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Area Buddhists celebrate ‘Buddha’s birthday’

Gainesville temple hosts annual Vesak Day

POSTED: June 2, 2014 12:16 a.m.

There’s a “baby Buddha” in all of us.

“That’s to remind us of our own Buddha nature,” monk Tri Hoang said. “We believe that everybody has a baby Buddha inside.”

Hundreds of area Buddhists attended Gainesville’s Quang Ninh temple Sunday for the religion’s annual Vesak Day. Vesak Day celebrates the three phases of Buddha’s life — his birth, enlightenment and death. It’s colloquially called “Buddha’s birthday.”

“The aim of Buddhism is trying to find happiness,” Hoang said. Hoang, who lives in Houston, Texas, was visiting the temple at the request of his friend, the temple’s abbot Phuoc My.

“It’s the absence from suffering,” Gainesville attorney Jennifer McCall added. McCall was there with her husband, children and father, Ban Nguyen.

Buddha, or “the enlightened one,” lived as an Indian prince. As the story goes, he was first exposed to aging and death at the age of 29. He first tried to escape the aging process by beginning to live a spiritually pure life.

Buddha achieved enlightenment through meditation at 35. He developed the Four Noble Truths, the pillars of Buddhist teachings.

Sunday’s celebrants, many with Vietnamese roots, spent the day at the temple enjoying food, fellowship and prayer. There were many statues of Buddha both outside and inside in various poses. People left offerings to show respect at each statue; offerings could be anything, as evidenced by three cupcakes left in front of one statue.

As Hoang explained, offerings are usually fruit and flowers. Flowers, he said, demonstrate the impermanence of life.

Traditional food was served, like Banh Xinh Xoa, a sweet gelatinous dessert made from seaweed and flavored with coconut milk, chocolate and coffee. Other dishes included fried bananas, Thai tea and a noodle soup called Bun bo Hue, comprised of vegetables, tofu and a spicy broth.

The meals were vegetarian; more conservative Buddhists live a meat-free life, but all are asked to refrain from eating meat during Vesak Day.

“We love the fish and the chicken,” Hoang said. “We love the pig and we love the cow as much as we love the cat and the dog.”

After a service, the day culminated in a processional of a giant statue of Buddha to the tower, called a “stupa.” Buddhist monks and nuns, along with other attendees, lined the drive up to the temple as the statue approached, and then led it up to the main building.

“Usually, during these festivals, we bring out the monks,” said Christy Tran, 16. “That’s part of what we do. And also, this is our first time doing a dance, so the four oldest are the main dancers. And then the youngest, they’re kind of like background dancers.

“Usually for every festival we do this.”

Hoang said the practice of Buddhism can be practiced by anyone, regardless of religion. He said anyone could benefit from meditation and the ultimate goal of Buddhism, which is the absence of suffering.

“Keep your mind calm and clear,” he said. “When your mind is calm and clear, that place is a paradise and you can experience paradise right here and now. You don’t need to wait until you die ... for paradise.”

Vesak Day

Hundreds of area Buddhists attended Gainesville's Quang Ninh temple Sunday for the religion's annual Vesak Day. Vesak Day celebrates the three phases of Buddha's life - his birth, enlightenment and death. It's colloquially called "Buddha's birthday."


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