During the month of September, Buddhist temples throughout Hawaii observe its annual Autumn Ohigan service. These Buddhist temples are associated with one of the other Japanese Buddhist sects, such as Hongwanji, Jodo Mission, Nichiren, Shingon, Soto Zen, Tendai, and so forth.
The Ohigan service was created by the Japanese Buddhist Society approximately 500 years ago. The main reasons for creating this service were "to foster a good relationship between the temple and members and to provide financial gain to the temple.”
Ohigan services are observed twice a year—March and September. During these two months, the weather is neither too hot nor too cold. The monks in Japanese chose these months to study and reflect upon themselves through the teachings of the Buddha. At the same time, people visited the cemetery to pay their respects to their ancestors.
When Buddhism was brought to Hawaii in the 19th century, they brought the traditional Japanese customs of Buddhism. Therefore, most Buddhist temples here observe these special services during the months of March and September. It was a time for everyone to reflect upon themselves through the teachings of the Buddha Dharrna and to re-dedicate themselves.
Higan, refers to the Other Shore, which is Nirvana or Enlightenment. You have heard these words and stories about Ohigan many times at the temple services, especially during the months of March and September. So as you listen to these stories over and over, you sometimes get tired of hearing them. The Japanese express this as “Mimi ni tako ga dekita" (My ears are sore from listening to these stories over and over.) How do you remember these Ohigan stories?
According to the Buddhist tradition it is said that in order to reach the Other Shore of Nirvana, we have to practice the following six paramitas.
Somehow we all participate in these particular practices without knowing it. Through these six practices of paramitas, we receive joy, happiness, thoughtful minds, courage, and many wonderful gifts from each other. This creates new friendship and fellowships in our lives.
Yes, these practices are probably the ways to reach enlightenment but I wonder how many common people like me are able to practice these for days, months, and years. Yes, we are already practicing them during our daily lives. But, because we are not perfect human beings, most of the time we do these things at one’s own convenience.
Shinran Shonin explained to us that because we are not able to do all, we can instead recite the Nembutsu in our daily lives. Reciting the Nembutsu is following Buddha’s great practices and walking the path of Enlightenment.
Some Jodo Shinshu followers recite the Nembutsu as a way to practice which means "Dai gyo." This includes all practices for the person to become an enlightened one. Shinran Shonin expressed his true feelings to the Yuien, and expressed it in the "Tanni sho" as follows: "The Nembutsu is the unimpeded Single Path. The reason is that the gods of heaven and earth bow in reverence to the followers of Faith, and maras and nonBuddhists cannot hinder them. Nor can any sin or evil exert karmic influences upon them. Nor can various good deeds surpass the Nembutsu.” The life of the Nembutsu means as follows:
I believe that all of you are already doing these wonderful practices in your daily lives, and I firmly believe that the Nembutsu teaching is reminding us that "listening to Buddha Dharma is the greatest way for all of us to re-dedicate ourselves, and realize the right offerings to others." So, when the Nembutsu comes out from our mouth that means we are already being embraced by the Buddha and are rejoicing in the happiness with our wonderful Sangha.
The temple is a most wonderful place where we can learn and share these important things in our lives.