2020 Seattle Virtual Obon Odori

Obon season has arrived! The 2020 Betsuin Obon/Hatsubon service was broadcasted on Sunday, July 12th. If you missed it, you can still watch the virtual service on our YouTube Channel. I hope you’re getting excited to watch [our] first ever, virtual Bon Odori this coming Saturday, July 18th at 4:00 PM and the virtual Obon cemetery service on Sunday, July 19th at 10:00 AM.

First, I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the Hatsubon [families] who lost their family member between last year’s Obon and this year’s Obon. I also would like to express my condolences to the family and friends who lost their loved ones due to the Covid-19.

In Japanese lore, it is said that during Obon, our loved ones who passed away come back to this world at the beginning of Obon and go back to the other world at the end of the Obon. There are some Obon traditions. For example, we symbolically offer fruit and food to the Buddha and to our loved ones who passed away. We also hang lanterns for our loved ones to come back to right place. Each tradition contains people’s wishes and thoughts about their loved ones. In Jodo Shinshu, we have another term for Obon, “Kangi-E” which means “Joyful Gathering”.

During the Obon service, I often introduce a hymn (Wasan) which our founder, Shinran Shonin wrote:

“Those who reach the Pure Land of happiness
Return to this evil world of the five defilement,
Where, like the Buddha Sakyamuni
They benefit sentient beings without limit.”

At the death of our loved ones, they are born into the Pure Land and attain enlightenment. Furthermore, in our tradition, they become Bodhisattvas and come back to this world and guide us to the Pure Land. It is important to note that it is not only the Obon Season when our loved come back to this world. They are always here with us and are leading us to encounter the Nembutsu teaching. Our loved ones take various forms and become karmic causes and conditions for us to listen to the Amida Buddha’s teachings and guidance. It is the Amida Buddha’s vow for all beings to be born into the Pure Land and attain enlightenment.

It is the difficult situation now because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our founder Shinran Shonin also had difficult time when he was exiled to Echigo. But even during the challenging times, he never lost his desire to listen and spread the Dharma (teachings) of Amida Buddha. He never lost his appreciation of the Buddha Dharma because he knew and realized that there is Buddha Dharma everywhere. We too, can also listen and enjoy the Buddha Dharma here and now, even during this pandemic.

Obon gives us the opportunity to experience the Nembutsu teaching. Consider it is as a gift from our loved ones. We gratefully receive the gift and express our joy through the recitation of Nembutsu and participate in Obon dance. In this way, we are mindful of our life’s ties between ourselves and our loved one. It is why Obon is also called “Kangie” (Joyful gathering) in Jodo Shinshu.

As mentioned earlier, it is the first time for us to experience virtual Bon Odori this year. I would like to express my deepest appreciation to the Bon Odori committee and others who are helping to plan and organize this important celebration. Earlier I was worried that we may have to cancel Bon Odori this year due to COVID-19. But our Bon Odori committee members have had their strong wish to hold the Bon Odori this year. They exchanged ideas and discussed how we can do it. I also thank the Bon Odori dancers. They never lost their passion and desire to dance and to dance together with everyone. We are able to have the 2020 virtual Bon Odori because of their devoted work and their passion. It is the fruit of fulfillment of their wish for Bon Odori.

Now, it is the time to dance. Are you ready? Please mark your calendars for 4PM Saturday July 18th be sure to join us and enjoy the virtual 2020 Seattle Obon Odori Dance. Please also be mindful of Buddha Dharma and reflect upon your life and your loved one’s life.

Rinban Katsu