Namu Amida Butsu

While the Ullambana Sutra may be entertaining, it is merely a legend. Yet, it offers us two important lessons. The first is not directly related to Obon but is closely tied to Dana. Because we are all sentient beings, it is difficult for us to undertake any actions purely out of the "goodness of our heart." Whenever we undertake any activity, there is always an underlying reason for our actions.

Even when his mother’s salvation was at stake, Mogallana was unable to hold his festival without thinking of her. Mogallana was freed from his personal misery and his mother was saved only when he stopped thinking about the underlying motive for having his festival. Similarly, for each of us, the Dharma teaches us that the more we are able to act in the true spirit of Dana, the happier we will be. If for one single moment we can release our ego attachments and worldly desires, we will be able to experience the feeling of exhilaration and joy that Mogallana must have felt.

The Ullambana Sutra also teaches significance of filial piety in our daily lives. Filial piety is the showing of respect and love for one’s parents and ancestors. It means caring for one’s parents and ensuring that their legacy lives on. Mogallana demonstrated this virtue when he thought about his mother and tried to rescue her from the Hell of Hungry World.

The manner in which filial piety is closely tied to Obon is that Buddhists believe that Obon is a time when the souls of those who have passed away return to visit the living. It is at this time that the living should honor and give thanks for all the sacrifices that were made by their ancestors. Obon is when filial piety is emphasized.

The first Obon service for those who have passed away since the previous Obon is known as Hatsu-bon. Traditionally, it was held on July 15th (the same day that Mogallana’s mother entered heaven), however in Hawaii, each temple observes its Hatsu-bon service prior to the start of its own dance festivities. Hatsu-bon is a special Obon because it is believed that this is the first time that the spirit of a recently departed person will be returning home. It is commonly believed that temples began lighting lanterns for those who will be honored at the Hatsu-bon services to help them to find their way home. Therefore, the lanterns that are hung at bon dances serve a spiritual purpose and are not merely for decoration.

For many, Hatsu-bon can be emotionally painful. It can bring back memories of a loved one who passed away in the recent past, and the pain and sorrow may still be fresh. Yet Hatsu-bon can aid in the grieving process. It serves as an opportunity for the family and friends of a recently deceased loved one to gather to better appreciate the many ways in which that person has enriched each of their lives. And, the sharing of fond memories of a person who has passed can be a great source of comfort.

The Honpa Hongwanji views Obon as a time for each of us to demonstrate our own sense of filial piety by introspectively reflecting upon our own existence. It is a time to think about the countless number of ancestors who came before us and had a hand in making us who we are. It is a time to show our appreciation and gratitude to our ancestors for all that we have. And, Obon is also a time for families to come together to open their hearts and share the Nembutsu and its teachings. Guided by the infinite wisdom and compassion of Amida Buddha, coupled with the lessons left behind by the deceased, we are able to better deal with the truth and reality of our lives. Especially at Obon, we are reminded that although the departed may not be physically present, they continue to survive in our hearts and minds, and they continue to guide us in our daily lives.

The Nembustu reminds us of the impermanence of life. Amida Buddha has taught us that no one- - regardless of whether one is rich or poor or famous or not – absolutely no one can indefinitely escape an eventual demise. At some point, each of us will be a part of a Hatsu-bon service. But, let us remember that a wilting flower produces seeds that will sprout new life. Likewise, although the end of our lives is inevitable, as humans, through our kind acts, we can profoundly impact the lives not only of our children and grandchildren, but we can have a positive and lasting effect on the lives of all those we come into contact with. Let us keep this thought in our minds as we celebrate at our temple’s upcoming Obon festivities; and, let us endeavor to act in a manner that is consistent with this thought – always.

As a reminder, our Hatsu-bon services this year will be held on August 3 and 4 starting at 6:45 p.m. All of you are welcomed to our services and to participate in Obon dancing on both nights and to listen to the teachings of the Buddha.


Namu Amida Butsu