Shinran and His Work, by Arthur Lloyd, , at sacred-texts.com
There are certain festivals in Japanese Buddhism connected with the dead in general.
I. Higan. Periods of seven days at the spring and autumn Equinoxes, devoted to special worship in connection with the departed. The word Higan means the "opposite shore." At the Equinox the sun, as it were, crosses from one shore to the other. The "opposite shore" is a natural figure of death, and the Buddhist, like the Christian, would say that
In other sects, prayers are made at these seasons for the souls of the departed, and offerings presented for their repose. The Shinshuist observes the same ceremonial, but he calls his Higan devotions a sambutsu-e, or meeting for the praise of Buddha; for he cannot be sorry for those that are in the good keeping of Amida, nor pray for the repose of those whose eternal happiness he believes to be secured for ever.
II. Urabon or the Bon Festival is the All Souls’ Day of Japan, coming in the middle of the seventh month. At the Bon Festival it is believed
that the spirits of the dead return to the homes of their earthly life, and lamps are lighted to show them on their way, food prepared for their refreshment, and evergreen sheds for them to rest in. O Bon is the harvest time of the country priest, who looks to its rewards and emoluments far more keenly than any Christian parson looks to his Easter offerings; but the return of the spirits of the departed is not always a subject of joyful contemplation to the layman of indifferent holiness. There is a terror of 'spooks' in all countries, and revenants are not always welcomed. I have known country people positively refuse, at Bon-time, to open their doors to speak to belated travellers who were asking for direction. How were they to know that the voices outside the door did not come from spirits of undesirable and unwelcome relatives, who had gone over to the majority and were now visiting their ancient homes?
But the Shinshuist does not allow himself to dwell on the gloomy side of things. His Urabon is called Kwaukie, 'feast of rejoicing'; for, again, there is no need for him to be anxious as to the frame of mind in which his dear ones will return to visit their ancestral homes. His dear ones are safe in Paradise, sitting on lotus leaves, and listening to the sermons of Father Amida.
III. Eitai shidō, a term used in other sects for the masses said at stated intervals for the souls of the dead long since departed, is changed in the Shinshu to sosen shaon, gratitude for the deceased ancestors. It is with the Shinshu almost as it is with the English Churchman when he "blesses
[paragraph continues] God's Holy Name for all His servants departed this life in God's faith and fear." There is no public prayer, but there is grateful commemoration.
The same principle holds good in the case of the particular dead, as in that of the dead in general.
IV. The kijitsu and saijitsu, anniversaries, and memorial days, for parents, wife, or children, are changed from days of prayer and intercession to days of praise and thanksgiving, and if the Shinshuist celebrates these days with the same dignity and pomp that is observed in other bodies, his motives are not the same. He has no intention to benefit the dead by what he does: he looks to the benefit to the worshipper himself, to the good the service will do to the non-believer (§ 92). That the souls of the dead may be benefited by these services is not denied. Only, the main object is to benefit the living rather than the dead (§ 93), and the benefit to the dead seems to be connected more especially with those forty nine days before mentioned during which the soul lingers in the intermediate state (chū-u) before entering definitely into its proper sphere, be it good or bad (§ 94).
All these things the Shinshu observes, and yet in every one of them it has modified the accepted Buddhist tradition in favour of one which is essentially its own. The same may be said of the indō ceremony to which I have already alluded, and to the practice of giving a hōmyō or kaimyō (posthumous names) to the deceased. The former is considered by the Shinshu as being given to the soul after death by Amida himself, who comes and takes it by the hand to Paradise: the latter is given by
the priests at the time of the funeral ceremonies, as a sign, like the symbolical head-shaving of a deceased layman, that the departed So-and-So, has now definitely entered into religion (buppō), and left the ranks of the laity. There is a striking resemblance here to the New Name which, in the Apocalypse, is said to be given to him that is faithful.