Question: What is the right way to bathe images of the ‘baby Buddha’ during Vesak season (which celebrates the birth of the Buddha-to-be, his Buddhahood, and commemorates his Parinirvana)? E.g. Some say the water is not supposed to be poured over the head?
Answer: Just as a newborn is bathed entirely, the baby Prince Siddhartha’s standing image is bathed from head to toe to be thorough. This is likened to us showering completely to be totally clean too. A ladle of water is usually tipped over the head mindfully with two hands thrice while kneeling to express respect. What is more important than knowing how to perform the practice physically is to understand its spiritual significance. With each time the ladle is tipped, the following can be recited:
First wash: ‘May I eradicate all evil (from greed, hatred and delusion).’
Second wash: ‘May I cultivate all good (with generosity, compassion and wisdom).’
Third wash: ‘May I deliver all sentient beings from suffering.’
In reality, the Buddha-to-be’s body does not require our bathing at all as he was born physically pure. The physical bathing as a practice to offer reverence is symbolic of our aspiration to spiritually purify ourselves of our inner defilements which sully, or rather, cloud our Buddha-nature. We are likened to ‘baby Buddhas-to-be’ at the moment too, yet to grow up spiritually to actualise our fullest potential, to be true Buddhas. The following verse is also often recited when bathing the baby Prince:
Verse For Bathing Buddhas
As I now bathe all Thus Come Ones (Buddha Tathagatas),
may pure wisdom adorn the ocean of meritorious virtues.
May sentient beings with the five defilements depart from the dusts (of afflictions),
and together realise the Tathagatas’ pure Dharma body.
*Five Defilements (Corruptions):
‘The Buddha spoke of the five corruptions of this world:
 The corruption of the age means that this is a time when wars and natural disasters are rife.
 The corruption of life means that our life span is short.
 The corruption of sentient beings means that beings are debased in body and mind.
 The corruption of afflictions means that compulsions and hardships caused by attachment, aversion, indifference, pride, and doubt are ever increasing, bringing trouble and chaos.
 The corruption of views means that misguided, perverse opinions proliferate: that our bodies are entities that we possess; that we are annihilated after death or else live on forever; that there is no cause and effect; that our arbitrary opinions are best; and that we will attain liberation by our own subjectively chosen methods.’
– The Ninth Pure Land Patriarch Great Master Ouyi
(who taught the Pure Land path as the most skilful of skilful means to overcome the Five Corruptions)
The bathing of the Buddha-to-be reenacts the occasion of his most auspicious birth at Lumbini Park, whereupon heavenly dragons manifested to sprout streams of warm and cool water to honour and bathe him. The Buddha-to-be also walked seven steps (which can symbolise stepping out of the six realms of existence to attain full enlightenment), each upon a lotus flower (which symbolises purity) blossomed to support his feet, preventing him from being physically defiled (which symbolise him never becoming spiritually defiled again). The Buddha-to-be also pointed a finger to the sky and another to the ground, thus declaring, ‘In the heavens above, and below the heavens, only I (which symbolises all sentient beings’ similarly ‘one’ Buddha-nature) alone am [truly] honourable. (天上天下, 唯我独尊)’
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