We held our 2022 Obon/Hastubon service at the temple on June 10. It was an extra special Obon because it occurred in the wake of a major fire at our temple. The fire occurred in our basement on July 8th due to an electrical malfunction. We are still assessing damage, but we are pleased that our Onaijin (Altar) seems to have survived undamaged. These circumstances helped remind us of the teachings of impermanence and interconnection that are so fundamental to Buddhism.
In Japan, Obon is an important season where the spirits of loved ones who have died return to their homes to join the living in feasting and dancing.
Obon is also a time when people put aside their work and travel back from the cities to their family homes in the countryside. It is a homecoming, a time to reminisce and celebrate. It is a time to reflect on how interconnected we are with each other. It is a time to show our gratitude and love for our ancestors and predecessors who have made our current lives possible. Although a version of Obon is celebrated in other Buddhist regions, in Japan part of the Obon tradition specifically includes the understanding that spirits of the ancestors return on the backs of dragonflies.
With this background in mind, I would like to share the English translation of lyrics to Obon no Uta, a song that was played at our service:
Riding on dragonflies, guests are returning from the far away Pure Land [of Amida Buddha]!
It’s the yearly visit of our guests.
Dragonfly, dragonfly, red dragonfly!
Guiding the spirits with lights and paper lanterns
We’ll all go out to greet our guests.
I enjoy this view of the ancestors returning to their former homes in the land of the living on the backs of red dragonflies. Over the years, I have appreciated hearing many of our temple members and friends tell their own stories about dragonflies and now I have a few of my own to add. My mother died in January, so this is our hatsubon year, my first Obon without my mother. Last week I was able to go back to the cranberry farm on the coast of Washington where I was raised. One morning I went out on my own and wandered around our farm, nibbling on wild berries, watching the birds, and thinking of all the things my mom had shown me and shared with me on the property over the years. At one point, as I was standing by one of our irrigation ponds, admiring the yellow water lilies, I heard a buzzing and looked down and there was a red dragonfly at my feet. I said, “Oh, hi Ma.” It made me happy to see the dragonfly and in that moment I felt a connection to my mother.
Each year, as the ministers and community members go out and lead short Obon services at the cemeteries in Eastern Oregon and Western Idaho, we find dragonflies of all different colors. The Vale cemetery in particular often has lots and lots of little yellow dragonflies, a species I had never seen before. Who knows? Maybe in Vale the dead return on the backs of yellow dragonflies and not red ones.
Picture: Obon Cemetery Visit at Baker City
I don’t know if I really believe that dragonflies are carrying the spirits of our loved ones back to us during Obon season. But I like the tradition. I like the image. And most of all, I like that every time I see a dragonfly, I am reminded of the people who have come before us.
Here at the temple, we have been thinking about the people who came before us a lot over the last few days as we deal with the aftermath of the fire in our temple basement. We’ve been thinking about the people who built our temple. The people, mostly first and second generation Japanese and Japanese Americans who had the inspiration to take on this project of building a Japanese Buddhist temple so soon after the end of WW2. It was a huge project that required a commitment of time, energy, and money. Our temple is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, and, although there are a few people still alive who helped to build it, most of the people who had the idea of building it, the people who did the fundraising, and the people who did most of the physical labor are now dead. This temple was their gift to us, their gift to the community, to future generations of people of all ethnic and cultural, and even religious, backgrounds who live in this area.
As we look at the temple and as we consider what it means to us and the Ontario community, I think we can see the temple as a kind of red dragonfly. The temple reminds us of those who came before us. Seeing their work, the work of their minds and bodies, seeing the fruits of their generosity and commitment, reminds us that their lives and our lives continue to be connected. As we work to repair and rebuild the temple, our hands touch the same bricks and beams and pipes that their hands touched. We can thank them for the gift that they gave us. We can pause to realize that we are still connected. The interconnection between all beings across time and space is a fundamental teaching of Buddhism, but it is something we often are too busy to recognize and celebrate.
