Normally July is a time for ohaka mairi, the visitation of temple members to their
family’s grave site in observance of Obon. This tradition stretches back many
centuries in Japan, and has persisted through times of war, famine, and all manner of
disasters. Every year in the GTA the ministers and helpers fan out to conduct services
at the many cemeteries where members’ loved ones are interred. But it was one of the
cruel characteristics of the COVID-19 pandemic that it confined us to our homes and
made it unsafe to gather in groups, just at the moment when we needed each others’
support. Many people were unable to go out to their family sites, and no ministers
were allowed to gather with laypeople in the cemeteries for memorial services. Particularly for those observing a hatsubon year (first Obon since a loved one passed away), this was a truly unfortunate situation.
Since so much of our everyday and religious lives was disrupted with the closure of businesses, schools, and the temple, I wanted to try and offer a bit of remotely-delivered comfort. Therefore, I undertook to visit the GTA temples and conduct solo services. Over the course of July I traveled from my home in Waterloo to conduct services for each of the nineteen cemeteries in Toronto, Mississauga, Etobicoke, Oakville, Scarborough, North York, and Richmond Hill. The temple was able to provide me with the names of all the members interred in each cemetery, including recently deceased persons. Please be assured that your loved ones were included in my services.
The services consisted of opening nembutsu, Sanbujo, Juseige, incense offering, recitation of the names of those interred in each particular cemetery, eko, and closing nembutsu. At the first service on each day, I also recited the Gobunsho chapter on White Ashes in Japanese and English. The temple had furnished me with a small portable altar set years ago when I first started leading annual Obon services for Spring Creek and Glen Oaks cemeteries, so I was able to haul that back and forth across the GTA to accomplish these services.
When we have a chance to once again gather at the temple for Sunday Dharma sharing, I’ll provide some more details about my experiences as I visited the many cemeteries this summer. For now, I wanted you all to be aware that even though the temple was not able to hold public services, your loved ones were not forgotten and the traditions are being maintained even during difficult circumstances.
Jeff Wilson Sensei