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August 10, 2010 > Obon Festival, a gathering of joy

Obon Festival, a gathering of joy

By Julie Grabowski
Photos By Mayumi Stroy

The Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church brings a gathering of joy to Union City with the Obon Festival August 14 and 15. Obon is a very important practice in the Buddhist tradition, and has been celebrated in Japan for over 500 years. It is a time of humbleness, reflection, and wisdom, a time for paying respects to loved ones that have passed on with appreciation and joy, as well as celebrating and honoring those still with us.

Rev. Dr. Shoyo Taniguchi of the Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church tells the story of how Obon came to be. "The Obon festival, a festival for beloved ones, originated in India, passed to China and eventually made it to Korea and Japan. It stems from the story of Mogallana, one of the top two disciples of the Buddha. Mogallana, through his psychic powers, saw his dead mother suffering in the realm of the hungry ghost. Realizing that it was indeed he himself that had led her there, he rushed to the Buddha to seek advice on how to release her. Buddha told him to extend deep appreciation and compassion to her for all that she had done for him, through offerings to the monks. When he did, she was immediately released. Furthermore, he realized his mother's powerful love and care for him even after she had passed away. He thought that she had taken the form of the hungry ghost to teach him the importance of appreciation for our beloved ones. At this awareness, he danced with deep joy."

"Obon enables people from varying backgrounds and locales to express sorrow at the loss of loved ones and to show honor and respect for those who have given so much through their lives, whether they are parents, children, friends or military personnel," says Rev. Taniguchi. "It offers all people in our community and beyond the opportunity to reflect on our human relations, our families, our friends, our community, the nation and the world without limitation. It is also the time to look at our own way of living here and now."

The festival begins at 5 p.m. on Saturday with Food Sales, offering such dishes as curry rice, Japanese noodles, hamburgers, and hot dogs. Food will be cooked by temple members on site with prices ranging around $5, but less than $10, and serves as a fundraiser for the temple.

Dancing starts at 7 p.m. and lasts about two hours. Temple members serve as instructors, modeling repeated dance forms in an expression of joy, such as the traditional Bon Odori. Each song has a theme, and attendees are strongly encouraged to join in instead of watching, so that they too can experience the joy. While bon dances can easily be followed spontaneously, those who would prefer a little experience before the festival can attend Obon Dancing Practice, held at the church in Sangha Hall on Wednesday, August 11 and Thursday, August 12 at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday's events begin with a 45-minute meditation class at 8:30 a.m., followed by the Obon and Hatsubon service at 10 a.m. with guest speaker Rev. R. Furumoto. Hatsubon is an invitation for families who have lost loved ones between August 2009 and August 2010 to light candles for their departed in an expression of appreciation.

The event is open to all who wish to celebrate loved ones, regardless of culture or religion. "A sense of appreciation for and respect for our ancestors, parents, and loved ones is universal," says Rev. Taniguchi. The festival is an opportunity to set aside time to be grateful, to recall and praise the virtues of those that have come before and what we can learn from them, wishing happiness to all and spreading positive feeling. The Buddhist goal of having kind and gentle feelings for others as well as trying to be peaceful and a person of abundant joy and happiness is surely a goal all should aspire to.

"Obon reminds us that we are all brothers and sisters," says Rev. Taniguchi. "It is a call for peace and righteousness, transcending the boundaries that divide us and cause so much sorrow. It is a 'joyous gathering with dharma dance.' Let us carry the universal message and vision of the Obon with us, lighting up our lives and our communities with the inclusive sense of our common destiny."

For more information call the church office at (510) 471-2581 or Rev. Taniguchi at (510) 552-9393.

Obon Festival
Saturday and Sunday, August 14 and 15

5 p.m. Food Sales
7 p.m. Dancing

8:30 a.m. Meditation Class
10 a.m. Obon and Hatsubon Service
11:45 a.m. Lunch

Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church
32975 Alvarado-Niles Rd., Union City
(510) 471-2581


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