Birthdays should be re-resolution days,
to avoid more evil, to do more good,
and to further purify our minds,
lest there be more new re-birthdays!
Since young, a question used to puzzle me, at least once a year, but more so when others around me go through this annual ritual – of celebrating their birthdays. What is the mystery? This – ‘Why celebrate birthdays?’ Even as a child, while seeing other kids of similar age throwing birthday parties and being decked with gifts, I never felt envy. What I wondered instead, is exactly what they are celebrating about and for. Did these children have some amazing achievements that made the world a better place? Or had they simply been ‘good enough’ kids? While the first is almost always unlikely, even the latter did not seem like a good enough reason for celebration. After all, are we not supposed to be at least good? The moment some celebratory idea is suggested, I would reflect on whether I had done anything of adequate worth in the past year, or even in my entire life so far, to deserve celebration. The answer would always be ‘no’, with celebrations brushed aside.
Maybe I am being too critical on others or harsh on myself, but birth anniversaries have always been occasions for solemn reflection on the truth that another year had fleeted by. It is time for resolution, that is more timely than New Year’s Day, because this is your ‘New Birth Year’s Day’! Yes indeed, birthdays are essentially re-birthdays, the passing of many of which leads to re-deathdays, closing in on an eventual death anniversary! So much for ‘many happy returns!’ It is time to take stock, more of what essential spiritual learning and practice left to do, than what non-essential material achievements already accomplished. When friends do not contemplate in this way, instead of feeling rejoice upon witnessing their wild birthday bashes, I worry for them. When birthday wishes are made without concern for spirituality, it is even more worrying. I am no killjoy, but is it not more appropriate to make or renew crucial spiritual resolutions?
Birthdays are also ‘Days Of Mothers’ Difficulties’ (母难日), as they are the days when most mothers experience the most terrible of pains when undergoing labour to deliver us. Not only was it incredibly painful for them, it was likewise for us as bawling newborns. Thus did the Buddha call the birthing process the first major form of physical suffering in our lives. These truths remind us of birthdays being cause for serious reflection on the need to practise filial piety, and to live lives towards the transcendence of rebirth. Being born still unenlightened in Samsara is cause for despair, us ‘recycling’ back to be trapped here. Yet, another opportunity here means another chance for us to do better – today. Perhaps it is wise to educate children from young, to reflect on the above, to not take the now common ‘custom’ of having birthday celebrations for granted, as ‘entitlement’ to indulge in extravagant meals and material gifts. The gift of the Dharma, after all, excels all other gifts!
It is surely no good celebration,
to celebrate any birth-days
with the death-days of others,
with many feasting upon them.
Is There A Birthday Sutra?