Picture: Obon Dance Practice in the temple basement 2019 (this is the area that was the most damaged in the recent fire)
This Obon let us remember to pause and reflect on those who have come before us. Let us celebrate the relationships with the people who have made our lives possible. We can do that no matter what our beliefs are. Whether they return to us on the backs of red dragonflies, in stories that are shared, in a favorite recipe, or in a piece of craftsmanship and creativity that continues to be part of our lives, the connection between them and us is very real.
Rev. Anne Spencer
(Assistant Minister, Idaho Oregon Buddhist Temple)
This year’s 75th Northwest Buddhist Convention theme of "Reflecting on the Past, Looking to Our Future" focuses our attention on the relationship between our history and our future. Since we are also celebrating the 75th Anniversary of IOBT, we are also thinking about our own temple’s past and future. We might ask ourselves what the purpose of the temple is today as compared to when it was founded 75 years ago. [NOTE: Idaho-Oregon Buddhist temple will be hosting this hybrid convention in Ontario Oregon and online Sept 16-18 (registration and sponsorship information will be posted soon!)]
In the past 75 years Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple has served many purposes beyond a spiritual one. After World War II and the incarceration of Japanese and Japanese-Americans, the temple served as a place to socialize as the Issei/1st generation and Nisei/2nd generation found their way back into American society. It was a place to gather with other Japanese, eat familiar foods, sing songs, speak the Japanese language, dance odori, do flower arranging, and enjoy other Japanese cultural pursuits. It was also a place to practice Buddhism with the familiar sutras being chanted and Howas/Dharma Talks delivered in the Japanese language by priests from Japan.
The Sansei/3rd generation, like me, were brought to the temple for Sunday School/Dharma School classes so we could learn about Buddhism and have a chance to interact with other Japanese-American kids. We attended Northwest conventions to play basketball, volleyball, have dances, and meet other Northwest young people.
Basketball!!! (who do your recognize?)
However, as the Sansei and Yonsei/4th generation became more integrated into American society, the temple became less important as a social gathering place. We could participate at high school and college in band, choir, athletics, and various clubs. Since most of the temple service was done in Japanese, we felt less connected to the temple. Many young people drifted away from their Buddhist roots.
Young Buddhist League Queen Contestants 1951 (who do your recognize?)
If the temple is no longer the hub of our social life or even our spiritual life, we have to ask ourselves, “What’s the temple for?” We can look at the temple as a place where there are opportunities for the community to learn about Japanese culture and food through Japan Nite/Obon Festival, Sangha Taiko, and the bazaar.
Picture: Snapshots from past Obon festivals
Despite its many purposes and its value as a community center, it essential the temple remain a place where we share the Dharma/Buddhist Teachings.
The Three Treasures (he Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha community) should be a guide to understanding our temple’s purpose. In “The Teaching of Buddha” by BDK (Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai), it states, “We speak of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha as though they are three different things, but they are really one. Buddha is manifested in the Dharma and is realized by the Sangha. Therefore, to believe in the Dharma and to cherish the Sangha is to have faith in the Buddha, and to have faith in the Buddha means to believe in the Dharma and to cherish the Sangha.”
As individuals, we may have our obutsudan/home altar where we can have a simple service, gassho/place our hands together, and say the Nembutsu. We may meditate. We can choose from many books available on Buddhism to read and study. We can attend retreats, seminars, and virtual webinars where we can hear respected teachers and professors talk about Buddhism. However, the only place where we can experience the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha is at the temple.
When we attend the temple, we are surrounded by symbolism reminding us of Amida Buddha and the Nembutsu. We can hear the Dharma through the chanting of the Sutras and the Howa/Dharma Talk. Most importantly, we are in the company of the Sangha, the community that supports us on our path. These are like-minded people who question us and who answer our questions. They reassure us, letting us know that we are accepted, just as we are.
The temple is a welcoming community for all ages.
