The Legend of Buddha
To Tibetans, a Buddha is a being — both human and divine, either male or female — who has “awakened” from the sleep of ignorance and has purified all evil, a being who has “expanded” limitlessly the power of his or her compassion and accomplished all goodness. A Buddha is a form of life that has achieved the highest evolutionary perfection possible. He or she is perfect wisdom (the experience of the exact nature of reality) and perfect compassion (the embodiment of the will to others’ happiness). Buddhahood transcends suffering and death and incorporates the perfected abilities to experience and communicate happiness to all living beings.
In the mystical Buddhism, a set of Five Transcendent Buddhas, or Dhyani Buddhas (Buddhas in Meditation), became popular over the centuries as symbolic of the purity of the five aggregates, the five elements, the five directions, the five colors, the five transmuted addictions, the five wisdoms, and the five Buddha clans. Akshobhya is the paradigm of the Dharma’s ability to transmute all the hate of all beings into blue ultimate-reality-perfection wisdom; Vairochana transmutes delusion into white mirror wisdom; Ratnasambhava transmutes pride and avarice into yellow equality wisdom; Amitabha transmutes lust into red discriminating wisdom; and Amoghasiddhi transmutes envy into green all-accomplishing wisdom. However, these are not separate gods. They are just abstract aspects of Buddhahood, often called Tathagata. The are so popular in Nepal that they are found in every stupa, in thousands of Chaityas (small stupas), in courtyards, and painted in the main entrance of the Buddhist house. In Kathmandu, they are also called Panch Buddhas. They are always shown seated in the position of meditation.
The Medicine Buddha is a form that any Buddha can manifest by identifying with the Medicine Buddha in his Pure Land, and represents a Transcendent Buddha’s ability to express himself as healing medicine for the benefit of ailing beings.
Buddha was born in 463 B.C. in the Lumbini garden at Rummindei in Nepal. His birthday is the main Buddhist festival of the year and traditionally is celebrated on the eighth day of the fourth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, typically a full moon day. Therefore the date will vary from year to year in the Western (Gregorian) calendar. Since it is the day upon which the Buddha was born, died and achieved Enlightenment, for Buddhists the celebrations are massive. Families visit the local wat (temple) to pray, and services continue all night and well into the morning. As part of the observance of this festival, celebrants build huge bamboo rockets which they fire at the rain god to bring down the first rains of the season. In addition to the processions there are puppet shows and dancing with everyone dressed up in their very best clothes for the occasion.
Buddha’s birthday is a national religious holiday in Hong Kong, Laos, Macau and South Korea. In Japan it is celebrated on April 8th. Those who visit a shrine on his birthday take an offering of fresh spring flowers (cherry blossoms), and so there the festival is called Hana Matsuri or Flower Festival. It is celebrated with offerings and prayers. Things that are offered are flowers, fruit, wine, rice, and lengths of silk or linen. Many believers prostate themselves repeatedly in front of the Buddha statue. A long line of believers waits patiently for the opportunity to bow and pour a bamboo ladle full of sweet tea (hydrangea leaf tea) with a prayer over a statue of the baby Buddha. This is in remembrance of the legend that it rained tea on the day that Buddha was born.
Buddha’s birthday is a time to remember the story of how the Buddha gained enlightenment and to reflect on what it might mean for individuals to move towards enlightening themselves. Traditionally, the values of kindness, peace and harmony are stressed during this holiday. It is a time to be more patient and more open to each others’ differences, a time to do better and to forgive each others’ failings. In some parts of Asia, for example, some prisoners are released from jail during Buddha’s birthday.
Bhaishajyaguru is known as the Medicine Buddha. He is also called the Healing Buddha. He is said to dispense spiritual medicine when properly worshiped. In Tibet he may be represented either as a Buddha or as a Bodhisattva. As a Buddha, he wears a monastic robe and is seated with the legs crossed. His left hand, lying in his lap in meditation mudra, usually holds the medicine bowl while the right hand in charity mudra holds either a branch with fruit, or the fruit alone, of the myrobalan, a medicinal plant found in India and other tropical countries.
Tibetan medicine recognises three basic types of illness, the root causes of which are the conflicting emotions — passion, aggression, and ignorance. Myrobalan is the only herb in the Tibetan pharmacopeia that can aid in healing each of these three types of diseases. This is like the action of the Buddha of Healing, who has the power to see the true cause of any affliction, whether spiritual, physical or psychological, and who does whatever is necessary to alleviate it.
From the perspective of the Apocalyptic Vehicle, the Vajrayana, Adi Buddha is regarded as the highest deity of The Buddhist Pantheon, the supreme essence of all Buddhas. When represented he begets the name of Vajradhara and is conceived in two forms, single and yab-yum. When single he is decorated with jewels, ornaments, and dress. He sits in the attitude of mediation, and carries the vajra in the right hand and the ghanta (bell) in the left, the two hands crossed in front of the heart in the diamond HUM-sound gesture. In yab-yum, his form remains the same as when single except that when he is locked in close embrace by his Saki. Considered indivisible from the Truth Body of all Buddhas, he nevertheless manifests in the form of a royal Beatific Body Buddha or celestial Bodhisattva with crown and ornaments seated in the diamond posture.
The Tibetans demonstrate their long-term hope for a positive outcome to their evolutionary struggles in believing in the legend of the future Buddha Maitreya. The concept of Maitreya is somewhat similar to Christian, Jewish and Persian Messianic traditions. Once the historic Buddha passed away, there was this great expectation that another Buddha would come. Maitreya is present in Tushita Heaven now and constantly intervenes to improve the day, while waiting to emanate as a Buddha far in the future in order to help those who have failed to reach enlightenment in this cycle of history. It is said he will come to earth a full 4,000 years after the disappearance of Gautam Buddha for the deliverance of all sentient beings. He is the only Bodhisattva who is worshiped both by the Himayanists and the Mahayanists.
In their devotion to the myth of Avalokiteshvara’s vow to protect the Tibetans, they uphold their covenant with a powerful archangel of total benevolence. They need only put the Buddha Dharma of wisdom and compassion into practice as much as possible in their personal lives and social institutions, and the Bodhisattva will tirelessly come to their aid in all their difficulties. In the sense of planetary spiritual environment, Tibetans feel the continuing presence of Padma Sambhava alive on his copper mountain, of Manjushri dwelling on his five peaks, and of the Vajradakinis in their magic land to the west. In the midst of being invaded and troubled by difficulties in the world, they feel Shakyamuni still radiant from the holy land of India, and they feel the vigilant presence of Shambhala in the north, waiting for the time to turn the world around toward goodness and sanity.
Maitreya may be represented as a standing figure adorned with rich ornaments and holding in his right hand the stalk of a lotus. Maitreya may also be represented seated as a Buddha, with legs either interlocked or dangling down. His color is yellow, and his images sometimes bear the figures of Dhyani Buddhas.