Ullambana – Honoring Parents and Ancestors’ Day
The season for Vu Lan usually begins in August. This is normally celebrated on the Sunday of the last week of August at Quan Am Nam Hai Monastery. On this day we come together to honor our parents and to pray for those deceased. Traditionally, after the Buddha’s birthday, the monastics would enter the monastery for a three-month long retreat, lasting until the day of Ullambana. The purpose for this is to practice strenuously and develop large amounts of spiritual energy to later (during Ullambana) send out to the deceased and wandering spirits/minds to aid in their taking on a human form once again- i.e. rebirth in a human form. So, traditionally Ullambana is the Buddhist day for the deceased.
In modern times, we also celebrate Ullambana as a day to honor our parents (both alive and dead). This, and the traditional celebration, comes from the Ullambanapatra Sutra, where one of the Buddha’s chief disciples, Mogallana, came to the Buddha yearning to save his mother from being reborn in the Hell or Suffering Realm. We honor our parents for having contributed part of themselves in creating us, and for having taken care of us. There is a poem in Vietnamese that expresses this gratitude, the translation is:
“The good deeds of Father are as great as a mountain.
The virtue of Mother is as bountiful as spring water gushing from its source.
Wholeheartedly is Mother to be revered and Father respected,
So that the child’s way may be accomplished.”
As a part of the celebration of our parents, we have a ceremony known as “Pinning of the Rose Ceremony.” At Quan Am Nam Hai Monastery, a red rose is pinned to the left side of the front of a person’s shirt. We pin these red roses to remember our parents, whether they are still alive or have passed; we are the continuation of our parents and ancestors; their blood and cells are what make our biological bodies, so in this way we remember that we are made of our parents and they are always within and with us. After this ceremony, we have a short chanting and prayer ceremony to reflect on the debt of gratitude we owe to our parents, to pray for their well-being if our parents are still alive, and together we join our energies to pray for those parents and ancestors deceased to be reborn in the Pure Land (of Amitabha Buddha). After the ceremony is finished, we invite everyone to a silent meal, where the Alms Round is practiced (as with The Buddha’s Birthday). On this day in particular, we encourage those whose parents are still living to bring them to the ceremony and to eat with us. In this way, we all join our energies as we eat mindfully to remember our parents and ancestors. After the silent meal, we have one to two hours for entertainment for those who wish to share their gratitude to their parents. You may share your affection and gratitude to your parents through stories, songs, poems, and music. Finally, we end with a ceremony of offering food and water to the Hungry Ghosts.
We invite everyone, Buddhist or not, to attend this lovely ceremony, and encourage everyone to bring their parents to show them love and respect they deserve. May everyday be your Vu Lan’s Day!