The temple’s purpose, then, is to allow us, as a Sangha, to practice together by offering incense/oshoko, chanting the Sutras, listening to the Dharma Talks, working side-by-side at temple events, mourning the loss of Sangha members, and even eating and drinking together. The temple becomes the place for us to be immersed in the Three Treasures. In return, it is our privilege to support the temple as our spiritual home.
Namo Amida Butsu,
Rev. Kathy Chatterton
One of the simple pleasures that my mom misses now that she is residing in an assisted living community is Japanese rice. She mentions “ochazuke,” a comfort food that I remember from my childhood. Nothing was more enjoyable than a chawan (bowl) of rice with ocha (tea) poured over it. Slurping this bowl of rice along with tsukemono (pickled vegetables) was a favorite at mealtime. It certainly was not a fancy dish, and it did not take a long time to prepare. Even I could manage to make ochazuke! So I was surprised when I did a Google search for “ochazuke” and found that there are actual recipes for making ochazuke--I cannot imagine that someone would need a recipe! Its awesome-ness lies in its simplicity...and all the childhood memories that come along with the flavors.
I, and many other Shin Buddhists of my generation, who grew up going to a Jodo Shinshu temple, experience the same feeling of simplicity with our practice of reciting the name of Amida Buddha. The nembutsu, saying or thinking “Namo Amida Butsu,” has a familiarity about it that brings a sense of contentment. It brings back memories of our grandparents in the temple, murmuring the nembutsu as they waited for service to begin. Even if we could not understand much of the service that was conducted in Japanese, we could recognize “Namo Amida Butsu.” We would place the palms of our hands together in gassho and recite "Namo Amida Butsu" with the Sangha. This easy practice expanded our awareness of all the causes and conditions that make our lives possible. The nembutsu brings back memories of both joy and sadness and allows us to appreciate our precious lives.
Here is a picture of my grandmother, Ayano Yokoyama, in her late 70s, tending her beloved garden
However, much like the recipes for ochazuke I found on the worldwide web, the idea that making ochazuke and saying "Namo Amida Butstu" are "simple" can be deceiving. Maybe the idea is easy, but the actual doing is not so easy.
We are often taught that the heart of Shin Buddhist practice is to just live your life with purpose and compassion. We are told that every one of us is embraced by the wisdom and the compassion of Amida Buddha. This understanding of the universal compassion of Amida reminds us that everyone we meet deserves to be treated kindly and compassionately.
The practice of being kind and compassionate should be easy, don’t you think? But recognizing that each and every person is embraced by the wisdom and the compassion of Amida Buddha, and that we should treat them accordingly, is actually really hard! It is easy enough to accept that friends and family are embraced by the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha, but what about strangers or people we might consider as enemies? Can we see them embraced by Amida’s Wisdom and Compassion each and every day? Or do we need to be reminded in order to keep us on track?
Maybe ochazuke is not such an easy dish. It may be easy to create--a bowl of rice soaking in tea is not so difficult to put together. However, the problem may be in how we eat it. Do we just slurp it down with no further thought? Do we throw tsukemono on top and let it all wash down together? Or, do we appreciate all the causes and conditions that brought the rice, tea, and vegetables to our kitchen? Do we think about those that harvested the rice, tea leaves, and vegetables? You may feel that ochazuke is "easy," but appreciating it with gratitude each and every time is not so easy.
Seeing everyone on a daily basis as being embraced by Amida’s Wisdom and Compassion is also not so easy. We encounter difficult people every day. It is not easy to live our lives compassionately, especially since we are exactly like all those people that we may regard as incompetent, unfair, rude, or greedy. When we say "Namo Amida Butsu" we are reminded of Amida's compassion for all of us.
Calligraphy of the Nembutsu "Namo Amida Butsu"
Next time you have that ochazuke (or any other dish), be mindful and really savor it. Think about all the causes and conditions that make the ochazuke possible. Similarly whenever you meet someone, consider and appreciate who they are and what they've been through. Please savor and appreciate everything and everyone in your life.
Pictures and recipe for ochazuke can be found at https://rasamalaysia.com/green-tea-rice/
Rev. Kathy Chatterton
Assistant Minister, Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple