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Sending Off the Spirits of the Dead

Temple Staff Member

January 21, 2024

Impressionistic daubs of yellow and white paint mottled on a background of dark and light blue paint suggest lanterns on a body of water, over which stretches a deep, nearly black band flecked with white specks, suggesting a starry nighttime sky.

The first series of rites for the annual service for the Ullambana festival,1 dedicated for the healing and consolation of spirits, was conducted on July 14, and the final ritual to send spirits back to the spiritual world on the 16th. Members of the temple office accompanied Masters Shinjo and Tomoji to the banks of the Tama River and built a bonfire to guide the spirits on their journey back to the spiritual world. Prayers were offered for the souls of those who had died during World War II, those who had drowned in the river, and followers’ relatives. The Water Consolatory Service, which involves placing lanterns, flowers, and other offerings on the water, was then held.

In the twilight, the glowing lanterns drifted into the main current and were swiftly carried away to the echoing accompaniment of chanted sutras. The evening dusk enveloped us, and as we watched the flickering lanterns float away into the darkness, I remembered feeling grateful for the opportunity to offer consolation to the deceased. The distinctions of friend or foe and all conflicting feelings of hatred or affection fell away in the dimming light. This significant service, which has the power to console and bring liberation equally to us all, was conducted according to the buddha wish that it be of benefit to all living beings.

The distinction of friend or foe and all conflicting feelings of hatred or affection fell away in the dimming light.

Following Masters Shinjo and Tomoji as we waded out into the shallows, slipping over the moss-covered stones, I was overwhelmed with joy and happiness at experiencing the rare and precious chance to come across the Dharma.

1. Ullambana is a Buddhist holiday to remember lost loved ones and to repay their kindness with offerings of food, light, and dedication of one’s own good karma on their behalf. Buddhists in Japan float lanterns on bodies of water for Ullambana.

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