Is it a “Buddhist event” or a “folk event”?
“Obon means (a period) around August 15 doesn’t it?”
There may be many people who have the above opinion.
However, it is “Obon” because various “Bon events” are held in this period, and the question would be “What are Bon events?” after all.
Here, we’d like to probe into “What is Obon” through two key factors; a point of view which regards Bon events as imported events originating in Buddhism, and another point of view that catch it as folk event.
If we ask the question: “What is Obon?”, answers from an elderly person might be “Obon is a Buddhist event.”
The old word “Urabon” which indicate Obon was originally a Buddhist word
There is “Bussetsu Urabon Kyou” among the Buddhist scriptures, and it explains about the origin of Obon.
In the Buddhist temples, a ritual called “Urabon-e” has been held from the old times.
Buddhism has been exerting strong influence to the civil Bon events
There are many grounds as mentioned above. There is no doubt that there is a strong relation between “Obon” and Buddhism.
Then, is “Obon” equal to Buddhist event, and was imported to Japan together with Buddhism? Actually, the things are not that easy. There are many events and thoughts in Obon that cannot be explained with Buddhism.
For example, the famous story that everyone might have heard of:”Our ancestors come back to earth in Obon every year.” The way of thinking that a spirit which once attained Buddhahood (died) comes back in this world cannot be found in the Buddhist teachings.
How about Bon Dancing? In a Buddhist scripture, there is a passage that says, “Those who heard the teachings of Amitabha dance with joy.” However, it is a little bit difficult to imagine that the wide-ranging and miscellaneous Bon Dancing was born from this passage. Moreover, there are no traces that Bon Dancing was danced in India, the birthplace of Buddhism, or China and Korea.
From the above reasons, it can be considered that there might have been the conditions that develop Obon and various Bon events in the “folk customs” of Japan from the beginning.
“Obon” as a folk event
If we see it as folk event, “Obon” is the largest folk event in Japan along with New Year. And actually, there is a strange and strong correspondence between New Year and Obon.
What is in common is that they are both the period of “Tama Matsuri” (spirit festival) that they celebrate the “spirit of the ancestors”
* Obon is the season of “Tama Matsuri”
If we enumerate the events that are held in Obon, a meaning opens up, that is; come to meet and see off the “tama (spirit)”; underlying under the group of events that are diverse and complicated and incoherent at a first glance.
In summer, the accepted opinion is that there are “ancestorfs spirits”, “new spirits”, and “hungry ghost and people who died leaving no one to attend to his grave”. However, there are still many controversies and the conclusion is not determined yet.
A period when various “spirits” come and go.
In the ancient times, it was especially “the season of epidemics” and “the season of typhoon”.
*”Syncretization” of Buddhism and folk custom
It has to do with Buddhism in the point that it enshrines tama (spirit) and holds the service for the departed soul.
*It has folk custom as its base. It “syncretizes” with Buddhism. This is the largest characteristics of Japanese Culture.
The influence of Buddhism that gave “shape” to it is greater than one can imagine. The variety of Japanese Buddhism in the Middle Ages. Buddhism itself is Japanese. The relation of influence to each other is needed to be verified.