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​​​My Thoughts During Obon

By Rev. Harold Shinyu Oda, BCA Minister Emeritus

Many of us joyfully dance and eat at Obon festivals, enjoying the delicious sushi and teriyaki chicken, marveling at the beautiful dancers in yukata and happi coats and rejoicing in meeting friends from far and wide who have come to join in the celebrations. 

The tradition of Obon started when one of the Buddha's disciples, Maudgalyayana, saw his deceased mother suffering because she was still chained to earthly greed and selfishness.  The Buddha advised Maudgalyayana to offer Dana to the Sangha as a way to free his mother from these chains.  After Maudgalyayana did this and helped his mother, he was overjoyed.  He and his friends rejoiced with music and dancing, made offerings to the priests, and expressed their gratitude to the Buddha.  We continue this tradition today with our colorful festivities.

A passage in the Amida Sutra, Kue Issho, tells us that we will meet again.  During Obon, we are given a spiritual opportunity to "meet" those who have gone before us and we will be able to "reunite" with them.

It is appropriate, then, that Obon is also called "Kangi-e" or, "Gathering of Joy".  While there are many memorial services in Buddhist Temples, this day is not meant for us to dwell on what is lost, instead, it is meant for us to rejoice and be thankful for what we have because of the teachings of the Buddha.

Whenever I walk around Obon festivities, I feel the Buddha Dharma everywhere I go.  Obon is truly Buddhism in action, as many members donate needed goods, time and energy in order to benefit the Temple, asking nothing in return.  Hearing the boom, boom, boom of the great Taiko drum, smelling the vinegar of the sushi and watching the greetings of friends tell me that Maudgalyayana's Dana is still resonating with us today. 

This Dharma Message was reprinted from Dharma Talks of the Four Seasons No. 2 which is available for purchase from Hongwanji Place. 

Dharma Message- May/June 2018