In addition to the regular services, the temple observes a number of special Buddhist holidays throughout the calendar year. These are times to reflect upon and appreciate the intricate bonds that enable us to live. It is also a time to show our gratitude for the teachings and the teachers who serve as guides on our journey toward spiritual understanding. Although we recognize the official dates of these special observances, other than Shusho-E (New Year's Day) and Joya-E (New Year's Eve), the services are held at the temple on the Sunday nearest the actual date.
In keeping with the Jodo Shinshu tradition, monetary offerings are customary at special services. Offerings are presented at the service or mailed in. The offering is wrapped with a sheet of clean, white paper and placed in a plain envelope with an identification of what the offering is for and who it is from printed on the face of the envelope.
Shusho-E (Gathering to Recover the Correct Path) New Year's Day Service - January 1
The New Year's Day Service (Shusho-E) is the first Buddhist service of the year. Dating back to the Nara period in Japan, the new year holiday is observed for seven days. The service is conducted to wish for world peace, reflect upon the past, and resolve to live a good life during the year. The service allows us to greet our friends and ministers and to share our joy in being able to start another year together. We come together to contemplate our lives and to express our gratitude.
Goshoki Hoonko (Observance of Anniversary of Death and Repay Debt of Gratitude) Shinran Shonin's Memorial Service- January 16
The Ho-on-ko Service is a memorial service held for Shinran Shonin who was the founder of our Jodo Shin Sect of Buddhism. Literally, the Chinese characters "Ho-on" means "return of gratitude" and "ko" means "to clarify the meaning of" or "gathering of" those who wish to return this gratitude.
On this anniversary of the death of Shinran Shonin, we trace his footsteps with deep appreciation in our hearts and resolve to dedicate ourselves in the service of other to truly make our world a better place for all.
Nehan-E (Nirvana Gathering) Nirvana Day - February 15
February 15th is the day on which Shakyamuni Buddha passed away and entered Parinirvana, thus culminating 80 years of life - 45 of which were spent in the propagation of the Buddha-Dharma.
The Sanskrit word "Nirvana" literally means "a blowing out as of a flame" or "extinction of worldly illusions and passions." Parinirvana refers to complete extinction or to Shakyamuni Buddha's passing. In commemoration of Shakyamuni Buddha's Parinirvana, we take the time to reflect on our limited abilities and strive to make even a small step toward the Buddhist goal of attaining the Perfect Peace of Nirvana.
Shunki Higan-E (Spring Other Shore Gathering) Spring Ohigan - March 18
The work "higan" comes from the Sanskrit word "Paramita" which expresses the idea that the Buddha guides people from this worldly shore to the other shore of the Pure Land.
Ohigan is a Japanese tradition. During Ohigan, the people in Japan return to their homes and visit their family cemeteries and temples. Special services are conducted for a period of one week during the equinox to pay their respect to their ancestors just as they do during Obon. Ohigan is referred in Japanese as "San Butsu E" or "Gathering to Praise the Buddha."
The Ohigan service is devoted to expressing our gratitude for being awakened to Amida's Infinite Wisdom and Compassion, thus, directing Amida's Wisdom and COmpassion to other sentient beings and other living things.
Hanamatsuri (Flower Festival) Kanbutsu-E (Bathe Buddha Gathering)- April 8
This is the day we celebrate the birth of Siddhartha Gautama who became enlightened as Shakyamuni Buddha.
According to legend, Queen Maya dreamt of a white elephant entering her body; a wise man interpreted this event as the impending birth of Prince Siddhartha. In keeping with the custom of the time, Queen Maya prepared to return to her parent's home to give birth to her baby. Along the way, she stopped for a rest in Lumbini Garden. As she reached to pluck the Asoka blossoms, her little son was born. Immediately, the child rose to his feet and walked seven steps. He raised his right hand toward the sky, his left hand reached downward, and he proclaimed, "Above heaven and below heaven, I alone am the World Honored One." Then a very gentle and sweet rain fell on the baby and bathed him.
