20 November 2007

The Trinity Festivals of Ancestorism, Taoism, and Buddhism

Historical records illustrate the Hungry Ghost Festival was actually a Taoist event which originated from the Southern Song Dynasty, Liang Wu Di. This occasion is still a key traditional Chinese festival to this day.

Yu Lan Jie of Buddhism befalls on the 15th of the 7th lunar month, adding more mystical elements to the Zhong Yuan Jie.

A touching tale lies behind Yu Lan Jie that is the story of the mother of Mu Lian. It is said that Buddha had a disciple called Mu Lian. As Mu Lian's mother was sinful in her previous life, she turned into a hungry ghost who was condemned to wander the Earth, never able to rest.

With the guidance of Buddha, Mu Lian prepared an assortment of food and delicacies for the monks from all around on the 15th of the 7th lunar month and combined their merits to release his mother from her torment. As a result of his actions, his mother was saved.

Yu Lan Jie has been celebrated ever since. Normally, fresh fruits such as lychee and longan, together with incense money, paper clothes and Du Die (passports in the nether world) are served as offerings. In general, the Buddhists will perform certain ceremonies on this day to express their filial piety.

Zhong Yuan Jie can be divided into 3 segments, namely Shang Yuan (15th of the 1st lunar month), Zhong Yuan (15th of the 7th lunar month) and Xia Yuan (15th of the 10th lunar month, 24 November in 2007).

Shang Yuan Festival is the birthday of the Ruler of Heaven; Zhong Yuan Festival is the birthday of Emperor Shun, the Ruler of Earth while the Xia Yuan Festival is the birthday of the Emperor Yu, the Ruler of Water. Three of them are referred to as the Trinity Rulers and are worshipped by Taoists. They rule the heaven, earth and water respectively. They have accomplished great achievements and brought good fortune to this world, which is why they are worshipped as the Trinity Rulers.

Emperor Yu, the Ruler of Water, is as filial as Mu Lian from Buddhism. Hence Zhong Yuan Festival is also known as Xiao Zi Jie (Filial Son Festival). Based on the concept of filial piety, every household would worship their ancestors and the lonely spirits on the Hungry Ghost Festival. This helps them accumulate good deeds, ensures their safety and for things to go smoothly.
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