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Yulanpen Festival: The Festival Related to Repaying Kindness

Yulanpen Festival

July 15 in the Lunar calendar marks the Yulanpen Festival, one of the most important Buddhist festivals. It originated from the story which recounts how Maudgalyayana saved his mother.
According to the Yulanpen Sutra, Maudgalyayana, one of the Buddha's disciples, saw with his Divine eye (dibba-cakkhu) that his mother became a hungry ghost after death, and suffered endless tortures. He couldn't bear to see his mother suffer starvation, so he brought a basin of rice to her. However, due to her karma, food entering her mouth immediately became flames of fire. In order to save his mother from such pain, Maudgalyayana asked the Buddha for a solution. Touched by Maudgalyayana's filial piety, the Buddha told him to make an offering to the Three Jewels on July 15th, the last day of the monastic retreat (Vassavasa). The merits accrued from making an offering to the Sangha can save the deceased parents of one's past seven lives from the Hungry Ghost Realm, thereby allowing them to be reborn in the Human Realm or the Heavenly Realm, and enjoy good fortune and happiness. This is also the origin of making offerings to Sangha, a tradition that has remained unchanged since the Buddha's time.
According to chapter 37 of the Records of Buddhism, after Buddhism was introduced to China, the first emperor to celebrate the Yulanpen Festival was Emperor Wu of Liang. In 538 A.D., Emperor Wu of Liang held the Yulanpen Festival at Tung Tai Temple. Chapter 45 of The Buddhists' Six Documents mentions that Emperor Wu of Liang made an offering placed in a basin to every temple on July 15th. Since then, it became a popular trend among people of all levels of society, from royal family members to common citizens. Everyone celebrated the Yulanpen Festival to repay kindness to their parents and ancestors.

The Practice Events in Monasteries

 The Yulanpen Festival aims to eradicate the suffering of parents and relatives in countless past lives using the merit accumulated from making offerings to the Sangha and the Buddha.
In modern society, instead of celebrating Yulanpen Festival by making an offering to the Sangha and the Buddha on July 15th, Buddhist temples regard the entire month of July in Lunar calendar as the Month for Repaying Kindness. Throughout the month, monasteries hold Dharma assemblies such as the Earth Store Sutra Chanting Service, the Emperor Liang Repentance Service etc., which conclude with the Yoga Flaming Mouth Ceremony and the transfer of merit to parents, ancestors, and enemies.

Issue 354 of Life MagazineDharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Text: Chiu Hui-Min (邱惠敏)
Translation: Hsiao Chen-An
Mei Beh, Keith Brown

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