We are mortal.
Three short words; only 11 letters, but the meaning and the emotion embedded in these three words says so much more.
Yes, we are mortal, but we can be remembered.
Today I attened a "nana kai ki," the 7 year memorial service for a Japanese friend. Actually, he died six years ago, but in the Buddhist tradition the time of death counts as one year so this was the 7 year service. It's the second memorial service I've attended this year. The first was the first memorial for my mother-in-law held one year after her death. Next year the memorial will be the third year - the Buddhist counting makes it 3 years.
Today's memorial service was actually a fairly simple affair. Held in a Buddhist temple the service lasted only about 25 minutes. Just enough time for the priests to chant the prayers and each person - in pairs - to offer a prayer and burn bits of incense in the small braziers placed on the altar.
For those who have not attended such a service here are a few simple steps to follow when or if the time comes for you to attend one.
1. Arrive a bit early. You'll need to sign the guest book including your name and address. This can be done in Japanese or your own language.
2. Take a seat in the temple & follow the others' actions - when the priest says offer a prayer put your hands together, bow your head, and offer whatever prayer you wish. If you have a bracelet of Bhuddist beads have them in your hand.
3. When it's your turn to approach the altar to offer a prayer first bow to the family of the deceased, then turn and bow to the other side of the room (the other guests), and turn back to the altar so you're facing the photo of the deceased. Bow, offer your prayer with clasped hands, take a very small pinch of incense, lift is slightly, and place it on the burning charcoal. You may do this 1 or 3 times. Bow to the deceased's photo again, turn and bow to the family & the guests, and return to your seat.
4. When all have finished the family will exit first. Follow the others when it's your turn to exit & upon leaving gthe temple bow to the family who will be waiting outside.
The priests offer prayers in memorium for the deceased.
In today's case we also visited the cemetary, which was right next to the temple, and lined up to offer one more prayer and burn a bit more incense. Same procedure, except no bowing to the family until after you have offered your prayer & incense to the deceased & then bow as you walk past the family.
As I stood in line in the cemetary I shaded my eyes from the brilliant autumn sun. In so doing I rested my thumb against my temple where I could feel my own pulse. A good reminder of my own mortality.
Since this friend was the Chairman of a major company here in Japan, as well as being a board member of several other companies, the family also held a lunch in a hotel ballroom after the memorial service in the temple.
During this lunch photos of our friend were in albums on each table and a very well done video showing him during the memorable days of his life, with family and friends, was shown. This was all done in such an excellent manner and in such good taste that everyone enjoyed it. It wasn't a time of sadness; it was a time of remembering him as we had known him. Several people gave nice speeches about the things they remembered about him and about working with him.
Yes, we can be remembered. I think this tradition in Japan is a good one. Wonder why we don't do these services in our own countries.... or maybe some do, but it's not a common practice in the USA.