Sunday, August 1, 2010
In Chinese tradition, the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called Ghost Day and the seventh month in general is regarded as the Ghost Month (鬼月), in which ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm. Distinct from both the Qingming Festival (in Spring) and Chung Yeung Festival (in Autumn) in which living descendants pay homage to their deceased ancestors, on Ghost Day, the deceased are believed to visit the living.On the fifteenth day the realms of Heaven and Hell and the realm of the living are open and both Taoists and Buddhists would perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased.
It is strange that the origins of this festival had actually got to do with an unlikely setting. It was said that The Buddhist origins of the festival can be traced back to a story that originally came from India, but later took on culturally Chinese overtones. In the Ullambana Sutra, there is a descriptive account of a Buddhist monk named Maudgalyāyana, originally a brahmin youth who later ordained, and later becoming one of the Buddha's chief disciples. Mahāmaudgalyāyana was also known for having clairvoyant powers, an uncommon trait amongst monks. After he attained arhatship, he began to think deeply of his parents, and wondered what happened to them. He used his clairvoyance to see where they were reborn and found his father in the heavenly realms i.e. the realm of the gods. However, his mother had been reborn in a lower realm, known as the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. His mother took on the form of a hungry ghost (preta) – so called because it could not eat due to its highly thin & fragile throat in which no food could pass through, yet it was always hungry because it had a fat belly. His mother had been greedy with the money he left her. He had instructed her to kindly host any Buddhist monks that ever came her way, but instead she withheld her kindness and her money. It was for this reason she was reborn in the realm of hungry ghosts.
Maudgalyāyana eased his mother's suffering by receiving the instructions of feeding pretas from the Buddha. The Buddha instructed Maudgalyāyana to place pieces of food on a clean plate, reciting a mantra seven times to bless the food, snap his fingers to call out to the deceased and finally tip the food onto clean ground. By doing so, the preta's hunger would be relieved. Through these merits, his mother was able to be reborn as a dog under the care of a noble family.
Maudgalyāyana then sought the Buddha's advice to help his mother gain a human birth. The Buddha established a day after the traditional summer retreat (the 14th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar, usually mid-to-late August) on which Maudgalyāyana was to offer food and robes to five hundred bhikkhus. Through the merits created, Maudgalyāyana's mother finally gained a human birth.
Due to Confucian influence, the offering became directed towards ancestors rather than the Sangha and ancestor worship has replaced the ritual of relieving the hunger of pretas. However, most Buddhist temples still continue the ancient practice of donating to the Sangha as well as to perform rituals for the hungry ghosts.
A story from an email of a facebook friend who had wanted to share his experience anonymously which coincides with a published notorious drunken driving case that year which had caused a life (Part of it edited and translated for reading purpose)
A Strange Tale 2009
‘It was as usual, the coming of the Chinese Ghost Month which is a festival celebrated by the Chinese and their ghosts counterparts every year. Since young, I had this ability to see things or what you will call spirits and since then, I have learn to ignore them as I would not wanted to be treated differently by my fellow humans. Well, normally at this period, for whatever reasons, there appears to be an increase of this spiritual beings around us and believed me, I have no idea too. Could it be they are aware of the more foods and offerings around? I would like to share the following episode with you and your friends as I have been unable to get it out of my mind.
This particular year however had left an imprint on my mind about the relationship between humans and ghosts from an interesting incident. It was on the 3rd day of that lunar month while I was on my way back home. I was staying on the tenth floor of a block of flats in Chua Choa Kang and this particular area around my block is normally dark and deserted despite having sufficient lightings by about 10.00 pm. at night. It appears that that it could be the block was not totally occupied yet which I had doubt so as this is an old estate. That night, it was about 11.00 P.M. when I was waiting at my lift lobby, a drunken fat looking man slobbered to my side with the usual strong smell of liquor and he was obviously unhappy. I then pretend to look aside to avoid eye contact to avoid inviting any unnecessary trouble from an already not so sober person. As I waited for the lifts, he started talking to himself which was what I thought. As the lift appears to be coming, I then turned my head to the lift door direction and was surprised to see an old lady in black cheongsam next to him. And he was mumbling about something not fair to him in life you know, the usual stuff of ‘why things are like this and why like that?’ On closer look, I found him familiar and then I recalled that he was my neighbour on the same floor staying about five units away from my flat. I then recalled that he had a mother who had shifted out about a year ago to his sister place because of some disputes over money. This information was given to me by another neighbour who apparently was on speaking terms with that man. The old but kindly looking lady however wasn’t replying to his drunken mutterings and instead was looking at me. I then just acknowledge with a smile and proceed to get into the lift as I was in no mood to get into any conversation with that drunken neighbour.
