Wordcatcher Tales: Banrei-setsu, Bangu-setsu

sangaibanreiWhile exploring Makiki Cemetery in Honolulu, I came across a 三界萬靈碑 sangai banrei hi, that is, a stone monument (碑 hi, or tateishi ‘standing stone’) inscribed with 三界萬霊 sangai banrei (3-worlds 10,000-souls), which retired University of Hawai‘i religion professor George Tanabe nicely explained to a former student of his for an article in Hana Hou! magazine (vol. 8, no. 1, February/March 2005, p. 5):

“One of the worst things that can happen to the dead in Japanese Buddhism is to be uncared for,” George says, looking at the weeds, “so these people are in real trouble.” But towering over the other tombstones stands a large stone George calls a sangai banrei. “It’s put up in commemoration of the 10,000 spirits of the three worlds: past, present and future,” he explains, my Buddhism teacher come to life again. “It’s nobody’s grave but it’s everybody’s grave, so even if individual graves are abandoned, there’s always the big one to take care of everybody.”

The kanji meaning ‘10,000, myriad‘ occurs in “10,000” expressions, like the following two, new to me:

萬霊節 banrei-setsu (10,000-spirit-season) ‘All Souls Day’
萬愚節 bangu-setsu (10,000-folly-season) ‘April Fools Day’

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Filed under Buddhism, Japan, language, migration

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