Seon Master Toeong Seongcheol, the late Patriarch of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, wrote a wonderful poem for Buddha’s Birthday in 1986 which was printed in ‘Echoes from Mt. Kaya’, a book of his teachings now sadly out of print. The book was translated by Brian Barry, the Korean-based artist who painted, among other things, the platform doors in the preaching hall at Wat Suthat here in Bangkok.
The poem, which you can read on Barry’s site under the section entitled Dharma Drumming, or at the website of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, is a hugely energetic birthday greeting to all living beings, and beyond. Happy Birthday, Seongcheol calls out, to the Buddhas in prisons, in taverns, in gardens, and in the skies.
“To all you Buddhas who have become endlessly changing clouds drifting across the sky, to all you Buddhas who are quietly biding your time as boulders — a very happy birthday to you, too. / And happy birthday to all you cute little Buddhas swimming in the waters. To all you lively Buddhas soaring about the sky. To all you reverential Buddhas singing hymns in churches, and to all you handsome Buddhas chanting in temples”.
Written when he was 74 years old, the poem goes on to wish a happy birthday to farm workers, factory workers, and students. Everyone, and everything, he says, is a manifestation of Buddha. Every place is “a site for liberation from suffering and ignorance”, and every day is a day to respect and congratulate each other. It’s a call to happiness. Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday!
“It is gratitude for somebody who wanted to teach us. It is not a coincidence that Parents’ Day and Teachers’ Day are always around Buddha’s birthday. In this sense, its gratitude to teachers, but also a reminder of the potential within each of us.”
– Chong Go Sunim