This legendary story is not taken literally but used to describe the significance of an extraordinary person. For instance, the seven steps taken in the story illuminate the step beyond the sixth realism of suffering or human bondage; the Buddha took that extra step to Enlightenment.
With the warm spring weather bringing out fresh buds and new life, we strive to take the seventh step by opening our eyes and hearts to the significance of Hanamatsuri. The Hanamido, or miniature altar of flowers, symbolizes the beautiful Lumbini Garden. The pouring of the sweet tea (Kanbutsu-E) on the statue of the baby Buddha represents the gentle rain which fell that day in Lumbini.
In connection with this very special observance, we hold Shosanshiki also know as Hatsumairi (First visit ceremony) or Infant Presentation services. This service is held for all children born into our Sangha over the past year. It is a day to present the child to BUddha and to the Sangha, and to celebrate their first step upon following the Dharma.
Shuso Gotan-E (Sect Founder Birthday Gathering) Shinran Shonin Day - May 21
This service is to celebrate the birth of Shinran Shonin (1173-1262), the founder of our sect. It is also called Fujimatsuri (Wisteria Festival) in reference to the Wisteria flower which represents our sect. Unlike other flowers which seem to stand up straight and tall when in full blossom, the wisteria hangs down, when in full bloom, as if in humility. This teaches us that a true and real human being does not stand up in arrogance at their accomplishments, but rather realizes that they have so much for which to be grateful.
Born over 800 years ago in Japan, Shinran Shonin's life was filled with sorrow and misfortune, yet he felt fortunate because he met with the Blessed Vow of Amida Buddha. He was able to set an example of the true life of one who has gained the doctrine of salvation.
Shinran, like his teacher, Honen Shonin, denied the formal temple-priest system of his time. After Shinran descended Mt. Hiei, he never lived in a temple, but in huts or small hermitages. Shinran stressed "household religion" as more important than "Temple religion." He pointed out that everyone, without distinction of rank or class, would be saved by reciting the Nembutsu with faith in Amida Buddha.
In his teaching there is no distinction or discrimination between men and women, young and old, good and evil. Everyone is equal before the Buddha, and all can be saved by Amida's Compassion. This is Shinran Shonin's faith in the Original Vow of Amida Buddha.
In celebrating his birth, we recall his life and visualize him quietly meditating on the depth of his karmic actions. We also envision Shinran Shonin happily embraced by the Infinite Compassion of Amida Buddha which also shines upon us. This vision reminds us to live a life of gratitude on a daily basis.
Obon - July or August
The Obon Service and Obon Odori (Dance) are observed between July 15 and August 15. The word "Bon" comes from the Sanskrit "Ullambana" which translates into Chinese as "ura-bon." "Ulla" means to hang upside down and signifies suffering caused by inverted views. "Bana" is the Sanskrit word for "bowl" and has come to signify salvation, because it is used primarily as a container for rice. The "O" placed before the word "bon" is used as an honorific prefix following the Japanese tradition.
The origin of the Obon Festival is generally ascribed to the Ullambana Sutra. Maudgalyayana, one of the Buddha's ten foremost disciples, possessed the superhuman ability to perceive things beyond this earthly existence. With the desire to see how his deceased mother was doing, he looked and found her reborn in the realm of hungry demons or Pretas, and suffering the fate of not being able to eat anything because the food would turn into fire whenever she brought it to her mouth.
Maudgalyayana sought the Buddha's advice and was told that it was impossible to save his mother through his own power. He was advised to offer food to the monks after they finished their rainy season retreat (pravarana) on the 15th day of the seventh month as an act of Dana. In this manner, not only would his mother be saved, but seven generations of parents would be saved also.
Maudgalyayana carried out the injunction of the Buddha, and his mother was able to rise from the realm of hungry demons. Everybody who say this became so happy and joyful that they began to dance. This story forms the origin of the Obon Festival.
During the Obon period, people return to their family homes to visit. They clean up, offer fresh flowers, and burn incense at their ancestor's grave sites. They light candles to welcome the spirits of their departed ancestors into their homes. In earlier times, paper boat lanterns were constructed at the culmination of the Obon period. These paper boat lanterns were sent down the river with a food offering and lighted candle on board so that all souls were returned to their resting place.
