January 26th is the birthday of Dogen (the Founder of Soto Zen). Dogen was born in Kyoto on January 2nd (January 26th in the solar calendar). On January 26th, two ceremonies are held in celebration of his birth, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. In the morning ceremony, a scroll with a painting of Dogen is hung in the Lecture Hall (Hatto). A pail is placed in front of the painting containing holy hot water in which such incense as aloes, sandal wood have been boiled. In the afternoon is the ceremony of appreciation (Ho-on Koshiki). Special shomyo Buddhist music is chanted as an expression of gratitude.
This is the day that Shakyamuni Buddha died near the town of Kushinagara on the banks of the Hiranyavati River. A big scroll depicting the Buddha entering Nirvana is hung in the temple and a ceremony expressing our gratitude to the Buddha is performed.
It is said that at the time of his death the Buddha was sleeping on a bed that had been prepared between two sala trees; his head to the north, his face to the west, and his right hand for a pillow. At that time, white flowers bloomed on the sala trees and fell continuously.
Many of his disciples, the king and his family, men and women of all ages, and even birds and animals gathered, sighing with sadness. The Buddha gave his last discourse, expounding the fundamental truth – even though the physical body dies, the Dharma is eternal; in order to see the Buddha, it is necessary to see the Dharma. In this way, he taught his disciples the precepts and the way they should maintain the practice of Buddha’s Way. This sermon is called the Yuikyogyo, the Last Teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha.
In connection with the Nirvana Ceremony, there are some districts in Japan where, from long ago, dumplings have been made either at the temple or in individual homes. These dumplings, also known as “flower dumplings,” are first offered to Shakyamuni Buddha and then distributed to people who attend the ceremony.
It is generally said that people who eat these dumplings will not suffer from sickness or disaster and for this reason many people come to the temple on the day of this ceremony.