Thursday, 27 August 2009

Ghost busters?

Now is the Hungry Ghost Festival (中元节). Who you gonna call? Ghost busters?

The lunar 7th month is regarded as the Ghost Month (鬼月), in which ghosts and spirits, including those of deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm, to visit the living. Both Taoists and Buddhists perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased.

Every year, my parents usually write the names of my paternal grandparents and maternal grandfather at the temple so that the temple can make daily offerings and prayers to liberate the dearly departed into blissful rebirths.

In addition, this year, I signed up for prayers and offerings, food offerings :
1. To pacify karmic creditors and vengeful beings. Sometimes we meet obstacles because we have offended beings in our present and past lives, hence they are creating problems for us now.
2. For the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
3. For the hungry ghosts and wandering spirits.
4. For the unfortunate unborn. This year I remembered to include a prayer offering for my friends' child who has passed away in late 2007.  I asked my friends, the parents (who are not Buddhists) if I could pray for their child. They are ok with it. I pray that the baby would be liberated quickly into a good rebirth.

Many people have the misconception that because it is the 7th month, the hungry ghosts are out to haunt the humans. It is not exactly true.

To Buddhists, the 7th lunar month is actually a joyous month, which is also known as the Ullambana Festival. This is because the 15th day of the 7th month is often known as the Buddha's joyful day and the day of rejoice for monks. According to the Ullambana Sutra, the Buddha instructs his disciple Maudgalyāyana on how to obtain liberation for his mother, who had been reborn into a lower realm, by making food offerings to the Sangha on the 15th day of the 7th month. And because of this, the number of monks who attained enlightenment during that period was high, the Buddha was very pleased.

There are 6 realms which we can take rebirth; Deva, Asura, Human, Animal, Hungry Ghost, or being in Hell. One's previous actions and thoughts determine which of the 6 realms one is reborn into.

This is a photo of a Hungry ghost (preta). They are beings with huge, empty stomachs, but they have pinhole mouths, and their necks are so thin they cannot swallow. They experience continuous frustration and unsatisfied hunger. They seem to be attached to their worldly material possessions they once had, including their homes and other places, and when they pass away their suffering continues and no matter how much they have or they eat they are never satisfied.

We already co-exist with hungry ghosts and wandering spirits, though most are unseen by humans. Hungry ghosts are those reborn beings with cravings. Wandering spirits are those deceased who have yet to take proper rebirths due to strong attachment. Most ghostly encounters are with the wandering spirits, and NOT hungry ghosts or hell-beings.

Here are more myths of Ghost Festival, if you are interested.

"If there are no ghosts within, there would be no manifestations of ghosts without - be it from oneself or others." 
- Stonepeace

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