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A day for sharing soybeans and forming ties

(Shanghai Daily)

11:00, May 17, 2013

When the Buddha Sakyamuni was born in the fifth century BC - his final, earthly incarnation - all the flowers bloomed and nine heavenly dragons spat fragrant water on the mortal child.

This symbolic "baptism" of legend is reenacted on his birthday by Buddhists who bathe a statue of the Buddha in fragrant water. This is a major festival for Buddhists in China and around the world, and temples are filled with ceremony, chanting and incense.

On every birthday, the eighth day of the fourth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, the ritual of bathing the Buddha is observed. This is known as the Yu Fo (Buddha Bath) Day tradition.

Typically, a statue of Buddha is placed in a golden basin of water as monks chant and ring bells. Incense fills the air and everyone kneels. The senior monks bow before the statue, scoop water from the basin and pour it over the statue.

The water is a herbal decoction, often containing licorice.

Believers then drink some of the water used in the ceremony and pray for health.

The legend of Buddha's birth has it that after 20 years without a child, King Suddhodana's wife Maya got pregnant quickly after dreaming that a white elephant holding a white lotus entered her womb through her right side. According to tradition, the Buddha-to-be was a bodhisattva in heaven and decided to take the shape of a white elephant to be reborn for the last time on earth in what is now Uttar Pradesh, India.

The moment he was born, the little prince was able to walk and speak. He took seven steps, walking over lotus blossoms. He pointed at the sky with one hand and at the earth with another, saying, "I am the only great one in heaven and on earth."

Suddenly, all the flowers and nine dragons spit fragrant water from heaven to shower the child.

Some people say that what Buddha did was meant to encourage people to stand upright between heaven and earth. Many followers believe that by bathing the Buddha statue, they cleanse their inner world and purify their souls.

The Buddha Bath Day tradition was spread to China in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD) and was brought to the region along the Silk Road. In the Han Dynasty, it was only celebrated in Buddhist temples, but soon it was widely accepted and practiced by ordinary people.

The Water-Sprinkling Festival of the Dai and some other minority nationalities is said to have originated in this religious tradition.

As in other Buddhist festivals, temple fairs are held, people chant and abstain from meat on that day. Touching or sipping the bathing water is a tradition.

Forming ties is important on Buddha Bath Day, notably in Beijing. It is said that people come to know each other because of the ties formed in previous lives. The tie is called yuan, pronounced the same way as "round." Round soybeans symbolize forming ties.

On Sakyamuni's birthday, some people carry cooked soybeans to the temple to form ties with the Buddha. Some women will twiddle cooked soybeans while chanting to Buddha before the family shrine.

Other believers will ask for yuan dou (tie beans) from every household on their way to the temple, whether they know the inhabitants or not. Offering soybeans is a way of forming ties in the next life.

In ancient times, wealthy people often placed soybeans in a basket at their residence gate so passersby could collect them, thus showing their hospitality and willingness to form ties with others.

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Email|Print|Comments(Editor:LiXiang、Ye Xin)

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