Today we come together to celebrate the birthday of the Buddha. According to some calculations this occurred in the year 463 BCE. At that time Queen Maya gave birth while visiting the Lumbini Garden near Kapilavastu. The legend states that immediately upon entering the world, the young Prince Siddhartha took seven steps and made the following statements: "I am born for Enlightenment for the good of the world; this is my last birth in the world of phenomena." (Asvaghosa’s Buddhacarita, part II, p. 4)
This story is a skillful means of expressing the wonder of the Buddha’s coming into the world. However, aside from this miraculous tale, the birth itself should be recognized as a skillful means. Skillful means is the way in which the Buddha communicates the Dharma to his disciples. In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha states that all of his teachings thus far have been skillful means. In chapter 16 the Buddha reveals that even his impending passing away or entrance into parinirvana is a skillful means of communicating the Dharma and motivating people to practice so they can realize the Dharma for themselves. But not only his impending death, his whole life and even his birth were all skillful means. In fact, he opens this up even further to teach that birth and death, appearance and disappearance are not final or ultimate realities for any of us. They are all the skillful expressions of this reality that is not as it seems nor is it otherwise. In the words of the Buddha in chapter 16:
All that I say is true, not false, because I see the triple world as it is. I see that the triple world is the world in which living beings have neither birth nor death, that is to say, do not appear or disappear, that it is the world in which I do not appear or from which I do not disappear, that it is not real or unreal, and that it is not as it seems or as it does not seem. I do not see the triple world in the same way as the living beings of the triple world do. I see all this clearly and infallibly. The living beings are various in their natures, desires, deeds, thoughts and opinions. Therefore I expounded the Dharma with various stories of previous lives, with various parables, similes, and discourses, in order to cause all living beings to plant the roots of good. I have never stopped doing what I should do. As I said before, it is very long since I became the Buddha. The duration of my life is innumerable, asamkhya kalpas. I am always here. I shall never pass away. (Lotus Sutra, p. 243)
The Buddha’s skillful means, therefore, encompass birth and death itself, his own birth and death, and even our own birth and death. Skillful means are not about the communication of ideas about awakening. Rather, skillful means point to a way of relating to the world inclusive of seeing, reflecting and acting that transcend conceptual boundaries like birth and death, self and other, now and then, here and there. The similes, parables, discourses, and most importantly the Buddha’s life itself were and are a means of inviting us to enter into this way of living and seeing for ourselves. This is a way of seeing and being with the concreteness of our lives, say a baby’s first step or first word. In even the simplest things reality opens up to us boundlessly and dynamically. The toddler’s first faltering steps express all that made it possible to do so, each first step goes back to the formation of the world and the Big Bang. The baby’s first words carry forward into the lives of all it touches and all the future words, silences, and actions of all beings that will spring from it. Asvaghosa’s miraculous dramatization is a colorful way of underscoring the significance of any first step or first words, and the way such concreteness opens up to all that makes it possible and all that will spring forth. Not just the first step and word but all steps and words have no beginning or end when we know them as they are. Birth and death and everything in between are also like this, expressing in their immediacy something that cannot be grasped as birth and death or anything conceivable. No thing, then, is a final end in itself, but rather an all-encompassing skillful means. We might say that all things are inclusively inconclusive, each embracing the all but totally emptying out and opening up into all else. This is the Unborn, the Deathless, which is not graspable or conceivable but is expressed in the fullness and self-emptying of being born and dying with all that is born and all that dies.
So from the perspective of the Original Gate of the Lotus Sutra, today and everyday is the day to celebrate the Unborn nature of the Buddha’s awakening communicated in and through his birth and death. This is none other than our own Unborn awakening that is likewise communicating itself to us through the concreteness of our own birth and death. This is the convergence of the sublime and ineffable nature of reality that is Myo and the phenomenal nature of the dharmas that is Ho. In Myoho the Unborn Buddha and the Birth of the Buddha in 463 BCE come to full flower as Renge and full expression without end as Kyo. This is what we wholeheartedly devote ourselves to. This is what we wholly are. Today and everyday, then, let us give birth to the Buddha in ourselves by recalling the Unborn and Deathless skillfully expressed here and now. In that spirit let us express Namu Myoho Renge Kyo.