The 15th day of the 7th month in the Chinese lunar calendar is known in the West as the “Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival” but to the Chinese Mahayana Buddhists 汉传佛教, this day is known as Yu Lan Pen Jie 盂兰盆节 (Ullambana Festival). According Chinese Mahayana Scriptures, Yu Lan Pen Jie 盂兰盆节 had originated from the stories of “Mu Lian Rescues His Mother 目连救母”, the attempts by Mu Lian 目连, a disciple of Buddha, to save his mother from torture in hell as a “Hungry Ghost”.
According to the Scriptures, Mu Lian 目连 after gaining spiritual powers wanted to save his parents from their bad karma so as to repay their kindness. He searched with his heavenly eye power and found his mother fallen into the realm of hungry ghosts, starved to skin and bone, unable to take any food or drink. Mu Lian immediately filled a basin with rice and send it to his mother using his powers. To his surprise, as an effect of her evil karma, the food turned into ashes even before reaching her mouth. Out of desperation Mu Lian begged Buddha to help him rescue his mother.
Buddha told Mu Lian 目连 that due to his mother’s heavy karma Mu Lian alone was not enough to save her. Mu Lian was then instructed by Buddha to offer food and gifts to monks and nuns at the time of their return from the summer retreat on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month and do dedication of his merits to his mother. With the strengths of all the Sangha and the merit and virtue from such offering, he could then save his parents of the current life and seven lives past, and relatives from suffering.
Mu Lian 目连 followed Buddha’s instructions and was successful rescuing his mother from suffering as a hungry ghost. Today the same ritual that Buddha instructed Mu Lian to do can be seen carried out in Chinese Mahayana Temples, whereby on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month a large variety of offerings are made to the Buddha and Sangha in aid of those suffering in all realms and as an act of filial piety for the ancestors. On this day many Buddhists and Shenists will go Chinese Mahayana temples to set up ancestral tablets, chant scriptures together with the monks and dedicate the merits to their ancestors, families and all beings.
* The Chinese word Yu Lan Pen Jie 盂兰盆节 had derived from the the Sanskrit word Ullambana. Ullambana means "deliverance from suffering," and specifically refers to the salvation of anguished souls in hell.
* Historical records show that Emperor Liang Wu Di 梁武帝 (464AD-549AD) of China’s Northern and Southern Dynasties Era 南北朝 was the first to hold the Yu Lan Pen Jie 盂兰盆节 (Ullambana Festival) ritual according to the Chinese Mahayana Scriptures.
* The coming Yu Lan Pen Jie 盂兰盆节 (Ullambana Festival) falls on 25th Aug 2018.
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