According to The Buddha
Speaks the Ullambana Sutra, recently translated by the
Sino-American Buddhist Association Buddhist Text Translation
Society, when Mahamaudgalyayana, a disciple of Sakyamuni Buddha,
first obtained the six spiritual penetrations, he wished to use them
to cross over his mother and father. Using his Heavenly
looked throughout the six realms and saw his mother, throat like a
needle, and belly like a barrel, all skin and bones, among the
hungry ghosts. He immediately brought her food, but as soon as she
greedily tried to swallow it down, it turned to fire.
Mahamaudgalyayana cried out in pain at this
sight, and hastened to return to the Buddha to tell him all of this
and find out what was happening. The Buddha, speaking right to the
point, told Mahamaudgalyayana that he was too weak to help his
mother, and that the spirits of the earth and sky, spirits of the
lands and waters, heavenly creatures and demons all were without
sufficient power. He saw that the mother's karma was so heavy that
it would take the energy from the combined concentration power of
the Sangha to liberate her.
He told Mahamaudgalyayana to make offerings to
the Sangha and call on them to recite mantras and use their combined
power to free his mother. After his mother had been freed,
Mahamaudgalyayana asked the Buddha if disciples could use this
method to help relatives in distress in the future.
The Buddha was extremely pleased by this
question, and replied,
"If one makes offerings to the Sangha, his
present father and mother as well as all close relatives will escape
from the three paths of suffering, and at that time attain release.
Their food and clothing will spontaneously appear. If the parents
are still alive, they will have wealth and blessing for a hundred
years. Parents of seven generations will be born in the heavens. Transformationally born, they will independently enter the celestial
disciple who cultivates filial conduct should, thought after
thought, constantly recall his father and mother as well as the
fathers and mothers of seven lives past. Every year, on the
fifteenth day of the seventh month, he should, out of filial
compassion, recall his parents who bore him, and for their sake
perform the offering of the Ullambana basin to the Buddha and the
Sangha and thus repay the loving kindness of the parents who raised
and nourished him. All Buddha's disciples should respectfully
receive this Dharma."
On August 16th this year Bay Area Buddhists celebrated the traditional Ullambana just as it has been in Asia for centuries. Ceremonies began at 6 a.m. on Friday the 14th, and lasted until 9 p.m. on each of the three days. On the final day after offerings of food, clothing, fruit, incense, oil, and silver were made to the Sangha, and following a large vegetarian feast, mantras were chanted and the assembled ghosts were released to a happier rebirth.