Parinirvana Day commemorates the death of Shakyamuni Buddha and his entry into Nirvana.
At the age of 80, after 45 years of teaching following his enlightenment, the Buddha fell ill. His cousin and attendant, Ananda, became disturbed. The Buddha told Ananda that his body was like an old cart, frail and aged, and that he had taught everything completely and held nothing back. He told Ananda to seek refuge in the Dharma, nowhere else.
Although the Buddha recovered from his illness, he renounced his will to live and declared he would enter Nirvana in three months.
When the time came, Ananda wept. The Buddha called him and asked, “Have you not heard the teaching of impermanence? All things change. Seek to liberate yourself.” After he had spoken to Ananda, the Buddha instructed the assembly of monks to keep to the monk’s code, then he passed into Nirvana.
The Hazy Moon commemorates Parinirvana Day and the Buddha’s final teachings in February, in accordance with Japanese Soto tradition. A special Parinirvana altar is erected in the zendo and for two weeks prior to the scheduled observance offerings are made daily.
On Parinirvana Day, we chant the Identity of Relative and Absolute and dedicate its merits to the Dharma–the teaching of the Buddha, handed down from teacher to student in an unbroken line from Shakyamuni to Nyogen. Nyogen Roshi then gives a short verse written solely for the occasion, also known as Dharma words.
With Parinirvana Day, we commemorate the Buddha’s manifestation, give thanks for the teaching that has come to us and express our gratitude for the Dharma.