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 Post subject: O'Bon anybody?
PostPosted: Wed Sep 14, 2011 6:01 am 
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Hi all, This question is directed to those of any Japanese Buddhist tradition, or others who have some input. I just wanted to get an idea of how other 'Western' Tendai Buddhists personally view O'Bon in regards to their practice? and How your own various Sogya celebrate O'Bon?
Gassho
Ryokai

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 Post subject: Re: O'Bon anybody?
PostPosted: Sun Jul 20, 2014 12:42 pm 
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3 years late... (sorry Jikai-san :oops: )

This year we are incorporating Obon as part of our weekly meetings. Knowing that there are many in our sangha who don't go for the more, how shall I say, "religious/superstitious/cultural" elements, I decided to focus on the essense of Obon. In my mind, the essence of Obon lies in interconnection, impermanence and letting go of desires & attachments. The first two are connected with our ancestors; we are inextricably connected, not just with the family we know and like but also with family we don't know or dislike. I also pointed out that although we are always connected with our family, they also will one day pass, so it's important to not hold on to our grudges of family disputes, and also be thankful and enjoy everyday we have with our family.
The last two elements (desire and attachments) I think links into the Hungry Ghost. Not everyone is open to the idea of an actual being existing on a different plane than us, so I told them to look at their own 'hungry ghost', their own endless thirst/desire for things, never being satisfied.

Depending on what part of Japan you're from depends on when you celebrate Obon, so in order to introduce it without overloading I decided this year we'd celebrate Obon on both the July and August dates. In July (last week) we looked at the interconnection, impermanence elements and gave thanks and celebrated our ancestors. In August we will then focus on desires and attachments and the Hungry Ghosts. Last week was a huge success with everyone being able to get something from it and enjoying it.

I am looking forward to August when we will feed the (and our) Hungry Ghosts :smile:

I'd be interested in others thoughts/criticisms.

Gassho,
Seishin

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 Post subject: Re: O'Bon anybody?
PostPosted: Sun Jul 20, 2014 12:46 pm 
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I just also want to clarify that the religious elements are still very much part of the practice (ie not excluded), but I wanted people to be able to internalise rather than just do a puja.

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 Post subject: Re: O'Bon anybody?
PostPosted: Sun Jul 20, 2014 6:35 pm 
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Like practically everything in Japanese Buddhism Westerners have been closed off from practicipating largely because other people have made the assumption that they wouldn't understand or wouldn't be interested. Mostly Western people have not been asked.

O'Bon should be advertised more (like ahead of time) and people will participate. In Hawaii now, with declining temple attendance, they have begun to do really public ceremonies (so not just the "cultural" dances which are still done on mission/temple grounds) and lots of people come.

If you host it (and advertise it) , they will come.





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 Post subject: Re: O'Bon anybody?
PostPosted: Sun Jul 20, 2014 9:00 pm 
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If only we had room to host and the finances to advertise... I want our group to participate in these events but rather than just do them and expect them to participate I want them to understand the meaning and the reasons. And also to be able to take some meaning away from the experience. Does that make sense?

Gassho
Seishin

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 Post subject: Re: O'Bon anybody?
PostPosted: Sun Jul 20, 2014 9:50 pm 
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From the Tendai tradition;




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 Post subject: Re: O'Bon anybody?
PostPosted: Mon Jul 21, 2014 2:36 am 
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Seishin wrote:
If only we had room to host and the finances to advertise... I want our group to participate in these events but rather than just do them and expect them to participate I want them to understand the meaning and the reasons. And also to be able to take some meaning away from the experience. Does that make sense?

Gassho
Seishin


Yes, but it's easy to explain. Specific forms are perhaps not easy to explain but in general memory of and honoring one's ancestors, etc. I liked what you wrote about interdependence.

It's easy. Obon is fundamentally the story of Maudgalyayana trying to help his mother in hell.

