Spring Ohigan 2015: Facing Life, Facing Death


It’s the Spring Ohigan once again in Japan. Ohigan is a holiday that happens twice a year in Japan, and coincides with the spring and autumnal equinoxes. It is a time for people in Japan to return home, visit relatives, pay respects to the dead, and has a Buddhist-theme to it too.

The word, ohigan (お彼岸) means the “other shore”. From the earliest Buddhist texts, a popular Buddhist metaphor is “crossing over” from this shore of frustration, disatisfaction, contention, etc. to the “other shore” of liberation, peace, enlightenment.1 In Mahayana Buddhism in particular (Buddhism from Tibet to Japan), there is a formula of things to “perfect” that one must achieve to cross over. These are called the six “perfections” or roku haramitsu (六波羅蜜). If you want to know more on the subject, you might enjoy reading this old post.

For this Ohigan though, I wanted to share an interesting quote from the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In this scene, Kirk is talking with his son, David, about the death of Spock (link to video here):

The quote is:

David: Lieutenant Saavik was right: You never have faced death.
Kirk: No, not like this. I haven’t faced death. I’ve cheated death. I’ve tricked my way out of death and — patted myself on the back for my ingenuity. I know nothing . . .
David: You knew enough to tell Saavik that how we face death is at least as important as how we face life.

Regardless of who you are, or what you beliefs are, these are good words to consider.

The Buddha frequented taught his monks to consider death, even going as far as meditating in a charnel ground where bodies were decomposing. The Buddha did not intend to be morbid. He wanted to make very clear that our time is limited, and it’s important that we face this in an emotionally-mature, healthy manner, instead of running away from it, or squandering away our life.

As the Buddha taught in this famous sutra, life is short, and should not be wasted. Instead, it’s important to make good use of your time to train the mind, do good for others, etc.

That’s what Ohigan is all about: make good use of this time to focus your life and cross over to the “other shore”.

P.S. The Letter on White Ashes is a good read, too.

1 Crossing over takes on an even deeper aspect within the Pure Land teachings of Buddhism. The Pure Land (浄土 jōdo) is often synonymous with Enlightenment, crossing over, and vice-versa.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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