Sugino writes this caption to her photo, “In Japan, ancestral spirits come back to their families in mid-August every year. People provide rest for the ancestors’ spirits for three days and then send them back by putting them on lanterns to drift down river.”
A disciple of the Buddha wished to release his mother from the realm of suffering. Buddha instructed him to make offerings to his fellow monks on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. The disciple did this and his mother’s release also opened his eyes to her personal history and the sacrifices that she had made for him. Oban became a time in which ancestors and their sacrifices are recognized and appreciated not only through ritual, but by recognizing that tradition through community service and celebration.
While it’s true that many cultures participate in some form of ancestor worship, I’ve always thought that ghost lanterns on water, viking ships on fire, and fallen leaves on a stream were the poetic counterpoints to our experience of life.