Our Loved One’s Memories
Written by Rev. Shinkai Murakami
Namu Amida Butsu
Due to Covid-19, all Buddhist temples on the island of Maui postponed the Bon Dance for two years. However, this year will be different! Most of the Buddhist temples on the island of Maui will observe their Obon services and Bon Dance this year!
I’ve noticed so many people enjoying our beautiful culture which makes me curious to know what Obon is for each one of us. For example, today, Obon is one of the significant fundraising events for most Buddhist temples. We sell exceptional food at the concession booths, such as chow fun, flying saucers, hot dogs, chili and rice, chicken or beef teriyaki plates, etc.
For me, whenever Obon season comes around, I fondly recall the story of “Oya koukou,” or filial piety. It’s a story about twins, whose parents divorced when the children were young. Since then, the twins grew up with their father and grandmother.
The grandmother was originally from Japan, so she didn’t speak much English. She always prepared Japanese food for most of the meals. When the twins were small, they didn’t consider what they were eating. However, when they grew older, and started attending high school, the two were reluctant to talk about what they ate because their grandmother only made Japanese food for dinner. When classmates discussed their dinner, some said, “Oh, we had BBQ ribs last night”, others said, “Oh, my mom made French food,” etc. Their friends ate different kinds of dishes every weekend.
The twins started thinking about what else they ate besides Japanese food for dinner? Grandmother made only Japanese food for them. Although grandmother’s food was so tasty, the two of them started complaining and asked, “Grandma, why don’t you make some American food for us. We are exhausted eating Japanese food every day.” Grandmother was a little bit shocked by what she heard from her grandchildren. She never realized that her grandchildren were tired of eating Japanese food. But the fact was that they were not bored of eating Japanese food, they felt ashamed because they couldn’t relate to their friends.
So, grandmother purchased several cooking books at a Japanese bookstore and practiced Western food. She selected a recipe from an picture that looked so delicious. She spent hours making the dish for dinner. But, when they ate the meal, twins said, “Obaachan, kore oishikunai,” - grandma, this is not tasty.
What grandma told them was, “Gomen-ne, Obaachan wa wakaranai kara” - I am sorry, grandma cannot understand much of the western food.” Then the twins said, “Never mind,” and went to their room.
A few months later, grandmother became sick and went to the hospital for almost three weeks. Since the grandmother became hospitalized, her son purchased their meals at the food court. At first, the children were so happy to eat Chinese food, Hawaiian food, pizza, etc. for the first week. But even if they enjoyed fast food, they got tired of that too, and started missing their grandmother’s food. So, the twins told their father they could try to make the food they learned from their grandmother.
So they tried. However, when they washed the rice, they didn’t know how many times they had to rinse the rice. They didn’t know how much miso to use for miso soup or what kind of ingredients they should add into the soup. Nor did they know how much sugar and shoyu to mix into nitsuke fish (Sweet soy sauce-based cooked fish), and much more. The twins struggled. Finally, they visited their grandmother at the hospital and explained to her that they were making dinner and needed some help. Grandmother understood the situation and she kindly explained each recipe to them, one by one.
When grandchildren went home and followed the grandmother’s words to make dinner, it still didn’t come out tasting like their grandmother’s cooking. Still, they truly realized and appreciated how much time, effort, and heart their grandmother put into making every meal.
Unfortunately, the grandmother never returned home from the hospital, but the twins truly appreciated their grandmother’s “Omoiyari no Kokoro” - the thoughtful mind.
A beautiful Japanese word to describe this story is “Magokoro,” - the true thoughtful mind, kindness. We all received and inherited this value from our parents and grandparents. Even if they pass away, their values and sincere hearts always remain in our hearts.
Shinran Shonin expressed similar acceptances from his great Master in his writing Kyo Gyo Shin Sho - The Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment. He said,
“Those who have been born first guide those who come later, and those who are born later join those who were born before.”
I think all of us are following this great passage. Without realizing it, we received our mother’s great taste, followed the guidance, and subconsciously passed it on to the next generations. Let us close our eyes and think about our parents who have passed away. You can recall many beautiful memories.
When I think about our parents’ love and guidance, it is just like the excellent guidance of the Nembutsu. Without knowing, we received our parents’ unconditional love and accepted their guidance in our hearts and digested it as a great gift. Without knowing, we pass it on to the next generations when we become adults. When you deeply think about them, you gradually feel the great value of gratitude and appreciation.
The Nembutsu teaching is precisely like “Ofukuro no aji,” - the great and warm feeling of “Mother’s taste.” We will never forget her great taste and warm feeling of peace and tranquility in our precious lives. Without knowing, we recite the Nembutsu, and without knowing, we pass it on to the next generation as our great treasure. Why? The true meaning of the Nembutsu has an incredible feeling of wisdom and a compassionate heart from Amida Tathagata Buddha. It always encourages our precious life and gives us a true feeling of peace and serenity in our daily lives. Please remember we must learn our ancestor’s great value and digest it and pass it on to the future generation for them to follow the great path of life.
Obon is the most significant time for us to reflect upon our lives and open the eyes of our inner hearts and see the truth, the Joy of Gathering, and meet with our loved ones’ spirits through the excellent guidance of the Nembutsu. Obon is not only for us to enjoy Bon Dance but also for us to meet the excellent guidance of our ancestors through the sacrifice of their lives. So, whenever you come to the Bon Dance, go to the temple, and listen to the teaching as your guide, it will open your eyes, the eyes of your inner heart, and truly appreciate Buddha’s true love and kindness. Who is the Buddha? The Buddha is genuinely our loved one who passed away before us. They are guiding us on the path of the truth.
Please have a sincere heart of gratitude and appreciation for all you have in your life.
Namu Amida Butsu