Here in United States, the month of November marks the beginning of the busy holiday season, a time when many of us find ourselves busier than usual shopping for gifts for loved ones or preparing special meals for family gatherings. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of trips to the mall and the grocery store, I have to remind myself not to overlook the true significance our Thanksgiving celebrations—the opportunity to come together with friends and family and reflect in gratitude on this life that I am able to live thanks to generosity and patience of so many people in my life, including those who have already gone forth to the Other Shore.
At the San Mateo Buddhist Temple, our annual Eitaikyo Service held in November is a special opportunity for all of us to come together and express our thanks for the past members of our Sangha who overcame great difficulties to establish and maintain the thriving temple community we enjoy today. All are encouraged to join us for the Eitaikyo Service on Sunday, November 15 at 11:30 a.m. with special Guest Speaker Rev. Yuki Sugahara from the Buddhist Church of Florin. “Eitaikyo” literally means “perpetual sutra.” It is a shortened way of referring to “a service in which we chant sutras in perpetuity to honor those who have left this world before us.” The funds to conduct the Eitaikyo Service come from donations made when an individual’s name is added to the Eitaikyo Register. Traditionally, Eitaikyo donations have been made by the family of the deceased when a loved one passes away. This practice of dana, or generosity, in grateful memory of a loved one is what has allowed this service to be conducted without interruption since the establishment of our temple. The Eitaikyo service will continue to be conducted as long as our temple exists. By continuing the Eitaikyo service, we ensure that our temple will remain a place to gather and hear the Dharma into the future without end.
As we remember our departed friends and family at the Eitaikyo service, we reflect on their whole lives. All the difficulties they faced and all the beauty they created in this world are an expression of their wish for us to live in peace and happiness. Hearing the names of our loved ones, we call to mind their whole lives and all the experiences they lived. When we hear their names read during the Eitaikyo Service, we hear their wish for us to abandon the life of confusion and foolishness and pursue a life of awakening. The Eitaikyo donation made at the time of passing is a way of acknowledging that wish that our departed loved one held for us and all they did on our behalf to create the circumstances that allow us to live today with joy and peace of mind. When we gather at the temple to receive the wisdom of the Dharma and take part in the perpetual chanting of the sutras at the Eitaikyo Service, we are making their wish for us a reality.
During the Eitaikyo Service, we also hear the Name of Amida Buddha in the Nembutsu, the recitation of the words “Namo Amida Butsu.” Amida Buddha is called the Buddha of Immeasurable Life. The Buddha’s life represents the Buddha’s compassion because it never ends and is never interrupted. The Eitaikyo service is a wonderful expression of this unending compassion that we experience in the kindness of others. As we observe the memory of those to whom the Eitaikyo service is dedicated, their lives have given us this opportunity to gather together each year to hear the Dharma and experience the warmth of the Sangha. In this way, even though the people we are remembering this month are no longer physically with us, their kind wishes for our happiness continue to touch our lives perpetually, and without end.