By CASEY CROUCHER
A golden lame dragon bobbed along Grove Street in Amsterdam Tuesday commencing the celebration of Buddha's birthday.
"This is the most important day of the year for us," World Peace and Health Organization spokeswoman Jennie Wong said.
Local Buddhists joined at the Goddess of Mercy Temple at 58 Grove St. to "commemorate the Buddha's compassion and the hope he inspires in people all over the globe," Wong said.
The celebration featured a "bathing the Buddha ceremony," where participants filled a ladle with water and poured it over a small statue of Buddha three times to "purify the Buddha and purify ourselves," Wong said.
"Bathing the Buddha improves harmony, shows dedication and eliminates bad karma," she said.
Following this, attendees followed the golden dragon down to Five World Buddhas Temple at 262 E. Main St., where they watched the traditional Chinese Dragon Dance, received a blessing from Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi, and enjoyed a variety of performances ranging from interpretive dance to storytelling to religious hymns.
Larry Boutillette, a Boston native who visits the Amsterdam area during the summer, said he's been studying Buddhism for a year and he loves the Buddhist celebrations.
"About a year ago I happened upon the Auriesville Shrine while riding my motorcycle," Boutillette said. "I saw the Buddhist temple up there and became intrigued. I volunteered to do work for them and also took some classes. For me this has been a spiritual quest; I wouldn't say I'm a Buddhist but I do like what they believe in."
Boutillette said Buddhism to him is a form of meditation and Eastern medication. He said he's had a great experience in WPHO and has met a lot of nice people.
"The great thing about this group is that they embrace all cultures and all different kinds of people," he said. "All they want is for people to do good deeds. They'll accept anyone who can treat others with respect and be kind."
Mark Tennyson, also known by his Buddhist name "Miao Sheng," said he's been practicing Buddhism for almost three years and it's changed his life.
"I got sick, I wasn't going to school any more and my roommate at the time was always gone," Tennyson said. "I asked her what she was up to and she told me about WPHO. I was very interested and I let go of everything to follow my heart in that direction."
Tennyson said he's learned a lot but there's "so much more to learn." He said he loves celebrating Buddha's birthday, it's his favorite time of the year.
"Buddha's birthday, or the anniversary of enlightenment, is such a great celebration," he said. "Everything is beautiful."
Wong said she hoped the celebration sparked interest in curious onlookers.
"We welcome different cultures and different people from all over the world," she said. "We want people to know that they don't have to conform to the faith immediately, they can just learn."