Obon! Awwwwww Obon. This is when everyone travels to the temple to come together, reconnect, and strengthen our familial and communal bonds. We work hard and then dance as one in gratitude and appreciation for the lives that we have been given by those that have come before us.
Let’s talk about the joy of dancing! Who can forget one year ago when it rained on our Obon? Especially on Saturday July 18, 2015, we were all dressed up in our hapi coats and beautiful beautiful yukatas, and danced in the parking lot, because the street was too wet. I remember thinking to myself “those poor women, ladies, and girls, their hair and outfits are going to get ruined!” The term “raining on our parade” is usually used when someone or thing is preventing an experience of joy from happening, but this was an event where those that were in attendance could say we truly let our egos melt away with the water that dripped down our joyous faces.
When we look at the meaning of Obon, it is to recognize the efforts of our past loved ones that have contributed to our lives.
Such is the benevolence of Amida’s great compassion,
That we must strive to return it, even to the breaking of our bodies;
Such is the benevolence of the masters and true teachers,
That we must endeavor to repay it, even to our bones becoming dust.
— Shinran Shonin, from the Hymns on the Last Dharma Age (Shozomatsu Wasan)
Upon reading this for the first time, a person may be fixated on the imagery of our impermanent life. Some may not like the powerful words of breaking of our bodies or bones becoming dust. No matter what we do our bodies will break and our lives will come to an end… so why worry or feel negatively to the truth?
The first question I ask you is “how deep is your gratitude?” When we think about our parents, our role models, and our teachers, we just need to take a moment. As a youth my brother once thought about our indebtedness to our own parents that support us. He related our lives and what we owe to a constantly running odometer. If we all view life in this way, can we ever imagine being able to repay or return our appreciation? As Buddhists, the many Buddhas that have come before us are our true teachers. The Buddha’s great compassion surrounds us all and usher’s us to realize the true goal of life and the efforts of others that have paved an easy road for us to live. But even for those that are not on the road to Enlightenment, we cannot close our eyes to the influence of being touched by those that have lived and received a settled life from following Amida Buddha. When reading this passage and understanding the heart and indebtedness behind these powerful words (breaking of our bodies, our bones becoming dust) I am always moved by them as an example of how to live and how to say thank you for the life we are all given. What kind of person would we be if we did not feel some level of gratitude for this life? What kind of person would we be to not try and continue the work of those before us? What kind of person would we be not to vigorously work to “return” and “repay” their love by extending their influence?!”
When I think back to one year ago and the power of the joy I witnessed on everyone’s wet faces, I can only say “that this is what Obon is really about!” The glam was literally washed away. There were children jumping for joy in the puddles. There were smiling happy faces with no worries of error or mistake in the movements. There was a community brought together with the common goal of sharing a joyous occasion.
For most that read this article, it is the Nembutsu life that links us and our families together. Today it is our past loved ones that bring us together to work in the booth, reconnect with people we grew up with, and dance together with no judgments and only joy in the street. My wish is that we can always look at that experience of “raining on our parade” as a positive reference of how to live everyday without inhibition or egocentric thoughts. We should always be looking within ourselves and be aware of those that have given us life and contributed in who are in this moment. On July 16th & 17th just come to build lasting relationships with all those in attendance. When and if the rain comes, it is just rain that we have no control over and all we can do is accept it as it is. Then we can adjust to it and be the happiest person we can be.
This is likened to our everyday suffering that can weigh us down, but only if we let it. Life is Wonderful. Entrust yourself to the Buddha, realize the gifts that we have already received, and pay them forward with a grateful heart of joy.
Namu Amida Butsu
Rev. Kory Quon
Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple