Festival of Hungry Ghosts?
Translated into Chinese from Sanskrit by Tripitaka Master Dharmaraksha. Retranslate into English by Upsaka Neoh Shin Yung.
As distributed by PBHP on the Ullambana occasion.They burn giant-sized joss sticks and paper money. They slaughter animals. They stage street operas. They say this is Buddhism. How misleading they are!
Putting aside all the malpractices, the Ullambana celebration has its origin in Buddhism. Ullambana Sutra is a discourse given by the Buddha principally to the Venerable Mogallana on the practice of filial piety.
Here is a brief extraction of the Ullambana Sutra:
In the sutra, Ven. Mogallana out of his filial piety used his deva vision to look for his deceased parent. He saw that his mother had fallen into the realm of the hungry ghost (Peta). He immediately went forth to his mother with rice in an almsbowl. When his mother saw Mogallana, she was very pleased. But the first thing she did after receiving the bowl from Mogallana was to use her left hand to hide the bowl so that all the other hungry ghosts could not share with her with the food! This represented the attitude of greed and meanness which had been the cause of her falling down to the peta world. When she tried to eat the food with her right hand, the food had turned into charcoal.
In grief, Mogallana went back to seek the Buddha's help. The Buddha explained to Mogallana that his mother's offences were very great and that he himself alone could not save his mother. Mogallana would need the help of other Sangha members. The Buddha advised Mogallana to make offering in a bowl containing rice, fruits and other delicacies as well as offering to the monks' requisites to all the Sangha members in ten directions. Since all the Sangha members hold pure and complete precepts on that day, their meritorious power can deliver the donor's parents of 7 births out of great sufferings in the lower realms.
In this way, Mogallana's mother was delivered of the hungry ghost world. Mogallana then asked the Buddha if future followers of His could also practise the Ullamabana offerings. The Buddha replied very gladly that all followers should follow the practice. This practice to express filial piety would bring similar benefits to the practitioner's parents of the seven births.
One factor contribution to this degeneration of Ullamabana practices is the businessmen making this an opportunity to make money. The celebration are made more and more elaborate and less and less meaningful. Another important factor is the twisted attitude of Buddhist tolerance. As a result, we find that in different countries where Buddhism is being followed a lot of un-Buddhistic elements have been accepted before "purification". This is what I called "twisted tolereance".
Proper Buddhist education plays an important part to enable the people to recognize these un-Buddhistic elements. However, there is no need for violent opposition. If one is skillful enough, all these elements can be made less and less complicated and more and more meaningful. This is Buddhist tolerance.