Bathing the Buddha

During normal, pre-pandemic times, the Buddha's Birthday (also known as Vesak) is a joyous and festive occasion at the Chan Meditation Center (CMC). Perhaps comparable to Christmas in the West, the Buddha's Birthday is one of the most important, if not, the most important holiday in Buddhist cultures, a community event that is celebrated with food, entertainment, presents and ceremony. At CMC, ordinarily, there would be lots of people, a vegetarian feast, dance and musical performances, a magic show, gifts. But not this year.  Needless to say, due to the pandemic, this year, there was none of that. I was in front of my computer, chanting the liturgy in Pinyin along with the monastics and watching the monastics and some volunteers bathe the baby Buddha on behalf of those of us at home. Yet somehow, that, along with the backdrop of a hopeful and still uncertain pandemic future, made the occasion all the more poignant and special. It seemed that the absence of the decorations, food, sounds, movements, laughter and people, brought the words and meaning of this occasion into sharp focus.    When I first got interested in Buddhist practice and started attending CMC, as a non-Chinese speaker, I focused on meditation. I avoided the Chinese chanting services but was curious. What were they chanting? Does chanting work? I was encouraged to attend and try it out. A monastic advised me to focus on the experience of the chanting. Don't focus on the meaning of the words but the sounds of the words. How do you feel after the service? Now, this I was able to do. If there is one thing that meditation has taught me, it is to observe my thoughts and emotions and how my body feels. I decided to treat the experience of chanting service as a kind of human experiment. Indeed, after participating in the chanting services, I noticed that my body and mind felt lighter, freer, less vexed, serene, happy.    My skepticism extended to the Bathing