Update: Obon Celebrations in California

July 12, 2003

Source: Los Angeles Times


On July 12, 2003 the Los Angeles Times reported that "throughout the month [of July], several Buddhist temples plan to memorialize their ancestors with rituals that range from the somber to the festive. The tradition stems from a Buddhist sutra that recounts the story of a disciple who perceived his deceased mother to be suffering in hell. At the Buddha's advice, the disciple gathered his monastic community to pray for her release... 'Like Mother's Day, Obon is a reminder of our debt of gratitude to our ancestors,' said [Rev. Noriaki] Ito, using Japanese Buddhism's name for the ancestral ceremonies. 'In today's world, we live such busy lives that it takes an event like Obon to make us remember our ancestors and reflect on whether we're living in ways that would make them happy...' But the tradition of ancestor veneration common to East Asian cultures comes more from Chinese Confucianism's teachings on filial piety than Buddhism, Ito said. The two traditions were intermingled in China and spread to Korea, Japan and elsewhere... Experts say ancestor veneration traditionally served two functions: to preserve the social order by keeping bonds tight across generations and to help ease grief over the loss of loved ones and anxiety about mortality. Although ancestor veneration is strongly identified with Asia, it also is present in other faith traditions... At the KRST Unity Center of African Spirituality in Los Angeles, for instance, the Rev. Richard Meri Ka Ra Byrd meditates each morning before an altar bearing photos of his congregation's ancestors."