Be More Buddha

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This month is special for Buddhism, as the sacred Vesak festival takes place to mark Buddha’s birthday. In India and Nepal, where Buddha was born and lived thousands of years ago, it will be celebrated on the full moon day of the ‘Vaisakha’ month of the Buddhist calendar. In the Gregorian calendar, that translates to 19th May.

We’ve all seen and heard of Buddha, but his life story is perhaps not as well-known as his serene statues. In this blog we shed some light on who Buddha was, his teachings, yoga significance and statue etiquette.

Buddha was born Prince Siddhartha Gautama in the 6th century BC (the exact date is debatable) in Lambini, later becoming the Gautama Buddha. He wasn’t a god, but he was a philosopher, meditator, spiritual teacher and religious leader in modern day Nepal and India. He is considered the founder of Buddhism.

Under the Bodhi tree

The name Buddha means ‘one who is awakened’ or ‘the enlightened one’. Buddha initially lived a sheltered life in a palace with his father, a ruler, but one day in the outside world he saw human suffering which impacted him deeply. Deciding to follow a spiritual path, he was determined to find a way to relieve universal suffering – one of the defining traits of humanity. It is widely accepted that during intense meditation under a Bodhi (fig) tree, all of the answers he had been seeking became clear. He achieved full awareness, thereby taking the title of Buddha.

He called his awakening the Middle Way, encouraging others to follow a path of balance, avoiding the extremes of self-denial and self-indulgence. His first sermon laid out the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, which became the pillars of Buddhism. This is known as the Dharma.

Be your own light

Buddha was ahead of his time in terms of diversity and inclusion! He welcomed anyone – regardless of class, race, gender or previous background – with the desire to reach enlightenment through the banishment of suffering and spiritual emptiness. Buddha spent his life travelling and teaching the Dharma until he died from illness at approximately 80 years. His final words of advice were to “be your own light” rather than follow a leader.

Buddhism and yoga

Both Buddhism and yoga have enlightenment at their core. Around the time of his teachings, Buddhist yoga aimed to develop key virtues known as the 37 aids to awakening. The ultimate goal was awakening or nirvana – extinction of three fires/poisons of greed, aversion and ignorance. Yoga included mindfulness and mindfulness of breath, later expanding to include mantras and chants. Two indispensable mental qualities for yoga practice in Buddhism translate to ‘calm/stability’ and ‘insight/clear seeing’. These values are still intrinsic to modern western yoga practice, along with the physical fitness focus.

Buddha etiquette

Buddha statues bring peace and harmony to a home or space, attracting and circulating positive chi (vital life force). There is some interesting etiquette to follow out of respect for Buddha:

1 His statue should face east, where he would have meditated. As the first sun rays of the day grace his statue, this awakens a ‘rebirth in consciousness’ for all in the house

2. Never place Buddha in a bathroom or facing one. It’s also disrespectful to place him beneath or in front of a room with a toilet, and can flush your good luck away

3. Seat him on a raised platform and never directly on the ground. Placing your Buddha at eye-level or higher during yoga allows you to gaze and connect with him

4. Nothing should be hanging above Buddha or be cluttered around him

5. He should be kept clean and dust-free

6. An ideal position is facing the front door from inside the home. This can offer blessings to visitors and protection from intruders.

Do not confuse this Buddha with the laughing Buddha, a Chinese monk (although he is the patron saint of children and synonymous with prosperity, so won’t harm you).

Celebrate Buddha’s birthday with us

On Buddha’s birthday, Buddhists (particularly in Asia) celebrate enlightenment by spending time at their temple, meditating, chanting and reflecting on his good deeds, sometimes all night under the full moon. At Hot Yoga Club, we will focus on breath and mindfulness during our peaceful candlelit session, face-to-face in the studio. This takes place on May 19th at 20:00 with Laura. We hope to see you there!