Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly

Shin Buddhism Is American Buddhism

IT’S A LATE SUMMER afternoon, and strings of lanterns run from the Buddhist Church of Oakland’s substantial facade to the trees in Madison Park. Inside, the minister is giving tours of the hondo, where services are held. He explains the meaning and symbolism of the altarpieces—the statue of Amida Buddha, or Buddha of Infinite Light and Life, and the portraits of the tradition’s founder, Shinran, and his successor, Rennyo. The social hall and kitchen below bustle with activity; people wearing kimono practice traditional dance steps, while others hurry from the kitchen to the back parking lot, where about a dozen booths peddle games, souvenirs, and food—teriyaki, ramen, and sushi, as well as hot dogs and cotton candy. A sea of revelers fills the blocked-off street out front, where a jazz ensemble begins playing an old standard. Middle-aged couples dance in the street while their teenage children watch and laugh. The crowd grows as a taiko group takes the stage, followed by a demonstration of traditional Hawaiian dance. People—young and old, babes-in-arms, grandparents—mill about, enjoying the music, the food, the community.

This celebration marks , the Japanese summer festival to honor one’s ancestors. According to tradition, one of the Buddha’s closest disciples, Mokuren (or Maudglyayana in Sanskrit), became distressed after learning that his deceased mother had fallen to the realm, or dance, which members of the Buddhist Church of Oakland rehearse for weeks.

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