Hungry Ghost Month

9 September 2016

Nearly every culture across the globe celebrates a holiday that honors the deceased. The Mexican Dia de los Muertos, the Japanese Obon, and the Catholic All Saint’s Day are some of the better-known celebrations. One holiday that consistently passes under the radar is the Hungry Ghost Festival, a traditional festival commemorated by ethnically Chinese communities around the world such as China, Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan. According to Chinese tradition, the seventh month of the lunar calendar is recognized as the Ghost Month.

The Hungry Ghost Festival falls on the fifteenth day of the Ghost Month and is known as Ghost Day, a day in which the gates of Hell are opened. Ghosts and spirits, including deceased ancestors, begin to emerge out of the lower realm and roam into the realm of the living. These spirits are continually in a state of unrest from their sufferings in the underworld. In order to alleviate their torments, both Buddhists and Taoists perform rituals to exonerate the suffering of the deceased through the Hungry Ghost Festival.

Hungry Ghost Month Essay Example

Activities during the festival may include food offerings, incense burning, joss paper (or ghost money) burning, releasing of paper lanterns into the sky or water, and praying for the spirits and ancestors. The Hungry Ghost Festival has roots in the Buddhist and Taoist culture, but many aspects of the rituals originate from Chinese folk religion and traditions. The Buddhist origins of the festival can be traced back to the legend of Mu-lien.

“Mu-lien Saves His Mother from Hell,” is a story of a merchant who gives up his trade to become a devout Buddhist. Once Mu-lien achieved enlightenment, he reflected upon his father and mother. He used his clairvoyance to find his father in heaven, but found that his mother was in hell. She was reborn as a hungry ghost. His mother became greedy with the money he left her; she with held her money and kindness to Buddhist monks, so she was condemned to hell.

After battling numerous demons with the help of Buddha, Mu-lien saves his mother. Buddhists named Ghost Day as a day of prayer and offering in which monks can pray and make sacrifices on behalf of hungry ghosts and departed ancestors. These spirits are then absolved and pacified. The story ends with the rescue of his mother from hell; she is saved and is reborn as a pet dog in a wealthy family.

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