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Festival celebrates living
Obon service, dance unites community

Marysville -- Inside the walls of the Buddhist Church in Marysville Saturday, more than 150 people gathered to remember and appreciate their loved ones who have passed on and to self-reflect during the ancient Japanese Buddhist festival, the Obon.

Kelsey Koga, 6, of Yuba City dances beneath a lantern at the annual Obon Festival at the Buddhist Church of Marysville Saturday.

Candles were lit, fresh flowers adorned the area of the alter and the smell of burning incense wafted in the air as the congregation chanted. A small statue of the Amida Buddha, a representation of eternal life, infinite light, and immeasurable wisdom, was the center of the church's alter. "It is not a festival so much about the dead, as it is about the festival of life and living itself," said Rev. Bryan Siebuhr, the church's new resident minister.

The Obon Festival, also referred to as the Gathering of Joy, began with a memorial service held to remember those that have passed away in the last year.

"It's a time when they come to reflect upon their loved one's life and all the things the loved one has given to them, the ways in which the loved one has contributed to their lives and express that in their heart to the memory of the loved one and to Amid Buddha," said Siebuhr in an interview Saturday.

Another service was held to remember those who have passed away during the months of July and August in any year.

Members lined up to give monetary offerings to the temple in tribute to the deceased .

For 57-year-old Caroline McEssy, who was raised in Yuba City but now lives in Citrus Heights, the service helped her to better understand the meaning of Obon. McEssy, who lost her mother to cancer in January, said the service brought her comfort.

"After all the hardships she went through, it makes me feel that she's okay," McEssy said. "It's just telling me that she's up there and fine," she said.

The tradition of the Obon Festival began in the seventh century and revolves around a story about a disciple named Mokkenren, Rev. Siebuhr said.

Mokkenren was a disciple of the Buddha who had the ability to see into other spiritual realms. After his mother died, Mokkenren expected his mother to be in the highest realm since his mother was so nice to him and sacrificed so much, Siebuhr said. He finally finds her in the realm of the Hungry Ghosts, where she is suffering from starvation.

Mokkenren asked Buddha for guidance, and Buddha told him to bring an offering of food to the community of monks at the end of their summer retreat and his mother would be reborn in the heavenly realm. Mokkenren did just that and later found that not only his mother, but seven generations of ancestors, had been reborn into the highest realm.

Mokkenren clapped his hands and jumped for joy at the sight.

"This is the story of the Obon dance," Rev. Siebuhr said.

Rev. Siebuhr said that because Mokkenren's mother thought only of her son and not of the benefit of others, her spirit went in a lower realm.

Siebuhr said the consequences of one's life is based on the words and deeds of an individual's lifetime, and where one is reborn is due to the good and evil one commits in his life.

After people enjoyed a teriyaki chicken dinner, the dancing festivities began.

Seven graceful dancers with fans took center stage as about 70 people, dressed in kimonos and hapi coats, formed a circle and danced around them.

Gerald Uyeda of Yuba City was there to watch his wife and his 7-year-old daughter, Kiomi, dance in the circle.

"(Kiomi) was 3 when we first came (to the Obon festival)," Uyeda said. "She just kind of walked around. It wasn't until this year that she began to understand the steps and the meaning of the dances."

Uyeda said that he thought the Obon Festival was beginning to have a resurgence, after the Japanese community dwindled as children grew up and moved away.

"If you look at the crowd, it's quite mixed now, which I think is good," Uyeda said. "It's a chance for people to learn a little bit about the Japanese culture."

After the dancing, six members of the Marysville YBA Taiko Group performed.

"We often refer to (the Taiko drum) as the voice of Buddha," Siebuhr said. "When the Taiko drum is struck, everybody, regardless of social or economic status, regardless of race and education, the sound of the drum falls upon all ears equally, just as the Buddha embraces all people equally and without any discrimination whatsoever," he said.


Updated: 23-7-2001

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