Utah Buddhists observe festival for deceased

By Pamela Manson, The Salt Lake Tribune, July 11, 2009

Salt Lake City, Utah (USA) -- OBON Named plaques of the members of the Buddhist temple who died since the last Obon are displayed in a place of reverence near the "Onaijin" inside the Buddhist Temple.

<< This plaque recognizing Shaku Kakugyo Kay Kiyoshi Terashima is one of seven at the front of the temple know as the Onaijin. The Salt Lake Buddhist Temple is celebrating the annual Obon Festival, the period of praying for the repose of the souls of one's ancestors, Saturday 7/11/09. Scott Sommerdorf / The Salt Lake Tribune (Scott Sommerdorf)

For almost 100 years, Buddhism has been a part of Utah life. And on Saturday, the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple commemorated followers who have gone before with its annual Oban festival.

The temple, a Jodo Shinshu sect that is affiliated with the Buddhist Churches of America, displayed a small plaque for each member who had died in the past year. Flowers decorated the altar and incense was burned as an offering.

The festival also included a Taiko drum performance, dancing and food.

The teachings of the sect, whose main temple is in Japan, are designed to help practitioners achieve enlightenment, according to Brenda Koga, who gave tours of the temple, 211 W. 100 South, which also is called Japantown Street. The Four Noble Truths center on the existence and causes of suffering, she said, and the Eightfold Path describes a way to end.

"I call it a guideline for living," Koga said.

Services, which are held on Sunday, are in English except for the chanting, which is a way to prepare the mind for meditation. Most members of the congregation are Japanese-American, but non-Asians also are part of the congregation.

One of them is Ernie Kayed, who is Koga's brother-in-law. He said non-Asians make up the biggest part of Buddhism's growth in the United States.

Kayed said Buddhism is respectful of all religions and considers the Golden Rule fundamental to its practice. Buddhism came to Utah in 1912 and there are about 10 different sects in the state, he said.

Karina Leetham, a teacher from Holladay, said she attended the festival to learn more about Buddhism. "I do respect the teachings of the Buddha," she said. "The way to not suffer is to help others."

Services are open to the public. Starting next week, the temple will close for six months for remodeling and expansion.