Shin Buddhists don’t believe Obon is when the “souls” of ancestors return, nor that memorial services, offering of lights, or other rituals benefit dead relatives.
Obon is a time for us, who are living this unrepeatable life, to pause and reflect, to remember and honor those who have passed on before us, to appreciate all that family, relatives, and ancestors have done for us, and to recognize the continued influence of their deeds upon our lives.
Obon is a time for self-reflection—an important Shin Buddhist practice—for it is only when we become aware of our imperfections and insufficiency in contrast to our ideals that religion becomes a matter of personal concern and urgency.
Obon is called kangi-e, or Gathering of Joy, in Shin Buddhist tradition.
“Joy” is not the happiness of getting what you desire but the Joy of being shown the Truth of what one is, no matter how damning that truth is to the image of our Ego-Self, the Joy of being embraced in the Truth, in Amida Buddha, in NamoAmidaButsu.
Bon Dancin’ is not a dance of happiness but a cultivation of self-awareness, a practice in self-reflection—a Dance of Joy expressing our gratitude to the ‘Ohana of our Life, our ancestors, family, friends, teachers, and community, our connection to all beings and forms of life.
Bon Dancin’ as a Buddhist practice is simply coming as you are, dancing like a fool, reflecting upon the folly of the Ego-Self, learning to laugh at one’s Self, and coming back full circle to just dancing in joy.
Come as you, dance like a fool. Why pretend?
Inspiration & Source: Traditions of Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, by Masao Kodani and Russell Hamada