And advertising - I don't mean being obsessive. Different places have different capacities. But usually I find out about Obon activities well after they have concluded. Every year. And of course the calendar is different anyway with the three or four major times it is celebrated so you have to advertise in advance.

Even now Obon is treated like something distinctly Japanese or just for close members of a temple. That's why I emphasize the change that has taken place in Hawaii, parts of the West Coast and a bit in NY.

Kirt

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 Post subject: Re: O'Bon anybody?
PostPosted: Mon Jul 21, 2014 10:00 am 
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There seems to be some confusion as we did (and are doing) what you are describing. The services are still carried out in a traditional Tendai fashion but I add some explanation. The only thing we can't do at this stage is advertise (other than put it on our website which we do) due to lack of space, finances and general assistance from other people. Our tiny group is in a completely different league than those in the US. But we are doing our best to make sure the traditions of our school find their own footing in the UK.

I'm sorry for not making things clearer to start with.
Gassho
Seishin

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 Post subject: Re: O'Bon anybody?
PostPosted: Mon Jul 21, 2014 11:42 am 
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Hi Seishin,

Thanks for the info! :) Great video's by the way!

We do a fairly similar thing here in Sydney. Although, I am lucky to have a good mixture of students. I have Chinese and Japanese (as well as a few Western) students who accept the more 'devotional' side of traditional practice. And so, I can do a bit of both- treat O'bon and Segaki Kai as they would be treated in Japan, as well as using it in a more liberal manner for those not so inclined. As you probably know from our website or Facebook, Our Sydney Dojo (Kanshinji) is quite a small room at present. However, during O'bon we often get quite a feww visitors from other Buddhist communities and or those interested in such things. We are quite lucky that our Dojo is in Richmond (at the foot of the Blue Mountains) so after our service we send of the paper boats and lanterns on a creek (we have permission) with the view of the mountains in the background. O'Bon is perhaps the observance for which I am most fond. I think it has great potential in the West because it provides a much more healthy approach to death and the deceased, while introducing filial piety and family values....

I usually provide the following information during O'bon and Segaki (its on the website):

O’Bon (Urabon) & Segaki 御盆と施餓鬼

Obon and Segaki are both celebrations in which we pay respect to, and try to help the deceased and our ancestors. As they are closely linked observances, they are usually both held together at around the same time.

O’Bon (Urabon) 御盆:

