盂蘭盆(解倒懸)法會在中國年年舉行，在日本稱為 Ubon Matsuri 。其目的在於供僧，並藉此給過世的親屬做功德。這兩者均體現了佛陀說《梵網經》的初衷：孝順父母師僧三寶。目犍連對母親的孝心誠心，佛陀的慈悲善巧，感動了梁武帝，也打動了多少世紀中人們的心。
The Buddha’s Teaching on Filiality
The Buddha taught filial respect throughout his forty-year teaching career, from first to last. Immediately upon realizing enlightenment, the Buddha’s first discourse was the Bodhisattva Pratimoksa precepts, contained in the Brahma Net Scripture (Brahmajala Sutra).19
“At that time, Sakyamuni Buddha first sat beneath the Bodhi tree, after realizing the Supreme Enlightenment, he set forth the Bodhisattva precepts out of filial compliance towards his parents, his masters among the Sangha, and the Triple Jewel. Filial compliance is a Dharma of the Ultimate Way. Filiality is called Precepts, and is also called restraint and stopping.”20
It is important to note that after gaining ultimate liberation from endless lifetimes of suffering in samsara, the Buddha's urgent priority was to explain moral rules to his first audience of Bodhisattvas, Devas, and Rulers of the Eight-fold Spiritual Pantheon gathered beneath the Bodhi Tree. His purpose was to provide cultivators who were firmly established on the Path to Bodhi, with the means to repay parents’ kindness, and to exhort them to propagate this supreme method. The Buddha, keenly aware of the source of his enlightenment, wished to acknowledge the debt owed his benefactors. Thus he spoke the Bodhisattva Pratimoksa (“special liberation) code of ethics; this was his highest gift of compassion.
The Brahma Net Scripture teaches that virtue derived from practicing moral restraint on the “mind ground,” (in the cultivator’s deepest thoughts), creates “virtue in the Tao.” This virtue, the “art of being a person” gives the means for repaying the weighty kindness of “parents, masters among the Sangha, and the Triple Jewel (the Triratna: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha).”
Enlightened Sages, upon their awakening, turn first to the matter of repaying their debt of kindness. To repay the kindness of parents is a prime motivating factor in spiritual history, a belief shared by the ancients and enlightened teachers the world over. The Buddha gave the Precepts first, to bestow “a Dharma of the Ultimate Way, which is known as filiality.” If one can perfect one’s humanity by holding precepts, one can accomplish one’s human destiny in the highest measure, attain Great Wisdom, and the means to bestow Dharma on living beings, thus giving them the path to liberation. The Buddha did it, then left directions to the Ultimate Way that he walked.
As did the Buddha, so did his disciple Ven. Mahamaugalyayana, whose great filial compliance is told in the Sutra of the Buddha’s Teaching on Ullambana.21 After attaining his faculty of spiritual vision, the “Deva-eye”, Ven. Maugalyayana surveyed the various destinies of rebirth, searching for his departed mother. He saw she had fallen into a state of woe, and was suffering grievous torment as a preta, a “hungry ghost” in the hells, as retribution for his misdeeds in lives past. The venerable disciple ran tearfuly to the Buddha for help in rescuing his mother. By following the Buddha's expedient means, and by employing and transferring the aid of his Sangha-brothers, who had assembled from the ten directions to pass the Pravarana summer retreat, Maudgalyayana amassed enough merit and blessings to counteract his mother’s bad karma. She was delivered from aeons of suffering, and the method of deliverance was transmitted for posterity. This historical incident inspired the Ullambana Ceremony, created in China during the sixth century, by Emperor Wu of Liang, himself a devout Buddhist and a filial son.
Ullambana (“rescuing those hanging upside-down”) is celebrated annually in Chinese communities, and in Japan, as the Ubon Matsuri. Its purpose was to make offerings to the Sangha, and thus create merit on behalf of deceased relatives. Both acts echo the Buddha’s motive in speaking the Brahma Net Scripture: “Out of filial compliance towrds his parents, his masters among the Sangha, and the Triple Jewel.” Maugalyayana’s devotion to his mother, and the Buddha’s compassion and skillful means moved the Liang Emperor, and has touched the hearts of people for centuries.
