Published inside ” DANA” N.1 on 18.100 sites as you can verify here, 29-7-16 at 15.00 CET
Obon is a good time to reflect upon our loved ones who departed before us and show our appreciation to Amida Buddha who let them be born into the Pure Land saving everyone who encounters the teaching of nembutsu.
We all commemorate our loved ones who have already departed from us at this Obon time. However, as Jodo Shinshu followers, we shouldn’t miss the essence of the Obon. Remember that if we only think about our ancestors at this time, it won’t be a religious observance. Each one of us should be involved in this service. That is, we should think about and realise our own future lives. Because, we are also going to Amida Buddha’s Pure Land where our ancestors are.
There is a famous Haiku (Japanese 17 syllable poem) which describes our human world as impermanent. It says “Chiru Sakura Nokoru Sakura mo Chiru Sakura (Cherry blossom falls, inevitably all blossoms fall).” There are no exceptions and no one can live this life forever.
As Rennyo Shonin also wrote in his letter: “We have not heard of anyone receiving human form which lasts for ten thousand years. The course of life ebbs away very rapidly. Can a person preserve his body for a hundred years at the present time? Not knowing whether death will come today or tomorrow, those who depart from us are as countless as the drops of dew.”
Rennyo Shonin ended his message as follows: “Thus, we see that what man cannot control is the passing away of the young, and old alike. Therefore, we should all look to our future life and with deep reliance on Amida Buddha say the holy Name.”
In the Ullambana sutra, we can find the origin of the Obon service.
I assume many people love their mother the best. One of the ten great disciples of Sakyamuni Buddha, whose name was Mokuren(Maudgalyayana) also loved his mother, because his mother loved him very much.
According to the Ullambana Sutra, one day Mokuren was reflecting upon his beloved mother who had already passed away. At that time, a question came to his mind,
“What is my mother doing right now?”
He had supernatural powers, which he had obtained through his hard practice, so he was able to see people who had already died. So, Mokuren used this power to search for his beloved mother and found her.
Alas! – It was a big and sad surprise for Mokuren that his mother was suffering in the hell of hungry demons. It was an unbelievable scene for him. His mother was very skinny and almost just flesh and bone. Mokuren rushed to her trying to offer some food, but all of it caught fire in front of his mother. He tried many times but nothing worked. Mokuren had no idea what to do, so, he went to see Sakyamuni Buddha.
Buddha listened to the story, and then told Mokuren why his mother had to go to such a world;
“Mokuren, your mother is suffering right now, because she did something wrong when she was in the human world”.
But, Mokuren could not believe it and said;
“She was always a very kind and wonderful mother, what did she do?”
“I know she was really a wonderful mother, but she was good only to you, not to others. Whenever she had something good, she hid it from others and gave it to you, Mokuren. Your mother never shared things with others.”
Mokuren said, “Is it because of me?”
“Yes, Mokuren.” Buddha replied,
“She loved you too much”.
Mokuren then asked,
“What can I do for her?”
“There is a way to save your mother. Because she did not share things with others and went to the hell of hungry demons. Therefore, if you offer and share things with others on behalf of your mother, and if they are pleased, then your mother will be all right.”
In accordance with Buddha’s word, Mokuren prepared more than enough food and shared it with all the Buddha’s disciples on the last day of their summer study meeting on 15 August. They ate everything and all the disciples were very pleased. Then Mokuren was finally able to see his mother’s peaceful smiling face. Mokuren was very happy as he jumped and danced with joy!
Since then, every year on the same day, the same thing was done. This is the origin of the Obon and the Obon dance.
As I write this article, I wonder if we are still doing the same thing as Mokuren’s mother. Whenever we get something good, we don’t share it with others, but only share it with our children. From the Buddha’s point of view, all human actions are beset with selfishness. So we can’t count how many selfish acts we make for the sake of our children, family or loved ones. These actions may commit us to the Hell of hungry demons. The only way for our salvation is to encounter the Vow of Amida Buddha; to encounter the teaching of the Nembutsu, and live the life of appreciation, embraced in the arms of Amida Buddha.
Let us recite Namo Amida Butsu showing our appreciation to Amida Buddha who works all the time for us all. – Namo Amida Butsu – .
Please join in for 2016 Obon on Sunday 14 August and listen to the Rev George’s Dharma message!
Rev Shigenobu Watanabe
Shigenobu Watanabe / Hongwanji Buddhist Mission of Australia,(Sydney)