Today the true significance of the Obon Service and Festival lies within ourselves. We reflect upon the past love, compassion, and wisdom given to us by our parents and others while they were still alive. We appreciate the hardships and sacrifices they made for our sake and we use our appreciation to help us understand the interdependency of all life and things.
Autumn Higan - September 20
Ohigan occurs with the autumnal equinox and is one of the few religious holidays which has no direct link to Shakyamuni Buddha. It is distinctly a Japanese holiday. The word "Ohigan" comes from the Sanskrit word "Paramita" which means the "Other Shore." It is an abbreviation of "To-higan" with "To" meaning "to arrive." Therefore, to-higan means to arrive at the Other Shore. The Other Shore is Enlightenment or Nirvana. In contrast to the Other Shore is this shore or "shigan" in Japanese. Shigan denotes samasara or this world of birth-and-death crossing over the sea of worldly passions arising from illusion.
How can we cross this wide sea and arrive at the Other Shore of Nirvana? The Six Paramitas serve as a bridge spanning this wide sea; by practicing Charity, Morality, Patience, Right Effort, Meditation, and Wisdom we can reach the Other Shore.
Thus, Ohigan is a time for us to express our gratitude to Amida Buddha for giving us the Six Paramitas and awakening us to His boundless Compassion and Wisdom
Eitaikyo - eternal, perpetual-ages-sutra - November
Eitaikyo means to chant a sutra in perpetual memorial tribute to our deceased loved ones. Eitaikyo services are held at least twice once on the day of passing, and again with others attending the annual Eitaikyo Service (usually in November). The Eitaikyo service is also a time to reflect upon all that we have received and think of ways that we can give.
Modern day living has become a hectic affair and often our daily tasks provide little time or opportunity for recalling our loved ones. It becomes increasingly difficult to attend memorial services. While we may acknowledge this plight in our own lives and in the lives of others, it does not lessen our desire to pay tribute to or have our loved ones remembered forever. Therefore, it is important to note the deceased will be remembered perpetually throught the chanting of the sutra during the daily morning ritual performed by the temple minister who recites the names of all the recorded names for that particular day. Each temple has an Eitaikyo Book which is kept on the altar. It is a calendar book in which the names of deceased persons are entered on the day of their death.
Placement on the Eitaikyo scroll and the perpetual chanting of a sutra is performed upon family request. This request is usually accompanied by an offering od Dana towards the Eitaikyo Perpetual Fund.
Bodhi Day - December 8
On December 8th, Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment and became Shakyamuni Buddha while sitting in meditation beneath a Pippala tree. December 8th is called Bodhi Day because "enlightenment" is known as "Bodhi" in Sanskrit. The Pippala tree is also sometimes referred to as the Bodhi or Bo-tree.
In attaining Buddhahood, one realizes the Universal truth and can see the true nature of all existence and phenomena. Until this enlightenment has been reached or attained, we are leading a blind life filled with suffering and sorrow.
Upon realizing the Universal Truth and the nature of all existence, Gautama Buddha sought to spread the teaching which would enable human beings to cross over the ocean of birth and death.
We regard December 8 as the beginning day on which an infinite number of human begins were saved; this being because the number eight (8), when laid on its side, becomes the infinity symbol.
End of Year and New Year's Eve Service - December 31
The Year En Service (Joya E) provides us with an opportunity to quietly contemplate on the events of the past year and to rejoice in gratitude for the many blessing we were able to enjoy.
In keeping with the Buddhist tradition, we ring the temple bell 108 times to wipe out the 108 passions of human beings. This allows us to begin the New Year with a clean slate and look forward to better things during the coming year.
The 108 passions originate in the five feelings of sight, sound , smell, taste and touch plus consciousness. These six multiplied by three (pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral) feelings total 18. Each of the pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral feelings are either attached to or detached from pleasure; 18 times two equals 36. These 36 multiplied by three (past, present, and future) give us a total of 108 passions.