Ullambana and the Ghost Month: Connections?

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Ullambana and the Ghost Month: Connections?

Post by LionelChen » Fri Aug 09, 2013 7:11 am

So its the Ghost Month...and some of my relatives are to borrow an american phrase "Freaking out."

For those of you who might lack some context about this, the Ghost month 鬼月 is a popular Chinese religious belief that every 7th month in the lunar cycle, the gates of Hell or the Underworld or Makai or however you wish to phrase is are flung open allowing the hungry dead to wander through the earth and visit family members.

Because the world is believed to be currently inundated with the restless and vengeful beings of the lower realm, the popular belief stands this a month where certain rules should not be broken lest you bring about horrible luck and possible hauntings to ones family.

Even in a very modern place such as Singapore, one can easily find little street shrines all over the places filled with food. One can also see many of the denizens burning 金紙 (Joss Paper or "Hell Money" ) to try and buy off the hungry dead. There are even also concerts, plays, and performances where the first row (and sometmes the second) of seats are to be left empty as that's where the dead are supposed to be sitting watching the performance.

Obviously this is a time of great Anxiety for many Chinese people who still believe in these matters.

Yet when I decided to investigate why all my relatives, neighbors, etc believe in these things I ran into a very different evaluation of this period of time - Zhongyuan was generally looked upon as a positive time by Buddhists all the way back to the Tang dynasty.

Which makes me wonder if the modern understanding of the Ghost Month (which emphasizes terror for lack of a better word) came from a different source (perhaps non-Buddhist?) as there exists a striking difference in interpretation of what this month means to people.

Anyone have any thoughts (or information?) i'd be much obliged.

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