One particular ceremony during this Wesak festive time is called: “Bathing the Buddha”. To bathe the Buddha is to pour scented, blessed water over an image of an infant Prince, who has his right forefinger pointed upwards and left forefinger directed downwards. The Prince’s image embodies the enlightened presence of the Buddha. This ritual comes in different forms in each country that it is practiced in, but they are all throwbacks to a single sacred story. It is a story that brings sentient beings together in a joyful celebration of a promise. That promise is nothing less than the end of suffering and ignorance.
According to the ancient stories, the Buddha was born in a very peculiar fashion. Since his mother, Queen Māyā was standing up – or more accurately, leaning against a sara tree – when she gave birth, the baby sprang from her side, landing right on the ground. He was born clean and radiant. The Prince could already walk, and walk the four points of the cardinal directions he did. Wherever he set his feet lotuses sprang up and blossomed. His right forefinger pointed up to the sky and his left down to the grass. Finally, he spoke, although by this time his mother probably had reckoned that she’d seen everything and wasn’t as surprised as she thought she would be:
“Above heaven and below heaven, none are equal to me. This is my last birth. There will be no more rebirths.”
The legend claims he was then showered generously from the skies by the sacred waters of devas (gods) and nāgās, semi-divine serpents. In the Chinese tradition they are sometimes depicted as fully divine dragons.