Urabon or Obon as it is commonly shortened and known, is the Japanese pronunciation of the Sanskrit word Ullambana which means to ‘hang upside down’. This term signifies the sufferings both physical and psychological experienced by an individual when they are hung upside down.
The Obon ceremony is conducted in accordance with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, as recorded in the Ullambana Sutra- known in Japanese as the Urabon Kyo. In the Urabon Kyo Shakyamuni Buddha tells a story about one of his disciples Mokuren Sonja (Maudgalyayana in Sanskrit). It is said in places that Mokuren was foremost among the Buddha’s disciples in having attained supernatural powers. In the Urabon Kyo, we are told that Venerable Mokuren’s mother has just passed away. Having supernatural powers, and being concerned about the fate of his mother, Mokuren uses his supernatural vision to see into the lower realms. While investigating, he discovered that his mother had fallen into the realm of the Hungry Ghosts (Preta, Gaki).
Distressed by this discovery, Mokuren set out trying to help his mother. He asked his, and our, Great Master Shakyamuni Buddha how he could elevate his mother’s state, and remove her from the immense suffering she was now facing. The Buddha replied that he should make offerings to all those monks who had just finished their retreat. In doing so, he would accrue merit. This merit could be transferred to his mother and therefore provide her with the karmic fruit, required to leave the world of Hungry Ghosts.
Having done this, Mokuren was delighted to see that his mother had been released from her sufferings. He was so happy that he began dancing in joy, and it is from this, that we get the Obon Odori or the Obon Dance, which can be seen at many Japanese temples throughout the celebrations.
The Obon celebrations have over time become one of the most important traditions in Japan. It is popularly believed that at this time, the ancestors and relatives of an individual who have fallen into the lower realms, come back to visit their relatives by virtue of the merit accrued during the celebrations. Therefore, Obon is an incredibly family oriented occasion. Many family members who might live far away from their original family homes, often travel home during this time to pay their respects, in much the same way as it is believed the ancestors come home at this time.
In our tradition, Obon is held between the 13th and 16th of August. However, in some parts of Japan, it may be held around the same days in July. Before Obon begins we clean out our homes and properties, ensuring that they are presentable to the ancestors. Offerings such as vegetables and fruits are placed on a special altar set up for Obon, as an offering both to the Buddha’s and the ancestors. Do not under any circumstances, offer meat during Obon. Even if a particular meat, or meat dish were a favourite of a deceased relative. This is because meat requires killing, and an endorsement of killing. If you present offerings of meat during this time, you will accrue karmic debt for yourself, and for your deceased relatives and ancestors. It might seem obvious why we ourselves might accrue some form of karmic debt from offering meat to the Buddhas. But why would our ancestors and deceased relatives accrue karmic debt when we offer meat to them? Because we are offering it on their behalf during Obon. Because we, the type of people we have become, represent what they raised us to be. We represent their ‘continuation’. And so when we offer meat during Obon, this reflects upon them, and can only worsen their circumstances further. For scriptural/ Sutra reference regarding the dangers of this, please read the ‘Original Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva Sutra’ (sutra of Jizo Bosatsu).
On the First day of Obon, families light lanterns called Chouchin inside their house in front of the Butsudan (Buddhist Shrine). They also leave a light on, or put a lantern outside, so that the ancestor might find their way home. These lanterns are usually plain, or have the family or sect crest on them. Another popular activity on this first day, is visiting the grave sites of deceased relatives and asking them to return home with you. Sometimes, large fires are lit in communities or towns, again to light the way back for all those who might be coming home.
Another part of the Obon observances and one in which children should get involved is the making of a Cucumber Horse, and an Eggplant Cow. These are made by simply using some disposable chopsticks for legs and putting them into an eggplant and a cucumber respectively. The motivation behind this is to provide the ancestors with transport. We want the ancestors and deceased relatives to come home quickly and so we provide them with a horse. We don’t want them to leave so soon so we provide them with a cow that rides back slowly. On the first day, we place them at the front door, or gate so that they can do their job. Sometimes, we might burn some incense at the door as well, so the smoke can lead them home. On the last day, we place the cow and horse on a river bank if we can find one. This is to signify them returning to their other world. We do not put them in the water. If you cannot find a river bank, or natural body of water, remove the chopsticks and put them outside to be eaten by bugs and animals.
Sometimes, people make a small paper boat, on which they place a candle to send their ancestors home. However, in Australia as we are prone to bushfires, do not do this, unless you are sure it will not cause a fire.
The climax of the Obon festivities is the Obon Dori or the Obon Dance. Temples, Parks and Gardens are filled with people who dance around a tower containing singers and Taiko drum players. Banners of red and white stripes are placed around along with lanterns. The evening is usually closed with a fireworks display.
As you can see, there is nothing particularly macabre about Obon. Death is part of life, and is something that children in Buddhist cultures are made aware of, and comfortable with.
Segaki {施餓鬼}(Offerings to the hungry Ghosts):
However, there are those beings that have died in unfortunate or unhappy circumstances. Or those that have passed away without loved ones to remember and help them on Obon. It is for this reason that we also hold observances for the ‘Hungry Ghosts’ (Gaki in Japanese, Preta in Sanskrit). These may simply be sad and lost ghosts who have no one to care for them. They may also be those who lived particularly bad lives, perhaps even hurting or killing other people and beings, or been filled with insatiable greed. Either way, while they may be scary at times, we should feel sorry for them, and attempt to help them on their way. In Buddhist tradition, Hungry Ghosts are those who having led harmful lives, are now assailed by insatiable desire. It is said that they have huge stomachs but small mouths so that little food passes through. Everything they eat or drink turns to ash, and so they are unable to quench their yearning. They wander in a limbo-like state until they have spent the karmic debt that led them to rebirth there.
Therefore, during Obon we should hold services welcoming them and helping them on their way. We should show them compassion, and transfer our merit to them, so that they become free of their suffering.
But we are also urged to be cautious during this time. It is sometimes said that sickness during this time might be the result of a hungry ghost following one around. Such stories make us chant sutras more often, and so accrued more merit for us, and for them. In line with this, there are some tradition cautions during Obon that we should be aware of. For example, it is said that one shouldn’t go swimming in rivers, lakes, or the ocean during Obon. This is because it is believed that those Hungry Ghosts who lived bad lives, and remain so may set out to harm you. In this case to drown you. Another example is that it is recommended that you don’t go walking in the mountains- as they may cause you to get lost or cause you to become injured. And of course, you should not kill any living thing, be it a cockroach or a spider because it may be a relative or ancestor who has come back to see you.
Temple Observance:
During Obon, there will usually be a ceremony at the temple on the first (13th) and the Last (16th) day of Obon. Also during the duration of Obon a ceremony will be held at the temple for Segaki, making offerings to the Hungry Ghosts.
Home Observance:
At home during this time, you should include in your Gongyo each day, a small personal prayer wishing for the well-being and enlightenment of your deceased relatives and ancestors, as well as for all in the realm of Hungry Ghosts.
You should also perform all or as many of the activities describe above at home.
Many families also like to have a Priest/Monk come to their home during this time for a service at their shrine, and a dinner together following. Usually, during Obon you should eat in front of the Butsudan area. This is because you are eating with the deceased and ancestors. Therefore you should place some food offerings (no meat) in front of the Butsudan first- before anyone else has received their food. Then you should place, or serve food for the Priest/Monk who is in attendance. Then everyone else may be served. If you wish for a Priest/Monk to visit your home during Obon, please inform your Priest or Monk. During this visit, usually a small monetary offering is made to the Priest to go towards temple maintenance and activities. This offering need not be big, it simply needs to reflect your gratitude to the Sangha of which you are a part. These offerings are usually put inside a special offering envelope which you can pick up from your temple. This is so that no one need see how much you have offered.

