It has been a universal practice around the world, in practically all cultures, to celebrate birthdays, even if only through simple greetings from friends and family over the phone or through a card. But how many of us wonder why?
Obviously at least some people have. According to comments on one website, the practice is believed by some to have originated in ancient Egypt with the pharaohs, when their day of coronation was considered as the day of their birth as a God and offered a cake to the Gods in celebration. The practice is then said to have spread through the Romans, who introduced the practice for men in general and make cakes out of wheat, oil, honey and cheese. Such celebrations were introduced to women as well in the 12th century and then extended to children by German bakers, when the practice of placing candles corresponding to the child’s age began. Today adults often celebrate their birthdays to various extents, ranging from a simple dinner out with friends or family, to hosting expensive drinking parties. But the fact is that we all are aware of our birthdays every year, until perhaps it ceases to matter.
However, from a spiritual perspective there is a good reason to celebrate our birthdays. In the ancient Vedic scriptures passed down to us by sages believed to be incarnations of the Lord on earth, the human life is extolled as the highest form of life on in all the worlds, for it is only through human birth that the individual soul can liberate itself from its primal ignorance and be reunited with the Source, that universal power that we call God, or the Lord, or by other terms in various religions. Hindus believe that other already enlightened souls may sometimes come down to earth in animal form, but the way to enlightenment for the average individual is through birth as a human being. The Vedas also declare that we have come to this birth after countless births starting from life as inanimate objects, through successive lives as plants, microorganisms, insects, then the lower animals, followed by lives as higher animals before finally being born as a human being, when we are vested with choice for the first time—made possible by the shape of our hands and our minds with intellects (explained in greater detail in the article, Spiritual Nutrition Part I / II). And then, it is not like we get liberated—we go through countless human lives steeped in ignorance born of desire and tendencies before we get to a life in which we become aware that we are not the body nor the intellect, that we in fact are part of the ever-existing consciousness that has never been born nor will ever die.
Given the awareness that we now have, we have reason to be grateful for having been born as a human being. We have good reason to be grateful even for the fact that we are actually aware of these teachings of the imperishable Truth about our existence. For how did we even get here but for the Grace of the Source, that Existence-Consciousness-Bliss, referred to as Shiva by the Hindus, that pervades all things and out of which all of Nature is manifest? As a matter of fact, the very fact that you are on this website is no coincidence; you may already have sensed that you are blessed by that Grace that is forever pulling us gently toward the Source.
It is therefore, that there is good reason for celebrating our births on this planet, for this birth gives us yet another chance to come out of our primal ignorance and be liberated.
And what should be the nature of our celebration, how to celebrate the day of our birth? Cakes, alcohol and parties really have nothing to do with the subject matter. We may celebrate our birthdays by silently meditating on the Lord and expressing our gratitude to His compassionate grace for having given us this priceless opportunity to liberate ourselves from the endless cycle of births. However, we know that such liberation can only come from shedding the primal ignorance, caught as we are in the web of Divine Illusion the Hindus call Maya; and so we go one step further and pray to the Lord to bring us the lessons we have to learn in this life, for the wisdom to understand the Truth through those lessons, and the mental and physical strength to do what is necessary in the form of austerities to attain the Sacred knowledge and be liberated. It is a sacred day, to be treated as such in solitary communion with the Lord in meditation and thanksgiving. Indeed, if we can only do this every day, there is no need for anything else: life will take care of itself, and we would soon be one with the Lord!
May you be ever consumed in His Grace, have a very happy, blissful birthday!