In all east Asian countries except Japan, the Buddha's birthday is celebrated on the 8th day of the 4th month in the Chinese lunar calendar. That date is May 21 in 2010.
Happy birthday, big guy.
Buddhism has Four Noble Truths:
1. Life is characterized by suffering.
2. Our suffering is a result of craving and desiring.
3. If we can stop our craving and desiring, we can stop our suffering.
4. The way to do this is the Eightfold Path: right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right awareness, right concentration, right thought, and right understanding.
The Eightfold Path is like spokes on a wheel. It doesn't matter which spoke you focus on because it all leads to the same center. The center is enlightenment. So, don't get freaked out by all the parts of the Eightfold Path. Just pick one and focus on that. That will make it easier for the others to fall into place.
Buddhism says that bad stuff happens. We can control how the bad stuff impacts us personally. Buddhism doesn't say that we'll never get crapped on if we meditate every day. Crap still happens. We're just better able to handle it. We see it for what it is, and then we let it go.
I'm not very good with letting go. I'm not very good with seeing things for what they are and not making them bigger. But I want to be.
There's nothing about Buddhism that precludes you from being a Christian or a Jew or a Hindu. Buddhism is a path, a way of seeing the world; it's not a religion with a God to worship. The Buddha isn't God, and he never claimed to be.
I come to Buddhism as a liberal Protestant who majored in Religious Studies and interned at both an Islamic Center and a synagogue, who went to seminary and specialized in interfaith dialogue, who wrote her master's thesis on the subject of women in Buddhism, who used to work in a UU church and now works in a synagogue.
I go to church. I wear a Buddha necklace. There is no conflict there. God is bigger than the boxes we hold up to the sky.*
I believe that I will be a better person if I can learn to sit, to breathe, to fight my tendencies to intellectualize everything, to open myself up to whatever is there besides the squirrel-like chattering in my head. I have much work to do before I can sit for five minutes without looking at my watch, but Judaism helps me here: "You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it." (Pirke Avot)
Happy birthday, Buddha. Thanks for showing me a way to be. I'll keep working on it.
*God is also bigger than the bogeyman. I learned that from the VeggieTales.