Obon or “Ullambana” (S) is a Buddhist festival which invites us to investigate our connectedness to others while also reminding us of our great responsibility to repay our deceased parents and family for their care and effort. The Buddha said, “The gravity of debt we owe to our parents is as boundless as the heavens.” Obon allows us an opportunity to STOP, and invite our ancestors to once again share our lives. During Obon we repay some of this debt by reaffirming our responsibility to honor our loved-ones and to treat all sentient beings with compassion, understanding and patience. Obon also helps us address our fears and insecurities stemming from the transient nature of form.
Obon is celebrated in mid- July and mid-August and has been celebrated since the 7th Century. Obon finds its roots within the Urabon Sutra and is based on the teachings of Gotama Buddha. The Urabon Sutra contains the story of a monk called Mokuren Sonja who through his meditative practice sees that his deceased mother has become entangled within the realm of hungry ghost. Mokuren Sonja soon after asks the Buddha for his guidance on the matter. The Buddha instructs Mokuren to be compassionate to the young monks who were just returning from a retreat and offer alms. In return, Mokuren’s effort frees his mother from her torment and allows her to ascend to the pure land. Today’s Obon celebration keeps this spirit of giving alive. Through the celebration of Obon we give our love, respect and remembrance to those who have come before us. We open ourselves to an unseen interconnected web which bonds us all together. Obon is a time for deep reflection; however, it is also a time of great celebration.
Obon at Blue Mountain Zendo is open to the public, and you do not need to be a Buddhist to attend. The ceremony begins with the lighting of the temple lanterns and the bonfire which guide our ancestors back home. Pictures of our ancestors are then placed on the main alter while lanterns are offered to each individual to decorated. This decoration time is a fun time for the kids, they get to color and decorate while they are reminded of family they may have never met or who they only knew a short time. Family is something that is too often forgotten in this culture and without their efforts, we would not have the honor of this birth. A catered vegetarian meal is then served in an atmosphere of live celebratory acoustic jazz music. After dinner, a special service and Dharma talk are offered outside under the stars. During this service, the names of the deceased are recited by the temple priest while the lanterns are lit and placed in rows along the alter. Rice and water are then offered to the hungry ghosts while Master *Shakuhachi player Nora Nohraku Suggs offers music. After completion, thanks are offered during a period of silent contemplation; when ready, each individual says goodbye to their loved one by extinguishing their lantern’s flame. To conclude, the community turns and faces the bonfire while it is extinguished and the spirits are sent home.
PS – There will be a marionette movement workshop for the children offered by Grace Spruiell.
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*(bamboo like flute)