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Thread: Higan-e (Spring Equinox celebration)

  1. #1

    Higan-e (Spring Equinox celebration)

    Is this something which is widely practiced in the Soto/Japanese communities? Cleaning the altar and making offerings sounds like a good thing to do.


  2. #2
    Hi Andy,

    The answer is, yes, it is a holiday in Japanese Soto Zen and much of Japanese Buddhism noting the spring Equinox (there is another like day in the Fall). No, we are not particularly going to note the holiday here. But yes, anyone is free to do so.

    I always appreciate a good holiday, but this holiday is more part of Japanese culture and ancestor worship that any particularly "Buddhist" connection later placed on it. To make a long story short, there is the belief that the "world of the dead" is closer to the world of the living on this day, so it is easier to communicate with the dead ancestors whose spirits may cross easier on such days. It derives, in my understanding, from a Chinese holiday around this time called "Ching Ming" which is part of Chinese folk belief tied to the coming of Spring and agriculture long before any Buddhist connection ...

    Here is how it is celebrated many places in Japan (from the Soto-shu page) ...

    On the day before Higan, it is the custom in a Japanese home to clean the Buddha altar [dedicated to the deceased Ancestors], to straighten up the various Buddha implements, and to change the flowers on the altar. It is also customary to make offerings of rice dumplings on the first day of the week. On the equinox (the middle day of this week) rice cakes covered with bean jam called ohagi or botamochi are offered. And once again on the final day of the week, dumplings made from rice flour are offered. During this time, offerings of food, special sweets, and fruit are also made.

    It is customary at this time to visit the temple to present offerings of pounded-rice cakes (mochi), sweets, fruit, and so on to the principal image of Buddha as well as the family ancestors.
    It is also the custom at Higan to visit the family grave to express our gratitude to the family ancestors. For those people living far away from the family grave, it is especially good to visit the temple and family grave during Higan. This is a good way to learn the warm-heartedness customarily expressed during Higan of giving rice cakes covered with bean jam to the neighbors and one’s relatives.

    A visit to the family grave first begins with cleaning the grave stone and grave site. It is particularly important to scour places that easily become dirty such as water basins and flower vases. Older wooden stupas are mindfully removed and disposed of according to temple instructions. Once the grave has been cleaned, fresh offerings of water, incense, and favorite delicacies of the deceased ancestors’ are made. The temple priest is then asked to chant a sutra at the grave, at this time, we join our hands in wholehearted prayer.

    Following the visit to the gravesite, it is proper to remove the food offerings. No one likes to see spoiled offerings and they are also unsanitary. It is also good to clean up the special gravesite for graves that are no longer tended by family members and offer incense and flowers. In Japan, this is thought to express the beauty of one’s heart and mind.
    One Japanese Soto-Zen group in the US which does celebrate the holiday explains it this way ...

    The observance of O-Higan is unique to Japanese Buddhism, where it has been observed for hundreds of years. Higan, in Japanese, literally means the "other shore gathering." This "other shore" means the other shore of nirvana or enlightenment, that is, awakening to our own true nature, in contrast to this shore of samsara or delusion. It is a time for followers of the Buddha to gather together and rededicate ourselves to our meditation practice and to the practice of the Six Paramitas, which aid us in reaching and awakening to the other shore that is inherent within in all beings. ...

    "Throughout Japan, this is the time of year for the observance of O-Higan. O-Higan is the Japanese Buddhist holy day, which is held in the spring and in the fall. It is said that at these times, the weather is best for crossing over from the shore of this world to the shore of Enlightenment. On O-Higan, we renew our determination to enter into the enlightened world, and especially by following the Six Paramitas, or spiritual virtues, of charity, perseverance, diligence, patience, meditation, and wisdom. They are also called the six Nobel Deeds of Zen. On O-Higan, we especially think of our intention to live enlightened lives in imitation of the Historical Buddha. Then we can see things as they really are. We can see through the illusion of this world and enter the world of enlightenment." ...

    True zazen is about finding the other shore of O-Higan each moment. Zazen is our vehicle, our form, which enables us to go beyond our own limited, self-imposed, self-centered views and see the other shore of true reality and freedom. So, at this time of O-Higan, like Great Bodhisattvas, let us reaffirm our commitment to our Zen practice, and dedicate our efforts to the benefit of all beings.
    I believe that we may live such way each day, and do not need particularly to tie this to the equinox and ancestor worship. Further, we recently celebrated Parinarvana, the day marking the death of the historical Buddha, and remembered our own family and friends who have left this visible world. Remembering our family and friends is a good thing, and we may also do so each day. In countries based on Confucian ancestor worship, such as China, Japan and Korea, however, they have such Ancestor remembrance holidays -4- times a year, which I believe is a bit much to bring into the West.

    Of course, we should all appreciate the coming of Spring and life's return in the flowers and leaves. Perhaps we are too removed from the cycles of nature now in the modern industrialized world, so there would be good reason to mark the return of spring like this. I encourage everyone, as the weather warms, to celebrate the return of Spring in our hearts ... and outside with a walk in the sunshine ... without need for any particular ceremony inside a stuffy temple building.

    The Equinox has a long history of being marked around the world, such as at Stonehenge ... not too far from you, Andy in Cantebury ...

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 03-17-2014 at 06:18 AM.

  3. #3
    Thank you, Jundo.

    Yes, I think we have the ancestors bit covered so will just use the day to clean my shrine and offer flowers. Samuhuinn/Hallowe'en is the British equivalent it would seem, when the veil between the worlds is seen as thin.

    I have friends who used to have access to Stonehenge to celebrate the solstices and equinoxes. It is good to know people still follow the cycles of the seasons in this way. For others it is the simple marking of the appearance of daffodils or planting out of seedlings. In any case, signs of spring are good to see after a long winter.


  4. #4
    This is interesting, Andy, thanks for posting. I have a bit of an interest in Wiccan/Paganism, so just may have to clean my alter and put some fresh flowers on it


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