A Birthday Puja: Offering Lights

This past Sunday we celebrated the 58th birthday of Bhante Uparatana.  He is the chief monk at our Buddhist Center.  The children love him dearly.  He has a kind and gentle way of speaking to the children.

We held a birthday puja for him.  In this special blessing ceremony, we make symbolic offerings in the name of the Buddha.  An especially beautiful offering of candles was made in honor of Bhante.
During the puja, Bhante's friend, Rev. Maithree spoke to the children about the benefits of offering lights.  He shared the following teaching from the Brahma Sutta.
One who offers lights:
 - becomes like light for the world
 - gains clairvoyance as a human (the ability to see truth beyond the senses)
 - achieves the devas' eye 
 - acquires the wisdom to discern virtue from evil
 - eliminates the ego
 - finds the illumination of wisdom 
 - will be reborn as a deva or human
 - experiences the wealth of great joy
 - quickly becomes liberated
 - quickly attains enlightenment 
I loved the idea of sharing the value of offering lights with children.  As a child, lighting candles with a prayer was always a special experience for me.  Since this puja, I've been thinking a lot about the kids I've worked with over the years - youth of different faiths.   All of them have responded on a spiritual level to simple ceremonies involving candles.  I believe these benefits extend to all children and all people who use candles to offer heartfelt intentions.  Why not use this wonderful practice more often with our kids?

After the ceremony, the kids took turns signing a card for Bhante.  
Then we had cake. 
It's a fun Sinhalese tradition for the children to be hand-fed cake by their parents, elders, and older siblings.  I've seen this happen every time we've celebrated a birthday at the Buddhist Center.
After Bhante blew out the candles, I jokingly said to a friend, "Now, WHO is going to feed Bhante the cake?"  Imagine my delight when the eldest monk there lovingly and playfully fed Bhante the first bite of cake.  It was such a sweet, fun moment to witness!  
Happy Birthday, Bhante Uparatana!  
May you be free from all suffering by the power of the Triple Gem!