Why is Ullambana linked to filial piety?
The lunar seventh month is known as the Ghost Festival to many people where it is believed that the hell gates are opened, and ghosts are set free for a month. However, in the context of Buddhism, the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is known as the Ullambana Festival or month of filial piety.
What is Ullambana, and why is filial piety linked to it?
THE BUDDHA’S JOYFUL DAY / SANGHA PRAVARANA DAY
According to the Ullambana Sutra, during the Buddha’s time, the Sangha (the community of Buddhist monks) were to stay indoors and practise diligently for three months during the rainy season in India as it is very inconvenient to ask for alms during this season of the year.
On the completion of the rain retreat that falls on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, many venerables gained enlightenment. The venerables will gather and report to the Buddha on their meditation progress. The Buddha was delighted with the venerables’ progress, and this day became known as the Buddha’s joyful day and/or Sangha Pravarana Day.
ORIGIN OF ULLAMBANA FESTIVAL
Venerable Maudgalyayana wanted to repay the kindness of his father and mother after he attained arhartship. He used his clairvoyant powers to search for them, and he realised that his father was reborn in the heavenly realm, while his mother was reborn as a hungry ghost. She was suffering due to her attachment to the inheritance left by Venerable Maudgalyayana’s father; she did not follow his instruction to make offerings to Buddhist monks who came her way.
Venerable Maudgalyayana was deeply saddened and filled a bowl with food to offer to his mother. The food turned into burning coals whenever the food was placed in his mother’s palm and his mother could not eat. He approached the Buddha for help and advice on how he can help to ease his mother’s suffering.
The Buddha instructed Venerable Maudgalyayana to make offerings to the Sangha on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. Venerable Maudgalyayana did as the Buddha advised, and the merits accrued helped his mother obtain a better rebirth.
MONTH OF FILIAL PIETY
The Buddha said that if anyone who wishes to practise filial piety can make offerings to the Sangha on this day. After the offerings are made, one can transfer the merits to their parents, past and present. By making offerings to the Sangha on this day, the merits and virtues will liberate parents of past lives and bless our present parents with health and longevity. This month is also known as the Month of Filial Piety.