The Ullambana Festival is the Day of Buddha’s Delight, Not a “Hungry Ghost Festival”


The Chinese celebrates the Seventh Lunar Month as the Hungry Ghost Festival. It’s believed that the Gate of the Netherworld is opened for ghosts, spirits, and the deceased ancestors, to visit the human realm. Therefore, some people pray to transfer good merits to the ancestors but some choose to appease the wandering spirits by offering food and paper money to them. Thus, it’s a common sight to see red candles sticks and food offerings along the roads during the Seventh Lunar month, especially in many parts of Southeast Asia.

The seventh month is the Hungry Ghost Festival, the Chinese equivalent of the western’s Halloween. Have you ever wondered about the origin of the “Hungry Ghost Festival”?

During the Buddha’s time, the Ullambana Festival, also known as the Sangha Day, or the Day of Buddha’s Delight, was celebrated on the 15th of the Seventh Lunar Month. It was the day when the Sangha community had completed their summer retreat. Therefore, the original purpose of the Ullambana Festival was or the Buddhist laity to offer a meal to the Buddha and the Sangha as an act of reverence to accumulate good merits.

According to the Ullambanapatra Sutra, Moggallana, a Buddha’s disciple who was foremost in divine powers, realized that his deceased mother was reborn in the hungry ghost realm. He tried to help her by giving her a bowl of rice. However, his mother could not consume it because the rice was transformed into burning coal. The Buddha advised Moggallana to give food offerings to the accomplished arahants and transferred the merits back to his deceased mother. With the power of merits from the Sangha, his mother was eventually released from the hungry ghost realm. Thus, the celebration of Ullambana Festival is a reminder of love and filial piety to help liberate our deceased loved ones from the suffering of Samsara.

The Day of Buddha’s Delight on the 15th of the Seventh Lunar Month is the most ideal day of the year to offer your aspiration of Enlightenment to all Buddhas. What offering can you give to the Buddha on this auspicious day? Offering your aspiration of awakening is the highest offering you can give to the Buddhas.

In Shurangama Samadhi Sutra, page 124 (BDK English Tripitaka), the Buddha says,

“Excellent, excellent! As you have said, out of the wish to benefit all sentient beings, you have now generated the aspiration to achieve Supreme Perfect Enlightenment. This is the highest offering that can be made to the Tathagata.”

Let’s offer our bodhicitta to the Buddha, “May I attain Buddhahood for the happiness, healing, and awakening of all living beings.”

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