O-Higan (お彼岸) is a Buddhist holiday that is celebrated both in spring and autumn during Equinox.
Higan means "the other bank of the Sanzu River," an expression commonly used in Buddhist literature to refer to enlightenment. The name is associated with the Alagaddupama Sutta of the Pali Canon, where Buddha compares the path to Enlightenment with the crossing of the river. One goes from this shore of ignorance and suffering to the other shore of enlightenment and peace.
“I'll show you how the Dhamma is like a raft, being for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of grasping." ~ Buddha Sakyamuni
The focus of O-Higan is on “building the raft and crossing the river of ignorance” through a renewed determination to reach the enlightenment and teaching of the Six Perfections. This teaching explains the six practices that provide the path to enlightenment: giving, precepts, perseverance, diligence, zazen, and wisdom.
At the same time, the true meaning of the "middle path" is remembered. The daylight and nighttime hours of the spring and autumn equinox are the same and symbolise the inseparability of darkness ( ying ) and light ( yang ), as well as the oneness of good and evil. This practice of the non-dualistic perception, which is described in the sutras as the Buddha’s advice to follow the “Middle Way”, is particularly beneficial on these days.
The Higan Ceremony is practiced for accumulating benefits and gathering the virtue that ultimately lead to enlightenment. Nevertheless, the ceremony also celebrates the season and pays tribute to life in the past, present and future. The candles lit up during ceremony symbolise the sincerity of the gratitude carried in hearts and minds.