Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Something Different: Buddhist Holidays

In the west, it's easy to miss out on the festivals and holidays that highlight various events in the Buddha's life. Growing up in a Catholic household, I still hold onto the Judeo-Christian holidays I grew up with, and I don't think that's a bad thing. The Buddha taught us to respect other religions and beliefs that are intended to promote compassion and love, though I sometimes find it hard to understand when religious leaders seem to be preaching the very opposite--condemning the expression of love in homosexual marriage, glorifying war, fighting or tormenting animals via sacrifice (ceremonial killings in Voodoo or Santaria), ceremonial consumption (eating or using parts for specific celebrations and whatnot like Greek Easter's lamb meal or the deer meat at Yule), or as a matter of biblical law (Kosher slaughter is a very frightening way to be killed.) But...those are just the things I muddle over, and not any kind of reason to be nasty or exclusive, certainly. We're talking about intent. So, all in all, I don't think that anyone means to hurt others, we just have varying concepts about what constitutes love and compassion in some cases.

Anyway, I've been celebrating most of the standard Christian holidays my whole life, and even added a few more as friends have taught me about their own religious traditions--Hannukah, Yule, Summer Solstice, and the like, as well as the fun secular holidays like Thanksgiving (carefully sidestepping the Turkey issue via Tofurkey and sponsoring a Farm Sanctuary one via their painfully cute Thanksgiving campaign.) After all, I don't want to be left out on visiting my family and friends, giving gifts, sending cards, and decorating. I don't want to sit around and mope instead of joining in, and I like to think that the people I celebrate with feel the same way.

When it comes to celebrating the holidays of my religion, however, it can be a little lonely. It's not like I wake up to a mailbox full of Losar cards on the Lunar New Year or drive around the neighborhood admiring the beautiful Wasak decorations. Part of it is my own fault. I could make more of an effort to get out to the ol' Zendo, but honestly, it's not the easiest thing to find in Raleigh, NC (if there's one around here that I've somehow missed, please let me know!) It's a lot of work to find other Buddhists in the South, let alone Zen ones. It can be a little lonely.

On the other hand, why should I sit around and mope on the holidays of my own religion when I'm fully festive on the western ones? My solution thus far has been to celebrate mostly on my own, or to drag in a friend or two (with varying degrees of success--eating yummy food is a lot more popular than meditating our bad karma into imaginary scorpions) adding a little more to the holiday each year. A few more decorations. A "new" tradition to add on (new to me, anyway). Invite somebody else over to run around the house waving incense with me, maybe.

What all this rambling is leading to is a brief list of Buddhist holidays, just so my friends and readers can see what it is I'm celebrating next time you see me making tiny boats or having dinner with my dead grandparents.

Losar: Lunar New Year (usually celebrated in January/February.) Often called "Chinese New Year" though they don't have a corner on the market. The lunar calendar runs a bit different than the Roman one. For example, 2009 is actually 4706.

Avalokitesvara's Birthday: She's the Boddhisattva of compassion. This holiday is celebrated on the first full moon of March.

Wesak: Shakyamuni Buddha's Birthday. He's the one commonly called The Buddha (and no, he's not the overweight "rub the Buddha's belly guy". That's a totally different guy who was named Hotei who, as far as I can tell, has little to do with Buddhism)This year, Wesak it's May 2.

Ullambana: Celebrating our ancestors, we make offerings of food to the dead. (Make those dead a bit more lively and it's almost like Thanksgiving .) Aug. 15

Sejiki: Remembering our dead and pacifying agitated spirits. Oct. 30...a bit like a lot of other holidays around that time. :)

Loy Krathong: Festival of Floating Bowls. Little rafts carry our troubles away. Nov. 24

Bodhi Day: Celebrating the Enlightenment of the Buddha. Dec. 8

So, there you go. A few more reasons to celebrate. Who can't use more of those?

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