#02 Ullambana Assembly falls on the Seventh Lunar Month, is it related to Hungry Ghost Festival?

Have you ever wondered why Buddhists observe Ullambana on the seventh month of the lunar calendar? 


I used to think that Ullambana is merely a ritual that is performed in conjunction with the Hungry Ghost Festival to appease the beings in the hungry ghost realm. 

This year, I chanced upon an illustration of the Ullambana Puja at the Shrine Hall of BW Monastery. It explains the origin of Ullambana Puja. I start seeing Ullambana in a new light. It is not just about placating the hungry ghosts, but liberating them from the hungry ghost realms. It is not just a ritual, but an opportunity to practice filial piety.

What does ‘Ullambana’ mean?

Ullambana” is a combination of two Sanskrit words. “Ullam” means “hang upside-down.” “Bana” is a rescue basin. Putting these two words together, “Ullambana” literally means the basin to rescue the suffering of being hung upside-down.

Who are hung upside-down?

‘Being hung upside-down’ is an analogy of the sufferings in the three miserable realms.

(Illustrated by CHONG YULIN)

(Illustrated by CHONG YULIN)

What’s the rescue basin? 

Basin refers to any kind of clean containers used to hold food. But how could these basins rescue someone from the sufferings in the three miserable realms?

The origin of Ullambana traces back to over 2500 years ago.

According to Ullambana Sutra, Maudgalyayana, one of the Buddha’s chief disciples, found his deceased mother reborn in the realm of Hungry Ghost. In the form of hungry ghost, her throat was thin, but her belly was big. She was constantly in hunger, but she could not eat. Maudgalyayana couldn’t save her despite the clairvoyance power he had.

Maudgalyayana was very upset, and turned to Buddha for advice.

(Illustrated by CHONG YULIN)

(Illustrated by CHONG YULIN)

“Your mother committed grave sins,” explained the Buddha. “Although you have exemplary filial conduct, you alone do not have enough power. Only by relying on the exceptional powers of the assembled Sangha of the ten directions can she be liberated from the miserable realms.

Buddha instructed Maudgalyayana to prepare offerings of clean basins of food and offer to the Pravarana Sangha of the ten directions on the last day of their rainy-season retreat, which is on the fifteenth of the seventh lunar month. This day is also known as the Buddha’s Joyful Day.

With the strength of all the Sangha and the merits and virtues from such offerings, Maudgalyayana liberated his mother from the Hungry Ghost Realm, and she was reborn in heaven.

(Illustrated by CHONG YULIN)

(Illustrated by CHONG YULIN)

"If one thus makes offerings to these Pravarana Sanghas, one's parents in the present lifetime, parents of past seven lifetime, will be free from suffering in the miserable realms,” said the Buddha.

The significance of observing Ullambana is to practice filial piety.

I’m truly inspired by how Buddha taught Maudgalyayana to rescue his mother from her suffering in the hungry ghost realm. Maudgalyayana’s act of filial piety reminds me to show gratitude to my parents while they are still around. Buddha’s profound wisdom gave me guidance on how I can truly repay my parents’ kindness

We love our parents, and we want them to be well and happy in this life, as well as in the afterlife. Let’s seize the opportunity this Ullambana, and accumulate vast merits for our parents in present lifetime, as well as parents in past seven lifetimes, by making offerings to the Triple Gem. 

Check out the next post to learn more about the Buddha’s Joyful Day!



I made an offering to my late grandparents. Will they receive it?