By Venerable Master Hsing Yun
Influenced by the Taoist beliefs of the Ghost Festival, the seventh month of the lunar year has been regarded as the month of ill fortunes, whereby it is unsuitable to be engaged in any kind of affairs, such as travelling, marriage, entering into contracts, etc. In Buddhism, the fifteenth day of the seventh month is referred to as “Buddha’s Joyful Day”. This originates from Buddha’s time, when during the rainy season, monastics did not partake in seeking alms, instead remained indoors in diligent cultivation. On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, the final day of this three month period of cultivation, all the disciples would report to the Buddha on the realisations they had come to grasp, bringing great joy to the Buddha, hence the reference of “Buddha’s Joyful Day”. Apart from this, within this month, devotees generously make offerings to monastics, the people honour their ancestors and show gratitude to their parents. There are a number of points of significance to the seventh month, below being four of them:
1) The seventh month is the month of monastic self-reflection and repentance (pravarana): In the “Dharmaguptavinaya” it is stated that: “On the last day of summer, the sangha community gather to self-reflect and repent, joyously achieving peace and tranquillity; hence it is called the day of monastic pravarana.” In Buddha’s time, during the rainy season (fourth to seventh month of the year), monastics lived in confinement within the temple grounds, concentrating on self-cultivation of the body and mind, purifying their actions, speech and thoughts. It is during this time that deeper levels of cultivation are achieved.
2) The seventh month is the month of benefaction and merits: The sutra states: “Ordained monastics, like mother earth, give birth to all good deeds”. Monastics foster moral and ethical virtues through cultivations; and lay people create merits by making offerings to enhance good fortune and wisdom. The offerings from devotees to the learned and virtuous ordained monks and nuns, allow monastics to live without concern for their daily needs and hence focus on the work of propagating the Dharma thus benefiting living beings. The devotees who make offerings are protectors and supporters of the Dharma and practising the Bodhisattva’s way.
3) The seventh month is the month of filial piety and expressing gratitude: “The Ullambana Sutra” states that Maudgalyana followed Buddha’s guidance of making food offerings to the sangha community on the day of monastic pravarana, and as such transferred the merits to his mother, liberating her from the realm of hungry ghosts; this is the origin of the Ullambana festival. The exquisite offerings of food and beverages to the Triple Gem by the lay devotees, not only brings about good fortunes to one’s parents in this lifetime and multitudes of merits, but also liberates parents from the previous seven lifetimes. It is thus that in the seventh lunar month of the year, temples hold the Ullambana festival, as a requiem to commemorate ancestors, allowing the living to augment their good fortunes and longevity, and the deceased to transmigrate to the Pure Land.
4) The seventh month is the month of liberation of all living and deceased beings: Buddhist scriptures recount the story of Ananda, who one evening whilst in tranquil contemplation, the hungry ghost of burning throat informed him that in three days he shall pass away to the realm of hungry ghosts. Ananda was greatly alarmed and hurriedly sought salvation from the Buddha. Buddha instructed that if able to make offerings to uncountable number of hungry ghosts, not only will one not end up in such a realm, but instead enjoy longevity and be blessed with all that is favourable and auspicious. Therefore, in this seventh month of liberation of ancestors, such deliverance can be extended to all living sentient beings through spreading the Dharma, taking refuge in the Triple Gem, observing precepts, and refraining from ill deeds; hence benefiting both the living and the deceased to achieve awakening.
The seventh lunar month is one of beautiful virtues, for in Buddhism “Every day is a good day; every month is a good month”. In this seventh month, people make generous offerings to the sangha community, cultivate virtues, worship ancestors and express gratitude to relatives. Are these not wonderful events? In fact, the International Buddha’s Light Association (BLIA) has designated the seventh lunar month as the “Month of Filial Piety” and “Month of Compassion”. Why smear and dishonour the seventh month based on unfounded utterances, leading one to live in fear and trepidation of ghosts?
What is truly the significance of the seventh lunar month? It includes the above-mentioned four points.
1) The seventh month is the month of monastic self- reflection and repentance (pravarana),
2) The seventh month is the month of benefaction and merits,
3) The seventh month is the month of filial piety and expressing gratitude,
4) The seventh month is the month of liberation of all living and deceased beings.