A ceremony that is gaining popularity in the United States has its origins in Buddhism but is evolving into something much more universal.
The Obon ritual seeks to communicate with the dead, bring them comfort, solace and closure. It is specifically designed to appease a deceased person that is believed to have suffered greatly in life.
Floating paper lanterns that have been decorated with symbols and messages of love for the deceased are lit and set adrift down rivers en masse. Paper balloons holding messages are also allowed to lift off into the evening sky. Having reached a certain height, they burn up, symbolizing the dissolution and letting-go process of grief and pain.
The lanterns are also a symbol of our connection between all generations, past, present and future, to cherish each other and nourish our bond. The warm feeling of community from the hundreds of floating lights is profoundly offset by the intimate flicker of the single soul represented in your personal tribute candle placed in a shrine.
Adopting a ritual from another culture provides a new way in which to view our loss. Without the shackles of our own religion we can learn from a foreign tradition those traits that will help us heal ourselves in the best way.
A particular feature of Obon is also the offering of various foods to the deceased. As the celebration party feast, the deceased has a plate prepared for her/him and will partake in the good company of family and friends in honor for the funeral.