According to this legend, briefly after the birth of young prince Gautama, an astrologer named Asita visited the young prince’s father—King Śuddhodana—and prophesied that Siddhartha would either become a great king or renounce the material world to become a holy man, depending on whether he saw what life was like outside the palace walls.
Śuddhodana was determined to see his son become a king, so he prevented him from leaving the palace grounds. But at age 29, despite his father’s efforts, Gautama ventured beyond the palace several times. In a series of encounters—known in Buddhist literature as the four sights—he learned of the suffering of ordinary people, encountering an old man, a sick man, a corpse and, finally, an ascetic holy man, apparently content and at peace with the world. These experiences prompted Gautama to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest. He spent the rest of his life perfecting meditation to find the peace within and teaching the techniques to anyone who wished to know.
Having attended a 10 day Buddhist meditation retreat 8 years ago, I now make a 20 minute meditation a part of every day and this has, over the years paid off in spades. I highly recommend meditation for relaxation, stress relief and it helps when crossing Hong Kong’s busy pedestrian pathways!
“I can die happily. I have not kept a single teaching hidden in a closed hand. Everything that is useful for you, I have already given. Be your own guiding light.”
– The Buddha, while leaving his body at the age of eighty
In China, celebrations often occur in Buddhist temples where people light incense and bring food offerings for the monks. In Hong Kong, Buddha’s birthday is a public holiday. Lanterns are lit to symbolise the Buddha’s enlightenment and many people visit the temple to pay their respects. The bathing of the Buddha is a major feature of Buddha’s birthday celebrations in the city.
It is remarkable that a man of simple stature, having given up his royal status, could affect the course of history and bring peace to so many. In a frenetic city like Hong Kong, calm descends for just a day. If you have time to visit one of the many Buddhist shrines around the city, today probably isn’t the best day to do so. But take a moment to enjoy the country side, the beauty of Hong Kong’s natural places, and todays glorious weather because with the factories of China turned ‘off’ during Golden Week, we are sure to enjoy cool spring skies and some fresh air for a few days – perfect for getting our breathing techniques focussed in line with Buddha’s teachings.