Saturday, August 14, 2010

The meaning of Obon (festival of the dead 14th-15th August)

When someone died very young a few years ago everybody was astonished. How could this happen? Why her? She was so young!
This is how every family reacts when a younger member dies suddenly.

Death looks like a thief entering unexpectedly with dirty boots in your room.
People are always taken by surprise. Even you, the reader of these lines, might be shocked if the doctor would tell you that you have cancer and only 3 months to live. Even me, the writer, might react in the same manner.
Why is that? Because for us death does not exist, it is something that always happens to somebody else or which is scheduled to take place some other time in the far future.

But the truth is that surviving to old age is a miracle while dying at any time, unexpectedly, is a real possibility. Cemeteries are filled with young people and only in my circle of friends I had three premature deaths.
Life is more fragile than you or me have the courage to understand. Instead of realizing this, we postpone indefinitely the though of death and indulge ourselves in the various dreams of this world. We forever keep our minds busy and do whatever we can to forget the only real thing we should take into consideration – our own death. It might happen now, in a few days, months, years or when we are old, but it will surely happen. Nobody escapes death. 

On these things we should reflect upon in these Obon days.
If Obon does not help us become aware of the fragility of life, then it is a useless festival. When you commemorate your dead relatives or friends, think to your own death that might come at any time.
All people who died before us taught us only one thing, which is that death will soon come to us, too. If we realize this and concentrate the rest of our lives on the Dharma, then their deaths and our friendship and relation with them were not in vain.  This is the meaning of Obon – to become aware of our own fragility and impermanence, while remembering our departed ones. 
From beyond the graves, their loving memories call us to awake ourselves to the truth that we never know when death might come and that we should be prepared.

And how do we become prepared if not by practicing the Dharma…. But just practicing the Dharma is not enough. We need to practice the Dharma like this would be the last day or minute of our life.
If you die now, in what state of mind will death find you? This is the most important question. Now, in this very moment, are you a Buddha? Are you sure that if you die today you will never be born again in another life, experiencing again sickness, old age and death?

Don’t fool yourself with the thought that you are now a beginner in Buddhist practice and that one day your practice will improve and you might attain a higher level. This is delusion, the most dangerous delusion! What makes you so sure that you have a few more years to live; can you predict your own death?

Ask now; if you die now, in what state of mind death will find you? Not tomorrow, not after a few years, but now! If you are not a Buddha now, when do you think you will become one? What guarantee do you have that you will live longer than this month or year, that an unexpected accident or illness will not come upon you? Or what guarantee do you have that after a certain number of years you will surely become a fully enlightened one, a Buddha? Do you think that to become a Buddha is so easy like becoming an engineer or electrician?

You can’t afford the luxury of relying on uncertainties. In this fragile life as a human being that is so hard to attain, you can’t afford not to be sure that if you die today your endless wandering in samsara is over.
This is the very reason why you should stop dreaming of becoming a good Buddhist after some years of study and practice. Rather, you should take refuge and rely on Amida now, in this very moment. Only through faith in Amida Buddha you are made to enter the stage of those assured of Nirvana. At the level you are now, as an ordinary being, there is no other path more efficient than this.

Be wise and chose among all Buddhist methods the one that does not require impossible things from you. This is because you are definitely not a sage so close to Enlightenment as those who lived and practiced in the presence of Shakyamuni and who were transformed only by listening to a sermon or after a very short time of practice. Do not compare yourself with saints or monks living in Sakyamuni’s lifetime! 
Do not play supermen when you are just a foolish being. Koans(*) and smart Buddhist quotes or meditation will not help you escape birth and death. They are simply not methods designated for you. Please understand this and do not lose the precious time you have. The method of quickly entering the stage of those assured of Nirvana is right before you and no discrimination is made between virtuous and those who committed grave karmic sins.

Death may strike at any time. Take refuge in Amida now. This is the meaning of Obon days.

(*) Koan is a word or a phrase of non-sensical language which cannot be “solved” by the intellect. It is used as an exercise to break through the limitations of conventional thought and to develop intuition, giving the practitioner the chance to reach an awareness beyond duality. They are used as meditation objects in Rinzai Zen. However, very often these koans are treated by many as mere intellectual interesting games, loosing in this way their original function.

0 comentarii:

NEW poems by Gansen John Welch