MASTER SHEN-LONG | The Ghost Festival of Buddhist Deliverance
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The Ghost Festival of Buddhist Deliverance

(Excerpt from the Prajna (II), expounded by Master Shen-Long, Chapter 8)


In 2016, the Ghost Festival of Buddhist Deliverance will fall on August 17th (Lunar calendar July 15th).

Master Shen-Long, Inconceivable Application, 2008, Ink on rice paper, 3.2 ft x 5.10 ft. Copyright Master Shen-Long.

Master Shen-Long, Inconceivable Application, 2008, Ink on rice paper, 3.2 ft x 5.10 ft. Copyright Master Shen-Long.

This festival occurs in the seventh month of the lunar calendar. Spending one day in the ghost world is equivalent to one month of our time here. Therefore, on the 1st, 15th and 30th day of the month there are deliverance rituals to re

lieve ghosts from suffering. Making offerings before Buddha, upon the tables there will be all kinds of vegetable dishes. What is that for? It invites them (ghosts) for a meal.

Ordinarily, a ghost has spent approximately 1,000 to 2,000 years without knowing the taste of a meal; they are in a state of hunger. The shape of their throat (larynx) is not like ours and it is as narrow as a needle – like the slender needle we get from a vaccination shot from the doctor’s office. If you do not recite the Dharani of Initiate Eating, then their throat would not open to take in the offered vegetables and they are unable to eat.

What kind of people become ghosts?

They used to be human with feelings of inferiority or superiority; they will all end up as ghosts.

In the month of the Ghost Festival, the 1st calendar day invites them for breakfast, the 15th calendar day invites them for lunch and the 30th day invites them for supper. They are only permitted a break for that one day (in ghost world time, one day is one month in our world) and then they all have to return back to their ghost world.  This allusion is from the Ullambana Sutra, Buddha speaks about the Ullambana (Deliverence) Festival: The Monk Maudgalyayana, one of Buddha’s ten disciples, was the best with supernatural powers who was trying to save his mother that descended into the hell world. The Monk Maudgalyayana tried and exhausted all of his supernatural powers in vain, he came back and asked Shakyamuni Buddha, who replied,

Go to practice giving all of your mother’s things away; then go to make offering to all of the  Sangha (the community of committed practitioners of the teaching of the Buddha) and all Buddha Bodhisattvas, and dedicate all nirvana merits and enlightenment virtue of the above to your mother.

As a result, this has passed down and turned into the “Ghost’s Festival of the Buddhist Deliverance Ceremony”. “Ullambana” is a Sanskrit word which means to hang upside down. The suffering condition of “hanging upside down” represents the unbearable condition of hungry ghosts in the ghost world suspended upside down and hung by their feet.

In the ghost world, one day there is equal to one month our world; what is their life span?

The shortest life span is 1,000 years calculated by using the same 365 days of a year in our world.  When considering multiplying a month by 365, it is equivalent to more than a several thousand years in our time.

After a thousand years, where do they go?

If they have not finished receiving retribution, then they will continue forward to the hell world. Consequently, this will never end.

Average people of the human world cannot see them, even at the “Ghost Festival of Buddhist Deliverance”, you may feel that there are many spirits around the memorial tablets; even during the bright noon hours, there is a misty and gloomy cold breeze around the memorial tablets. It is rare that one is truly able to see them (the ghosts). Especially the Master in charge of the ritual of Ghost Festival who needs to have the skills acquired through religious (Buddhism) cultivation practice.

What are the skills acquired through religious (Buddhism) cultivation practice?

His mind must be purified of defiling illusion in order to help these hungry ghosts by giving them some sweet dew and a bit of rice as a small token. Amongst the hungry ghosts there are ones who have high spirituality when you do the sutra explaining to them, and they accept it. Some even chant Amitabha are met and received by Amitabha in that moment, to go and be born to the Bliss World of Amitabha Pure Land.

We participated in the Buddhist Assembly before and had communication with the ghost world. Just a moment ago I talked about self-inferior feelings; however, after one descends down to the ghost world have the feeling of inferiority, it is hard to help. One who feels inferior can still be saved in the human world, but when one feels inferior in the ghost world it is much more difficult.