha’s Birthday, we engage in a practice of “bathing” the baby Buddha, which goes back at least to the 5th century in China. We set up an altar with lots of flowers, a bowl of sweet tea, and a baby Buddha. During the ceremony, while reciting the Heart Sutra, everyone is invited to bath the baby Buddha by using a ladle to pour sweet tea over the Buddha. Before the ceremony in 2014, we had words from Dojin and Korin. Also included below is Jisho’s statement to formally open the ceremony, and the dedication recited at the conclusion of the ceremony.


Dojin Relates the Story of the Buddha

Once upon a time, in a kingdom in the mountains in what is now known as Nepal, the queen of the kingdom, named Maya (which in Nepali means love, Queen Love), was pregnant with her first child. One night as she slept, she had a dream. In this dream a majestic elephant with 6 tusks came towards her, mightily but gently, and melted into her. When she woke, she knew this dream was very powerful and had special significance. Now, in this time, and in this region of the world, there were many people that knew about things. They knew what the stars were telling us, and the plants and the animals, the rocks and the weather, and they also knew what dreams were trying to say. Maya and her husband Sudhodana went to one such person and asked about this dream, and he said, without a doubt, this dream was a very good omen, and it meant that the child she was carrying would be a great, wonderful and powerful person, a king in the truest sense of the word.

Not long after, Maya could feel that the time for her child to be born was approaching. She followed the tradition of her ancestors which was to return to her childhood home when she was ready to have her baby. As she traveled to her home, she stopped along the way at a place called Lumbini Park, where there were beautiful, splendid gardens. As she walked along the paths, all the animals in the area turned towards her and began to come and gather near her. And all the flowers turned their heads towards her, craning their flowery necks toward the brightness life she carried in her. A sal tree even reached down a branch to her to offer her support, and there she stood, supported by this ancient tree, and gave birth to a beautiful healthy boy.


Now, we have to remember this is a story, a myth, and like all good myths it has some parts in it that might be a little bit hard to believe. But, we can keep in mind that these parts are there for a reason, they are like a poem trying to describe something wonderful, but not necessarily factual. So, bearing this in mind, what they say happened next is that this newborn baby stood up! And not only that, he took seven steps (without falling over!), pointed one hand towards the skies above and the other toward earth below and then he spoke! saying “I am the world honored one!” In all the world and universe around, what I am, is honored by the earth herself. And so it is told, the buddha was born in our world.

So today, we could stick to this story, and think, “well, that’s a good (or silly, or preposterous, whichever you choose) myth.” And we could celebrate the birth of the Buddha thinking that we are having a birthday party for a somewhat mythological guy who lived several thousands of years ago. And that would be okay, but, it would really be missing the point. Because the point of Buddha’s birthday is to take a day out to celebrate a buddha being born, but to do that, really, we have to understand what “buddha” really is.

Now, scholars agree that there probably was a man who lived in this region of this world, around this time, and was a great person and a great teacher. And today is as good a day as any to deeply thank this person for what he brought to the world. But, today of all days is also a great day to really think about what a Buddha is, because what a Buddha is, is not limited to one person. What Buddha really is, is a moment whenever great wisdom and compassion come together in this world in a thought, or action, in kind word, a moment of selfless generosity, and helps to free up this world. That’s what Buddha is. What Buddha showing up in this world really is, is when any one of us, or anyone else in this world suddenly remembers how precious we are, and how important all the beings and things around us are, and how we are all so closely connected, and we act or speak or even think from that place.

Do you know these moments? Have you seen them? When the idea we usually carry around of ourselves as “me:” over here, and “the rest of the world:” over there, dissolves even for a second, and somebody, sometimes even ourself, acts with tremendous kindness and a deep, deep knowing of what is good and right to do in that moment. That’s a Buddha being born. There are Buddhas that last for ages, and there are Buddhas that last for just a few seconds, but it doesn’t matter, they are all wondrous gifts to this world. Moments of Buddhas showing up are our’s to receive, and also ours to give, and both ours to celebrate!

