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Celebrating Hanamatsuri Despite the Circumstance

Editor’s note: Rev. Matt Hamasaki, Resident Minister at the Buddhist Church of Sacramento, wrote the following Dharma message for the Sacramento Betsuin’s Sangha newsletter. The Wheel of Dharma is reprinting Rev. Hamasaki’s message with his permission.


In April, we celebrate Hanamatsuri (literally, “Flower Festival”), which commemorates the birth of Siddartha Gautama, who would eventually become the Buddha.

Legend tells of the auspicious birth in Lumbini’s Garden when all the flowers burst into bloom and sweet tea rained from the sky. Thus, our tradition is to have a statue of the baby Buddha in the Hanamido (literally, “Flower Hall”), which is decorated in flowers.

It is the one time a year that we pull this special statue out of storage and have a unique and ornate offering. Recently, I have developed a newfound appreciation for this statue.

The truth of impermanence means we are losing more and more of the Nisei generation as they, as a whole, grow older. There is a small silver lining here, though, as we begin to uncover more about their lives, especially their early lives, after they pass away.

And one aspect of their lives was the time in the internment camps. Learning more about this difficult but influential time of our predecessors opens insight into their sacrifices and their ingenuity.

Practicing Buddhism was all but forbidden in camp. They didn’t want Japanese to be spoken for fear of spy messages being spread, and, of course, there was no altar area available. This did not stop the services from happening and they did with what they had.

At one camp, a man snuck into the kitchen and carved a baby Buddha out of a carrot and other internees combined the sugar they were rationed to make sweet coffee to pour over it. In another camp, for lack of flowers, they dyed toilet paper red with beet juice and folded them into flowers.

To me, more than how fancy the set up was, the care and effort put into these altars would make the Buddha smile. It reflected their dedication and how much they treasured the Buddhist teachings — that no matter what situation they were put in, they revered and took refuge in the Buddha-Dharma.

It is a lesson for me and for all of us to recognize how fortunate we are currently and to reexamine our own devotion to the teachings.


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