The spiritual origin to this observance goes back to a few centuries after the historical Buddha entered Nirvana. At this time the lay followers practiced many types of offerings, including the building of stupa and offerings of services for the maintenance of temple and their compounds. The purpose was to accumulate religious virtues to be directed to the deceased or for themselves.
This spirit has been carried with the Buddhist tradition as Buddhism spread into China and Japan and this practice of making offerings in the form of sutra chanting and rituals has become a part of the life of the people.
Here in LA Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, Sangha Memorial Service is observed not as a means of accumulating virtues to be directed to others but taken as a solemn occasion to express one’s dedication to the Sangha. Sutra chanting, rituals, and donations done by Sangha in the service are symbolic expressions of their dedication and appreciation.
The term Eitaikyo, an abridgement of eitai-dokkyo, means the perpetual chanting of the sutra in memory of the deceased, signifying that all those who have passed away lived in the Teachings of the Buddha. This signification gives each of us a chance to affirm our own understanding of Buddhism because of the guidance of the Buddha through our loved ones. Such affirmation gives us the precious opportunity to see how the Dharma has helped in our lives and to realize oneness of life. It means we are all connected. Acknowledging our Dharma connection to those who have passed away empowers us to further pursue the path of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, which have been our spiritual treasures. The great virtue that may be accumulated in Pure Land Shin Buddhism is through the practice of the Dharma in our daily lives.