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August 6, 2013 > Obon Festival honors the deceased

Obon Festival honors the deceased

By Jessica Noel Flohr

There are few things in life more difficult than the loss of a loved one. Sometimes their absence is almost unbearable. Remembering their life and the ways they touched those around them can help ease the grieving process. One way is through the Buddhist tradition of "Obon."

Obon is a Japanese interpretation of the word ullambana, from Sanskrit. It refers to tremendous suffering, such as that experienced when a family member dies. According to Buddhist teaching, one of Buddha's followers, Mokuren Sonja, lost his mother and he longed to see her again. Mokuren sensed that his mother's spirit had gone to the "path of the hungry ghosts." He wanted to ease her suffering and so made offerings to the Buddhist priests to save his mother's spirit. It is from this legend that the festival of "Obon" or "Bon" was born.

Also known as the Feast of the Lanterns or the Feast of the Dead, Obon is traditionally the time when ancestral spirits visit the living. In the United States, Obon has become more of a remembrance of contributions by those who have passed on rather than a literal spiritual visitation. Bon is a memorial service for the dead as well as a celebration of gratitude and joy over the gift of life from one's ancestors.

The "Obon Festival" is usually held over the course of two days: the first day, a traditional dance in honor of the deceased and the second day, a spiritual service of remembrance. Those who have lost loved ones within the previous year participate in a special service called Hatsubon. All are welcome to participate regardless of religious affiliation.

The Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church (SACBC) in Union City will host an Obon Festival Saturday, August 10 and Sunday, August 11. On Saturday evening, festivities begin with Japanese food, as well as American fare such as hotdogs and hamburgers. Food sales end at 6 p.m. and dancing begins at 7 p.m.

During the Odori dance, participants perform traditional Japanese dance in beautifully colored kimonos and, in addition, visitors will enjoy Japanese music and a Taiko drum performance. On Sunday, a service to honor the deceased will be held at the church, and lanterns will be lit to remember lost loved ones. This year, Reverend Fumaki Usuki from the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple has been invited as a guest speaker.

Obon is a beautiful and joyful way to remember the lives of those who have gone before us. Honoring the past helps preserve memories of loved ones. SACBC invites everyone to help celebrate this tradition and give thanks to our ancestors.

Obon Festival
Saturday, Aug 10
Food Sales: 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Bon Dance: 7 p.m.

Obon Service
Sunday, August 11
10 a.m.

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

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