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Hong Kong boasts a large population of Buddhists and Taoists, so it should come as no surprise that Buddha’s Birthday spells celebration for many devotees and worshippers. From prayer sessions and bathing ceremonies in beautiful temples and monasteries to public fairs that bring Buddhist teachings and culture closer to the community, read on for your guide to Buddha’s Birthday celebrations in Hong Kong.
Buddha’s Birthday usually spells increased foot traffic for all temples, monasteries, and shrines in town as worshippers flock to these locations to pay their respects and indulge in the many celebratory activities on offer. The types of activities you would encounter at individual places of worship might differ, but they usually include praying sessions, lighting of lanterns, and burning incense at the altar where offerings are made.
Prayers would typically include Buddhist chants, sometimes accompanied by soothing music, whilst a lit lantern symbolises Buddha’s achievement of nirvana. In larger temples and monasteries, you will also find Bathing of the Buddha ceremonies taking place on Buddha’s Birthday. Aside from Wong Tai Sin Temple and Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan, the following three are likely to be the most popular.
Crowds are guaranteed to populate the Ngong Ping neighbourhood on Lantau Island this Buddha’s Birthday. Not only is the area home to local cultural destinations such as the Tian Tan Buddha, but also the nearby Po Lin Monastery. As the holiday falls on a Friday this year, many devotees will choose to take advantage of the long weekend and hike up to the Big Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery, of which the statue is an extension, to show their respect and enjoy the various festivities and cultural performances on offer.
Po Lin Monastery and Tian Tan Buddha, Ngong Ping, Lantau Island
Another popular location for Buddhists to visit is the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin. A vibrant complex comprised of halls dedicated to Buddhist and Taoist deities, pavilions, and an eye-catching pagoda, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is perched on top of a hillside in Pai Tau Village. Since the place of worship is only accessible by a steep stairwell of 431 steps, many devotees consider the trek to the monastery alone a show of respect.
Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, 220 Pai Tau Village, Sha Tin
Chi Lin Nunnery is another well-frequented location on Buddha’s Birthday. Perched atop of Diamond Hill, this place of worship is a stunning complex spanning over 360,000 square feet and is the largest handmade wooden building in the world. It houses statues of the Buddha, Guanyin, and other bodhisattvas made from a range of materials, from precious gold to modest clay and wood. Originally built as a retreat for Buddhist nuns, Chi Lin has become a popular place of worship and a spiritual retreat from urbanity for many Buddhists in the city.
Chi Lin Nunnery, 5 Chi Lin Drive, Sheung Yuen Leng
The Bathing of the Buddha—as the name suggests—is a ceremony in which a statue of the Buddha is bathed with water. This practice originated from the birth of Buddha where nagas and devas—celestial deities in Buddhism—bathed his body in water after he was born. Today, Bathing of the Buddha ceremonies are held on Buddha’s Birthday to celebrate his birth and to express the need and respect for his teachings.
The cleansing ritual begins with a bow and a prayer, then a ladle filled with water is poured over a statue of the Buddha. Devotees are encouraged to remind themselves that their hearts and minds should be cleansed of worries and sin as they take one step further towards enlightenment.
Bathing of the Buddha ceremonies will be held in most places of worship in town, including the three complexes we mentioned above. The Hong Kong Buddhist Association will also be hosting public bathing ceremonies at other locations, such as school playgrounds and district community centres.
Apart from celebrations in temples and monasteries, you will also find Buddha’s Birthday fairs popping up around town during the holiday.
Held by the Hong Kong Buddhist Association, Buddha’s Birthday Festival is a three-day event taking place at the Hong Kong Coliseum in Hung Hom over the long weekend, from 26 to 28 May. Beginning with a Buddha bathing ceremony, the festival comprises of lectures on Buddhism, prayer sessions, conversations with masters and laymen, and a ceremony of conversion for those who wish to become a part of the religion.
Across the harbour, you will find the Buddha’s Birthday Carnival taking place at Victoria Park on 26 May this year. Organised by the Buddha’s Light International Association, a range of celebrations and activities will be made available on-site to devotees and those who want to learn more about Buddhism, including a Bathing of the Buddha ceremony, info sessions on Buddhist vegetarian culture, prayers, games, and various talks led by monks.