Every tradition has its stories, its myths, and its legends. The Lunar 7th month, popularly recognized as the "Ghost Month", is no exception. Rooted in the annals of Chinese tradition, this month is marked by captivating tales that have transcended time, giving life to customs and rituals still observed today.
The Tale of Mulian Rescuing His Mother:
Origins: One of the most prominent legends of Ghost Month is the tale of Mulian (or Mulien), a devoted disciple of the Buddha. This narrative is derived from the 'Mūlīyāna Karmavibhāga', a Buddhist scripture, and has been passed down through generations.
The Story: Mulian's mother, due to her previous wrongdoings and lack of faith in the Triple Gem (the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha), was reborn into the realm of hungry ghosts, suffering immense hunger and torment. Distraught by her fate, Mulian sought the guidance of the Buddha to alleviate his mother's suffering. After many trials, he could finally offer a special food that his mother could eat, liberating her from her ghostly form.
Filial Piety and Redemption: This legend serves multiple purposes. At its heart, it emphasizes the virtue of filial piety – one of the cardinal virtues in Chinese culture. It exemplifies the lengths to which a child will go to alleviate the suffering of a parent, even in the afterlife. Additionally, the story offers hope for redemption, suggesting that one can overcome past misdeeds with unwavering faith and the right actions.
Ties to the Ghost Month:
The tale of Mulian saving his mother has deeply influenced the rituals of the Ghost Month. It underscores the belief in the cyclical nature of life, death, and rebirth, and the karmic implications of one's actions.
Rituals and Offerings: The story has led to the custom of offering food, especially during the Ghost Festival, which falls in the middle of Ghost Month. These offerings aim to appease not only one's ancestors but also the wandering spirits, providing them respite from their hunger and suffering.
Performances and Ceremonies: The tale of Mulian has been reimagined in various forms of traditional Chinese theatre, becoming a popular theme during Ghost Month. Such performances serve as entertainment and a means of educating the masses about the importance of virtuous living and filial duty.
The rich tapestry of Ghost Month is woven with tales of love, duty, and redemption. The story of Mulian and his mother serves as a poignant reminder of our duties to our forebears, the consequences of our actions, and the indomitable spirit of love that transcends even the barriers of life and death.