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July 4, 2006
How Buddhists View Seventh Lunar Month
In the article, 'Double ghost months send business jitters' (ST, June 29), it was mentioned that 'the Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated by Taoists and Buddhists, who believe that the gates of Hell open every year during the seventh lunar month to allow the souls of the dead to roam the earth'.
On behalf of the Buddhist community, I would like to point out three major errors in that statement. Firstly, Buddhists do not exactly celebrate during the entire seventh month, as the main celebration falls on the 15th day, which marks the Ullambana Festival.
Instead of being inauspicious, this is an especially auspicious day for Buddhists as it historically coincides with Pravarana Day, the end of the annual rains retreat in the Buddha's time. On this day, many monks and nuns who have attained enlightenment gather to announce to the Buddha their spiritual attainment. It is thus also known as 'The Buddha's Day of Rejoice'.
The Buddha encouraged the use of this special occasion to make various offerings to the noble monastic community and the less fortunate, so as to dedicate the garnered merits for the well-being of one's deceased parents and relatives, some of whom might unfortunately have been reborn as hungry ghosts due to great craving. Prayers are also made by chanting to share Buddhist teachings with them. It is also encouraged to make offerings to create merits for one's living parents on this 'Day of Filial Piety'.
Secondly, in Buddhism, the gates of Hell do not open during the seventh month. The realm of hungry ghosts is distinct from the realm of hells, where suffering is generally without much respite, though never eternal, due to the limits of negative karma.
However, hell beings can also benefit from merits dedicated to them to alleviate their suffering.
Another distinction to be made is that of wandering spirits, who are beings so attached to their previous lives that they roam our world before finally being reborn. They, too, can benefit from merits created to guide them to better rebirths.
Thirdly, there is no concept of 'soul' in Buddhism, as all beings are seen to have constantly changing consciousness or 'mindstreams', and are thus able to evolve spiritually for the better in terms of perfecting their compassion and wisdom.
In the above sense, the seventh lunar month should have no ill effect for Buddhists, as we already co-exist with mostly unseen wandering spirits and hungry ghosts, while the realm of Hell is another world. However, when we make a fuss out of unseen beings, who are mostly harmless, supernatural incidents naturally seem to increase.
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