Why do we light candles at Obon in honor of loved ones who have passed? How did this tradition start?
Obon is traditionally the time to remember and honor loved ones. By legend, it is said that our loved ones come back from the land of the spirits to visit us and to “check up” on us to make sure that everyone has adjusted.
In Japan, the traditions of Obon are very local. In many parts of Japan, if there is a river or a lake, memorial boats made of paper with a candle are put into the water to light the ancestors on their journey back to the land of the spirits.
In Kyoto, there is a big festival and parade with floats and music. And as a finale, there are five mountains that have a bonfire with five different characters to light the path so that the ancestors can find their way back to the land of the spirits.
In California, where it does not rain during the summer, some temples write the name of a person who has passedon a short banner that is then hung from the chochin (the paper lanterns).
Here at the Midwest Buddhist Temple, we wanted to start a new, local tradition for us with some way to remember our ancestors. Using small cups with a candle seemed like something that would be possible, and then we decided to put a label with the person’s name.
And if we had a record, we would print their Homyo (Buddhist Name) on each cup. These candles are displayed on the balcony ledge during the Obon Odori (dancing) on Saturday, July 7, as well as during the Obon/Hatsu-Bon Service on Sunday.
If you are interested in having a memorial candle for Obon this year, please contact the MBT Office. We ask for a $10 donation for each name.