The universal appeal of Maugalyayana’s story attests to the primacy of the parental bond that enlightened Sages honor first.
“Alas! My parents,
Who bore me and toiled on my behalf.
The debt of kindness I owe them
Is higher than the heavens.”22
In China, among the stories of Chan School and Pure Land Patriarchs, many cases exist of filial sons who realized spiritual enlightenment beside the graves of their parents, while observing a traditional three-year period of mourning. The urge to show gratitude to parents by a child is wholesome and proper. Sages and Patriarchs, enlightened men and women who have fully matured their mental and spiritual faculties, attend to and revere their parents’ debt of kindness.
For example, when the Buddha’s father died, filial service was elevated to magnificent stature. The Buddha, his brother Nanda, his cousin Ananda, and his son Rahula, each took a corner of the late King Suddhodana’s coffin, serving as pallbearers for their father, and leaving an example of noble filial piety for later generations.23
Following the ethical code of the Buddha, one can perfect one’s virtue and humanity, and leave the turning wheel of death and rebirth. This liberation is the highest form of gratitude a child can show his parents, For this reason one leaves home to cultivate the Way.
At the end of the Buddha’s teaching career, he went to the Trayastrimsha Heaven to praise the filial conduct and great vows of Kshitigarbha, “Earth Treasury” Bodhisattva, who is foremost in filial compliance among all enlightened beings. The Buddha spoke the Sutra of Earth Treasury Bodhisattva’s Past Vows24 in order to repay the kindness of his mother, Lady Maya, who died in childbirth, and who had been reborn in that heaven. Of the Five Modes of Filial Respect25, the Buddha’s sojourn in the Heaven of the Thirty-three at the end of his life represents Ultimate Filiality, a culmination of his successful quest for self-knowledge. He left the palace in search of enlightenment; he renounced the comforts of a King’s life for the austerities of an ascetic hermit. His purpose was to transcend death and rebirth, and thereby gain the wisdom and resourcefulness to rescue others from the ocean of suffering. Having accomplished Buddhahood, he ascended to the heavens to repay his mother for the sacrifices she made while bringing him into the world. The Buddha lavishly praised the selfless compassion of Earth Treasury’s infinite filial devotion and vows, the scope of which expands to include all creatures. “I vow that I will not realize Buddha-hood until the hells are emptied. I vow that only after all living beings have been rescued will I myself accomplish Bodhi.”
Thus at the end of his life, the Buddha came full circle, having taught the lessons of filial respect throughout his entire forty years of speaking Dharma. Performing filial duties for one’s own parents, one accomplishes Limited Filiality. Expanding one's family identity to include kinship with all living creatures reaches Ultimate Filiality.
“All male beings have been a father to me in past lives and all females have been my mother. There is not a single being who has not given birth to me during my previous lives, hence all beings of the six destinies are my parents.”26
To be continued
19. T. 1484.
20. Ven. Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua, The Buddha Speaks the Brahma Net Sutra,
Buddhist Text Translation Society, San Francisco, CA, 1981, p. 40.
21. T. 685.
22. The Book of Poetry.
23. The Sutra on the Parinirivana of the White Rice King. T. 512, see Appendix II.
24. T. 412. English Translation: Ven. Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua, Sutra of The Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva, BTTS\IASWR, New York, 1974.
25. The Five Modes of Filial Respect include 1) Limited Filial Piety, being filial within one’s own family; 2) Extensive Filial Piety, taking all fathers and mothers as one’s own; 3) Contemporary Filial Piety, according with present-day models and standards of making one’s parents happy; 4) Classical Filial Piety, being filial to all the myriad creatures, in the same way that the Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Virtue were in China; 5) Ultimate Filial Piety, accomplishing the Supreme Tao and rescuing nine generations of ancestors, ultimately vowing to deliver all living beings from suffering.
26. Brahma Net Sutra, ibid., p.100.