The Similarities Between Ohigan and Volunteering

Often times, we hear about individuals participating in volunteer activity. Volunteers share hardships with people who are suffering or those who are placed in predicaments, free of charge. People praise those who participate in such volunteering and I do not deny that such actions of kindness are very important. However, these actions are more frequently praised we can see these actions being done with our very own eyes. Therefore, the idea of helping others and performing these same actions through spiritual means is considered very different from what we consider to be “volunteering.”

Someone told me the other day that Buddhism is a religion, which exists for times when people need to hold funeral and memorial services. I believe that the reason for this “misunderstanding” is because the concept of memorial services in Buddhism is difficult to grasp here in the United States. This may also be because materialistic views are very prominent today and therefore, many people only tend to believe what they can physically see with their very own eyes.

In order to understand the meaning of spiritual prayer during times such as memorial services and Ohigan, we must consider the purpose behind our existence in this world. In Buddhism, we state that a human being is born into this world due to accumulated “bad” karma from past lives. Therefore, in order to rid of this “bad” karma, we are born into this suffering world and experience what Buddhists consider to be the four sufferings, which are birth, old age, sickness, and death. However, at the same time, we must also understand that not all individuals are born as human beings and many also fall into different realms of suffering, such as that of animals.

However, even when we are living in such a world, we know that there are different degrees of suffering that we experience even within the same realm, as that of human beings. As stated before, this is due to the differing amounts of bad karma that we carry with us. However, at the same time, we can also say that by actually living in this world, it is impossible to avoid creating sins because sometimes we do this without realizing it. For example, we may unconsciously make a comment that hurts another individual.

The prime reason why there are individuals who are unable to leave the suffering realms is because it is hard to fully comprehend their reason for being born into this world. Such souls repetitively return to the different realms of the suffering world and cannot rest in peace. In other words, they are always asking for our help.

As stated before, in volunteering, we must understand the feelings and the experience of the other individual in order to help them. We can also say that praying during Ohigan also incorporates this same idea as well. We never fully know the state of deceased individuals or different spirits. In other words, they may be suffering or having concerns about the realm that they are currently living in because they want to escape it. However, due to the situation of the realm that they currently live in, they may not have the potential to accumulate “good” karma. Like volunteering, we as individuals living also in this suffering world, must also become one with these spirits and come to understand their pain and their concerns in order to help them. We do this by praying and chanting the sutra.

Therefore, during this month of Ohigan, we must get together and recite the sutra and chant the Odaimoku in order to help those spirits, which cannot rest in peace or are unable to cultivate their own virtue and approach this in the same manner that we approach, what is considered to be “volunteering.”

Ven. Kenjo Igarashi
March 2017