The Meaning of Hanamatsuri
Reverend Matt Hamasaki, Resident Minister
In April, we celebrate Hanamatsuri, which in Japanese literally means “flower festival.” This is taken from the legend of the historical Buddha’s birth when his mother, Queen Maya, stopped in Lumbini’s Garden on the way back to her hometown to give birth.
It is said that all the flowers bloomed, and it rained sweet tea from the sky. Thus, we decorate the hanamido, or small altar with the statue of the baby Buddha with flowers and pour sweet tea over the statue.
Within all the rituals of Buddhism, there are multiple meanings. Some have roots in practical uses, and some have symbolic reasoning attributed to them. Depending on the sect or even just the minister you are talking to, you may get several different interpretations of any given ritual.
Pouring the tea over the baby Buddha’s head is one of them. One such interpretation is that “it is easy to wash away physical dirt, but much more difficult to cleanse one’s inner impurity of greed, anger, and ignorance.” You may recognize these three as the Three Poisons.
It’s so simple for us to wash our hands, and we have gotten a lot of practice during the pandemic. Of course, we should continue to wash our hands regularly for our safety and for the safety of those around us. How do we wash our spirit though?
One tradition during Hanamatsuri is to pour the sweet tea over the Buddha three times and while doing this, being very mindful of what you are doing and concentrating each time on one wish for yourself and the world.
First time: May I eliminate all evil thoughts.
Second time: May I cultivate good deeds.
Third time: May I help save all living beings.
Of course, as Jodo Shinshu Buddhists, we recognize that these aspirations are ideals which are impossible to achieve. However, by cultivating this mind we are blazing a trail that our actions may follow. With these wishes, the next time we are given a choice, it will be easier to choose the right path: think pure thoughts or bad thoughts, do kind deeds or selfish deeds, help others or harm others.