Monday, October 6, 2008

Lunar July Ghost Month and Zhong Yuan Pu Du

adapted from Ghost Festival-Origin

According to folklore, the gates of hell are opened at midnight on lunar July 1st, allowing all the suffering spirits to return and see their living descendants, and enjoy grand feasts. The vacation ends on July 30th, when all the ghosts must return to the underworld. Therefore, lunar July is called the Ghost Month.
Most folk activities in lunar July are related to wandering spirits, who are called good brothers. From July 1st to July 30th , the Pu Du activities, designed to placate wandering ghosts, are seen everywhere, and are the culmination of religious ritual for the entire year. In Chinese, Pu Du means universal deliverance.
Zhong Yuan Pu Du originated from the ancient ritual of offering sacrifices to malicious ghosts. In order to keep from being bothered by those who died of unnatural death, people would burn paper money and spread starch liquid to bribe and placate the fierce spirits. Fear of ghosts has resulted in a variety of rituals designed to ward off evil.
The term Zhong Yuan originated from Taoism. To Taoists Zhong Yuan, or the 15th day of lunar July, marked the birthday of Di Guan - Di meaning land, Guan, official - the god believed to be in charge of land. On this day, sacrifices are offered to Di Guan to thank him for his protection of crops. Di Guan has been referred to as Xung, a legendary virtuous ruler around the year 2200 BC.
The concept of Zhong Yuan Pu Du developed from a popular Buddhist story concerning Mu Lian who was the eldest monk disciple of Buddha.
After learning of the sufferings of his mother in hell, from the spirit of his deceased father, Mu Lian visited his mother and tried to alleviate her pain, with rice and water. But the rice and water turned to fire soon after reaching the mouth of his mother. Mu Lian then turned to Buddha for help, and was told that his mother's sins were so great that it would take the combined power of thousands of monks to save her. Acting on Buddha's advice, Mu Lian held a massive ritual on the 15th day of lunar July, chanting liturgies and providing abundant sacrificial offerings to save his mother's suffering soul from hell. Now, large-scale rituals are held on this day for the deliverance of all suffering souls.

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