ANAHEIM – When Buddha was born, about 2,500 years ago, sweet tea fell from the heavens and his mother dreamed of a white elephant by her side.
Or so the legend goes.
The Buddha, born as Prince Siddhartha Gautama in India, would go on to found the religion that bears his name – one of the most popular Eastern faiths, in which its followers strive for enlightenment and the attainment of nirvana.
The religion ultimately spread from India to China, then Korea, Japan and the rest of Asia.
With waves of Asian immigrants to the U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries, Buddhism also reached the Western world.
Over the weekend, the Orange County Buddhist Church in Anaheim wished the Buddha a happy birthday, pouring sweet tea over an icon of him and educating people about his cultural significance during the two-day Hanamatsuri Festival. The celebration attracted about 2,000 people, who dined on Japanese food, enjoyed traditional folk and dance music, and perused cultural exhibits.
“Without Buddha there would be no Buddhism,” said the Rev. Marvin Harada, who has led the Orange County Buddhist Church for 29 years.
“But more than his birth, his significance is in his life and enlightenment, and that after he reached enlightenment, he chose to teach.
“It’s one of our most important holidays for sure.”
For Harada’s church, the largest Japanese American Buddhist temple in Orange County, the weekend had a second purpose: educating people about the church’s particular sect of Buddhism and the culture and history of Japan.
The Orange County Buddhist Church, on Dale Avenue, practices Shin Buddhism, which began in Japan around 800 years ago when a monk, Shinran, walked away from the monastery and took Buddhism to the masses.
“He brought Buddhism to the ordinary people,” Harada said, noting that Shinran did not live a monastic life. “He had a wife and children.”
Shin Buddhism spread to the United States around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, when the first waves of Japanese immigrants arrived.
At the Hanamatsuri Festival, a tea master taught visitors how to perform a traditional tea ceremony.
A doll maker spoke about the art of creating kimekomi dolls, which translates to pressing cloth into wooden figurines.
The festival also had exhibits showcasing samurai swords, traditional flower arrangements and calligraphy, and performances of folk music and karate.
“It’s a way to expose our daughters to the culture,” said Lynn Ishihara of Irvine, referring to her now twentysomething-year-old children.
Neither Ishihara nor her husband, Mark, are Buddhist, she said, but attending the festival “shows appreciation for the culture.”