On May 26, help celebrate Buddha’s birthday. Who is the the Buddha, you ask?
There have been many buddhas (awakened ones) over eons of time. The most recent is Siddhartha Gautama, the historical person who was born in what is now Nepal, about 2,580 years ago. Born into wealth, trained to be a leader, as a young man he began to wonder why there was so much suffering in the world. To his father’s great dismay, he renounced his wealth and went out into the world with his spiritual teachers, seeking an end to suffering for all beings. After seven years of spiritual training, he made a breakthrough that has resonated through the millennia to this day. He called it the Middle Way, a path that was neither ascetic (e.g. Indian swamis, street people in Victoria) nor indulgent (e.g. his previous lifestyle, or the mainstream lifestyle in Victoria). He lived and taught this practice for 42 more years, leaving a rich heritage of practice and an oral tradition that survives in written form to this day.
Today, Bhuddists number somewhere between 500 million and one billion worldwide. Greater Victoria’s population of Buddhists could be about 10,000, mainly people of Asian extraction.
Victoria was the home of the first Buddhist temple in Canada, the Tam Kung Temple, set up in a rented wooden hut in 1876.
Mainstream North American culture has come to embrace many Buddhist values such as peace, tranquility and equanimity.
Some acknowledge the widespread interest in Buddhism through brand names such as Zen Perfume, Buddha Nose and Bodhisattva Botanicals. I can wake up to chimes from my Zen alarm clock, shower with Bodhisattva gel, have a cup of delicious coffee called “Eshu’s Habit.”
It can be confusing to be a seeker in this environment, but for any who wish to explore the basics of Zen Buddhism, there are some very good (in my opinion) online resources at zenwest.ca — talks by our local Abbot Venerable Eshu, and also a free YouTube how-to Zen meditation course.
Coming home to one’s place in the universe in this moment (a.k.a. awakening) is everyone’s birthright. This can be achieved spontaneously for a few moments, or developed and strengthened through rigorous spiritual practice — the usual route to awakening.
This practice is about letting go of our preconceived ideas of who we are, realizing we are not permanent and alone, but impermanent and interconnected with every other being in the web of existence. Because this teaching of letting go of self goes against the teaching of our “culture of the individual” and also against our own habits of thought, speech and action, it can be a very difficult path to follow. Finding a teacher and a community that supports this work is essential.
There are many Buddhist groups in Victoria, some from Asian countries each with its own cultural lens on Buddhism, and also groups of individuals getting together informally to meditate in someone’s living room or at the local community centre.
Whether you’re interested in multiculturalism, are a seeker or a longtime practitioner, come experience a simple, fun celebration of this person Siddhartha Gautama, at the seventh annual Buddha’s Birthday, May 26, 10 a.m. to noon, at the UVic chapel by Finnerty Gardens. Festivities will include storytime about the Buddha’s birth, chanting, tea ceremony, Zen Floral Studio display, Uminari Taiko Drummers and a piñata for the kids. All are welcome.
Soshin McMurchy is a novice priest with the Victoria Zen Centre, zenwest.ca, and serves as the Buddhist chaplain with the UVic Multifaith Services.