So today we take a little time to remember to be joyful and thankful and to even have a feeling of a party together for the truth of great wisdom and kindness arising in our hearts, arising in others, and greatly benefitting, nourishing, awakening, delighting, freeing up and honoring this world.

Buddhas Birthday 2

Korin’s Words Before the Ceremony

During this ceremony, we will recite the Heart Sutra and everyone will be invited to bath the baby Buddha with sweet tea. This enacts celestial flowers raining down on the Buddha after he was born.

Here is a kind-of poem for this day and this ceremony of Buddha’s Birthday.

When the Buddha is born, when the Buddha awakens,
the Buddha is born with everything and awakens with everything.

When the Buddha takes seven steps, he traverses the entire universe.
He walks to the very center of how we happen with everything.
The central pivot, where things turn us, and we turn things.

When the Buddha points up and down, he embraces the entire universe.
He embraces earth, he embraces sky.

When the Buddha says, “I alone am the world-honored one,”
This is the lion’s roar,
This is a baby crying,
This is our crying,
This is a great laugh, a quiet truth, a gentle rain, bright sunshine in May.

When the Buddha says, “I alone am the world-honored one,”
He expresses our true nature, our Buddha-nature,
how in the truth of relationship,
everything gives us life,
everything upholds just this moment of just this person,
The world honors this.

And then celestial flowers bathe the Buddha.
Like this, everything and everyone in the universe bathes the baby Buddha.
The world honors this.

And now today, we bathe the baby Buddha,
just like he was born today.
This is participating in the birth of the Buddha.
This is participating in awakening as total relationship.
This is joining the reality of the birth of the Buddha.

It may be part of our practice to take care of awakening like a baby,
like bathing a newborn baby.
Our awakened hearts may need such tender care.

Celebrating the birth of the Buddha is celebrating awakening in the world.
The Buddha was born, and the Buddha was born in the world.
Awakening is not obstructed by birth.
Awakening is not obstructed by the world.
The world is where the Buddha is born.
The world is where awakening lives.

The world rejoices when a Buddha is born.
The world rejoices when awakening is born.
Today, we join the rejoicing of the world.
The rejoicing of the world manifests through our taking up a ladle and pouring tea.

We hold a ladle of joy and awakening pours tea over the baby Buddha.

Jisho Pouring Tea

Doshi by Jisho Statement to Open the Ceremony

On this happy occasion of the Buddha’s birthday, flowers bloom and the wind carries their fragrance throughout the world. The Way of love and truth that Shakyamuni opened so many centuries ago continues today — right here, right now, in our hearts and minds.

Enlightened and ordinary beings on earth and in the heavens honor him for his great gifts to us.
His teachings sing out all over the earth and expand across the universe. Everything is refreshed by this sweet dharma rain.

May the flowers of clarity and kindness bloom everywhere, for the welfare of all.
May the fragrance of his life forever pervade this world,
and may the compassionate light of his teaching shine endlessly and contribute to the peace and harmony of all beings.

As we pour fragrant water over the Buddha, may all beings’ hearts be lightened by truth and love.


Dedication for Buddha’s Birthday ceremony

The doan recites the dedication after the final round of the Heart Sutra, when all present have bathed the baby Buddha.

Today we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Shakyamuni Buddha, our original teacher. Respectfully we have prepared flowers and washed the Buddha in sweet water. The assembly has chanted the Heart Sutra with one voice in gratitude for his wisdom.

The well-springs of our lives have their original source in the pure dharma world. Shakyamuni opened a Way for us live, carrying this true dharma energy forward moment by moment.

We humbly aspire to practice the perfections of generosity, ethics, patience, effort, awakening, and wisdom. May we realize them in wisdom and kind actions, together with all beings.


And after the ceremony…cake!


Appreciation to John Martin for the photos!

Soto Zen in Sonoma County