As the lift reached my floor, I then got out and go to my flat and I started getting house keys from my trousers pockets. The corridor was deserted with most of the unit’s lights off. And I then happen to see from the side, a view of my neighbour slumbering to his unit with his mother floating along with him. I then remembered that it was then seventh Chinese lunar month, the ghost month. Normally my encounter with ghosts is not that frightening as what some books have written about ghosts and I have been used to it. But I was curious why the mother already a ghost was following the son and I had then slowly unlocked my door to see what was happening from the side view. There was then a falling sound and I was surprised then to find that the man was lying sprawled motionless on the floor by his unit and the old lady was sounding the door bell, yes you can say a ghost ringing the door bell as you see in movies. I was then thinking how hilarious it was instead of frightening and suddenly my mood was changed when the old lady turned and looked at me and beckoned. I had thought then that ‘Oh no she must have heard the laughter in my mind.’ And I quickly look away and got into my flat, ghost or no ghost, I have no wish to engage in any conversation or to find out why she was beckoning to me.
After getting into my flat, I had then proceeded to my altar of my Guan Yin Goddess to light 3 joss sticks to calm my nerves and to cleanse myself of any negative energy from that encounter. The doorbell of that neighbouring unit was still sounding and apparently that neighbour family had not heard it. After a while, the sound stopped and I can then feel a presence outside my door and I started feeling goose pimples. But it was not a threatening type of presence; there appear to be a desperate plea in it, how do I know? I don’t, until today. I then with three joss sticks in hands walk to my main door and opened it and strangely, the presence was gone. I had then look at the still sprawling, on the floor neighbour with nobody opening the door yet to carry him in. I thought might as well help to sound the doorbell for him as with the three joss sticks in my hand, I had felt braver to venture to his door to sound the doorbell. On reaching there, I had then found that as he was lying with his face on one side, I can see that there were some white foams coming out of his mouth. I had then felt there was something wrong and no matter what as I was already involved in this whole episode, I would be pulled up for any questioning if something bad really happens. (Comment by leegiat: That is how efficient our police force is in Singapore) Having no alternatives, I had then called emergency number and the civil defence ambulance was very efficient in reaching within 20 minutes. Up to that point, I had then discovered that his flat was unlit and probably no one was around as with all the ruckus and sounds outside it. Even another neighbour and his wife were awakened and had asked me about it. He had then told me that the man had a big family quarrel a few days ago and the wife had moved out with the baby son. Anyway, my belief till today, if not for that ghost of the mother or whatever, that man could have probably died there just that I had not bothered to find out the matter from him. All I knew was that the medics had told me it was some seizure attacks or something like that.
I just saw him the other day sauntering by my unit and he had just nodded his head as a hello and I had not told him about my encounter with his mother as he is the unfriendly sort and boisterous type which I normally avoid. Yes, that other same friendly neighbour had also told me that this guy’s mother had passed away just a month ago and the funeral wake was conducted at the void deck in our block of flats and I had normally make a detour back home from another lift landing when seeing this sort of gathering and therefore not knowing who had passed away in my block. I was also told that the man was unhappy that the mother had given him a rather small share of the inheritance than expected after she had passed away.
Strangely enough, later that year I had nearly walked into the path of an oncoming vehicle driven by a drunken driver if I was not pushed aside by something at that instance in my neighbourhood. I was also wondering just now if that same ghost has a part to play in it as I write to you.’
End of the Email story.
Another you believe it or not….
Initially I was sceptical about the part about the doorbell being sound by the ghost as they normally should know whether there is anybody around in the flat. However, today after I had finished reading the story again, I suddenly realised that it was probably trying to get your attention by doing that. Anyway, thanks for your story. Whatever it is, I agreed with you that the prejudice against ghosts being terrifying, I believe lies in our heart and our reactions. This story is also dedicated to other friends and Buddhists on my facebook, Theo Bischoff, Kimn and especially Don, ha-ha, who had just happened to chat with me about our spirits friends when we had met up last Friday which had made me, remember this email and post it here today.
From our facebook friend, Bhante Saranapala, "If the conditions do not exist, then the phenomenon will not exist."