Summary remarks:

Within these two observances, are many fundamental Buddhist practices and guiding moral principles. Compassion, and Filial Piety are clearly visible. We have the opportunity to reflect on our own lives- if I continue on the way I am, will I become a hungry ghost? Do I want that? Etc. These ceremonies are a way of introducing these fundamental ideas into our lives in a concrete way. Children who grow up with this tradition will be less likely to fear death, or see it as something to be avoided. They will have a strong appreciation and respect for the family. They will also grow up knowing that these values and observances are the norm- and this will lead them to embody the Buddhist teachings wherever they might find themselves in the future. Come practice Obon and Segaki with us!
Gassho,
Rev. Jikai Dehn.

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 Post subject: Re: O'Bon anybody?
PostPosted: Mon Jul 21, 2014 12:26 pm 
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Thank you for your thoughts Jikai-san and what a wonderful thing you have going :twothumbsup:

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 Post subject: Re: O'Bon anybody?
PostPosted: Mon Jul 21, 2014 1:01 pm 
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Thank you Seishin Sama :)

We are very lucky. We do what we can ;) I wish you well for O'Bon!

We will be attending a Japanese P.O.W camp in rural NSW soon in order to perform a service for those who passed away during the Breakout there during the war (Cowra Breakout). During the trip each year, we teach the local community about O'Bon and encourage them to commemorate the occasion at the Japanese cemetery there.

P.S I hope Ganshin Sama is well.
Gassho,
Jikai.

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