Amitābha’s birthday and liberation of life
Popular notions of the nature of Buddhism and Buddhist practice tend to focus on the figure of a solitary meditating Buddha. Solitary practice is an important part of what Buddhist monastics and lay practitioners do but most of what happens on a daily basis in a monastery or temple is communal. Large, energetic gatherings of monks, nuns, and lay supporters involving music, movement, and often food are the fabric of a rich and varied practice shared by Buddhist communities. Activities follow a cycle of more than two dozen ritual celebrations of significant dates such as the date Śākyamuni Buddha entered nirvāṇa, or the date Bodhisattva Guanyin, “she who hears the cries of the world,” attained enlightenment. Recounted here is my visit to Gold Buddha Monastery in Vancouver, British Columbia, to join a celebration of Amitābha Buddha’s birthday. A second part of the proceedings included a ceremony known as the “Liberation of Life.” This retelling, based on my notes, video recordings, and photographs, provides a window onto ritual practice at a Chinese Buddhist temple and the community that comes together to enact the Buddha’s teachings concerning reverence for life.