Obon and Our Journey Home

Obon is a special time of year when we pause our busy lives to remember loved ones who have been born in the Pure Land. We celebrate our continuing relationship with them during this festival of joyful memory. The act of remembering is healing because it dispels the illusion of separateness that we may feel as we learn to live without our loved ones being physically present.


However, being born in the Pure Land does not mean those we love are far away. They continually return to guide us throughout our lives, leading us to the world of awakening. And we meet them every time we say the Nembutsu. This is the inconceivable working of Namo Amida Butsu which connects us to timeless reality.


We come to realize how precious our lives truly are because they are made possible only through numerous causes and conditions which arise from the dynamic working of Amida Buddha’s wisdom and compassion. Because of our profound connection to our loved ones, we are enabled to live. By remembering them, we gain new appreciation for all that sustains our lives. Shin Buddhist author Dr. Hideo Yonezawa illustrates this fundamental Buddhist concept of engi or dependent origination:


Man lives by receiving all things from the universe, like the earth, the air, water, and rice. Even rice cannot be grown without the air and water, the sun and moon. When we begin is see that we are sustained and given life by all things, we awaken to our true self. The self that is nothing but ego is also the self that is sustained by all things. As we live, we continue to awaken to our true self. This is the life of being born in the Pure Land.


This is the working of Namo Amida Butsu which is asking us to remember our true selves. Every moment of our lives is an opportunity to cross over from the world of delusion to the world of awakening. The wish of all enlightened beings is for us to realize the wonder and joy of living in this present moment. This includes our loved ones who have attained awakening in the Pure Land and who have become one with the dynamic activity of Amida’s light which embraces us. They live within Namo Amida Butsu which is ever present in our lives.


Every Obon I remember my grandparents, Yasuo and Hatsuyo Higa and reflect on how they continue to enrich my life. This year, however, is special because our family recently sold their house. I know many people have had a similar experience of letting go of someplace that meant so much. My grandparents’ house was my second home growing up. It was the place for all our family gatherings and where I always felt safe and loved.


Back in March, I went home to Hilo to help my dad clean out a few things and I had a chance to walk through the empty rooms one last time. The kitchen where my grandma would make nishime and makizushi every New Years. The worn dining room table where we would gather as a family. The hut house that once had so many beautiful anthuriums that my grandfather raised. And the bedroom where I sat by my grandmother’s bedside and held her hand as she neared her birth in the Pure Land eight years ago.


In the still and empty house, I offered a bittersweet Nembutsu and said thank you. Not goodbye, because while they have been physically gone for many years, I continue to meet them in my saying of Namo Amida Butsu.


What a wonderful way to live with a profound appreciation for the miracle of living which is enabled not through our own strength but that of all things. Rev. Shin’ei Takamatsu shares, “My life is not a mere point that exists someplace. Rather, my life exists at a crossroad of a line of innumerable life that extends horizontally and intersects with a line of innumerable life that extends vertically. I have received a truly precious life.”


Obon is a celebration of our interdependent and interconnected lives through remembering our loved ones. The beautiful lanterns that we set up gently illuminates our journey of memory and connection each year guiding us home to ourselves. Let’s take comfort and find new meaning in this ancient festival of grateful remembrance.


Namo Amida Butsu.