Even though the service formats are different, all Buddhist temples will hold its Obon services before the Obon dance and all participants receive the Buddha Dharma (teachings) as they enjoy the Obon dance with the true mind of gratitude.
At Wailuku Hongwanji, after the Obon services on Friday and Saturday, the minister climbs up onto the Yagura and offers a short service which includes an aspiration. I don’t know how and what the previous ministers did before the dance but in my case, I chant "Sanbujo" which is "Three respectful callings for Buddha" both in English and Japanese. I scatter the fresh flowers so called "San-ge" and recite the Obon aspiration which welcomes all the Buddhas to enter and join us at the Obon dance.
During Sanbujo (three respectful callings) and aspiration, everyone (members and participants) pay their respect to our departed members and expresses their sincere gratitude and appreciation which they inherited from the departed. It is at this time that we are able to reflect deeply upon ourselves even if it is for a moment and really feel the great values and treasures which we all received.
After the aspiration, we are clear-minded, and we rejoice in the happiness with others throughout the evening. What is the meaning of "Rejoice in the Happiness?” Young and old are all together around the Yagura as they express their joy of happiness with energy dancing to the Obon music so called "Obon Ondo" with the beat of the Taiko and other special musical instruments. They move their entire body to show their joy of happiness.
Having Obon services and dance may be similar to other Buddhist temples but our acceptance of the Obon services and dances are much different from other Buddhist temples. In reference to our Jodo Shinshu teachings, the services are not only for the deceased members, but it is also for all of us to meet Buddha Dharma through the memories of our deceased members and be aware of many important things which they left to help guide us in our lives.
Buddha said, "Life is suffering and it is impermanent.” Someday we will experience separation from our loved ones. It is the fact of our lives and we are not able to escape from this truth. When we are faced with this kind of difficult fact, it will really hit our hearts and we will become sad. But in our Jodo Shinshu teachings, it is said that, "We all are able to be reborn into the land of Amida (Pure Land) and become a Buddha. Once we become a Buddha, we will return to this human world and guide all sentient beings on the path of truth."
We will meet our loved ones again through the great guidance of the Nembutsu and be able to realize that "Even if their human life has expired, their spiritual lives will never fade away from our hearts. Our loved ones will always return to us and guide us through the path of truth.
This means we are meeting them again just like when Moggallana saw his mother. "So, we Jodo Shinshu followers, call this Obon services as "Kangi-e" which translates in English as "Joy of Gathering." Through the listening of Buddha Dharma we are able to meet the spirits, wisdom, and great compassion of our loved ones and be able to receive a feeling of peace and serenity in our hearts.
If this is true, the Obon dance will become more meaningful for all of us and we will be able to rejoice in the great joy and happiness with our loved ones and other Buddhist followers.
The Collected Works of Shinran is the greatest core of the Jodo Shinshu teachings that Shinran Shonin left for each of us. If you read his book, you will get sleepy and may not be able to fully understand. But if you start reading a few pages each day, check volume 2. Little by little you will understand what Shinran Shonin left for each one of us, and once you understand the heart of Shinran Shonin, you will be able to understand the true heart of our loved one’s great wisdom and compassion which is always coming into our hearts. We would surely want to follow their great footsteps. Shinran Shonin adopted one of his 7 masters, Tao Cho of China, and it is said; "Those who have been born first guide those who come later, and those who are born later join those who were born before."
The Jodo Shinshu way of accepting Obon services and dances is not just to enjoy eating the special foods and dancing at the temples, but also for us to realize the meaning of Moggallana’s story as it reminds us that Obon services and dances are truly our spiritual "Joy of happiness" through the guidance of the Nembutsu. We are a;; embraced by our Holy Buddha’s great wisdom and compassion