Comments (more or less) by Gendo offered at Puget Sound Zen Center, Vachon Island, Washington, to an audience including children.
People might think of “Buddha” as a person who lived long ago, or as a statue in front of the room. But “Buddha” is a word (or a statue) that refers to an experience. Like all words and statues it is different from the experience itself.
“Buddha” is an ancient word from the Sanskrit language of India, translated as “the awakened one.” It represents an experience that is like waking up from sleep, or the waking of a newborn baby. In this case, “sleep” is the usual way of seeing things and “waking up” is a particular, fresh understanding of the way things are. When someone has that waking up experience, Buddha is born.
The first person to describe this experience lived 2500 years ago in India. Today (May 5, 2019) we honor him, honor that experience, its potential in each of us, and its continuing relevance to life in our time.
The Buddha of ancient India was a person born of a mother and father just like us. He was born into a family of privilege, with a father who was a leader in his community. Seven days after his birth, his mother died. His father vowed that his son should grow up with every possible pleasure to distract from the tragedy of his mother’s death.
But, as the boy grew to become a young man, he saw from his window people in the streets who were sick and dying. He decided he needed to leave his comfortable home and solve this problem of suffering.
Of course, human beings still face this problem. Everyone is born with the boundless opportunity of new life, but all must eventually face illness and death. Buddha’s journey is our journey and our ritual today is renewed dedication to his quest and to the timeless truth of his realization.