Welcome to all the monks and novices, and blessings to all the laity. A few Fridays ago, we had learnt Dhamma about kataññū kataveditā, gratitude and repaying it to those who have done us kindness. They are our parents, the ones who have looked after us since we were little. And even more so for our mother, who looked after us since we were in her womb. Then when we grew up to be a small child, both father and mother helped to support and nurture us, so that their child could grow up. And when this child has grown up, how should the sons and daughters support their parents? Parents are considered to be in the direction in front of us. So we have to contemplate that we are able to be grow up to where we are now, because both of them had raised us, and so we ourselves need to try to learn a field of expertise, develop knowledge, have stable work, be established in sila, morality and in goodness, to have saved money, and be someone who is thrifty. We try to learn more knowledge continually, so that we can have the strength of money, and strength of mindfulness and wisdom. They have supported us, so we support our parents in return for their kindness. When they have a business they had built up for their family lineage, for us, then we have to help that work. We try to help both the work in the house, as well as the work outside the house by doing trade, doing business. We have to try to make that business succeed well and also to preserve their family lineage to continue on. Whether some peoples’ parents have a lot of wealth, or not much, we have to conduct ourselves to be worthy of being their child. So we uphold the family traditions skillfully. We help their work and we take care of them in return. This is the duty that we need to do when our parents are still alive.
And there is a question that when our parents have passed away already, what goodness should we do? First, is that we ourselves must build goodness, because our parents are our body. We have taken a part of them already for this body, this flesh and blood. Now we can look after ourselves, we can maintain our bodies. But in the beginning, this physical body came from them. All our cells, we got from our father and mother. We have them now already in this body. So we take this body to build goodness. We build dana–generosity, we build sila–morality, we build bhavana–developing our minds. The extent to which we take this body to make goodness, will be the extent that our mind will grow in inner joy. When we feel this inner joy, then the mind is meritorious and good. We are thinking of our parents who have passed away. And we may do even more by also dedicating the merits to them as well, so that the effect is even more. And so when we go to make merit by making offerings, the monks will give the Adāsi me blessing chant. Adāsi me akāsi me ñāti mittā sakhā ca me. Those living in this world, reflect on the assistance that all those with kindness had done for one, ever since the time in the past when they were still alive. One recalls that ‘he gave to me, she had helped me in this way. They were my relatives, friends and companions.’ When you think in this way, then you should do merit and goodness for them. It can be through dana, sila, bhavana, and then we dedicate it to the deceased.
And we reflect that we should not have sorrow, or various forms of mourning for those who have died, whoever the person may be, because doing this doesn’t benefit the one who has died. The more we cry, sorrow and mourn, if that relative is aware of this, then their minds will be saddened. So they will get no benefit at all. So we should not do that, as they get no benefit from crying, sorrowing or mourning. It is better to try to maintain our hearts to be good. We accept the way it is according to the truth, that each life being born undergoes change, and has separation from each other as natural like this. We offer Sangha-dana for those who have passed away. Giving Sangha-dana to the Sangha of monks, and we dedicate the merits and goodness to them. This will then be effective in gaining benefit and it gives them happiness that assists them, according to each one’s circumstances for a long time.
And whatever the case is, when it comes to a cultural festival day, like the festivals to make merit and dedicate the merits to the deceased, which are the various new year days; like Chinese new year and Thai new year, and there are also other festivals/observances whereby we make merit and dedicate it to relatives, friends, companions and parents who have passed away. These are traditions that have been passed down and continued on for a long time. It is conducted so that our deceased ancestors will come to receive the merit and goodness, and they will be delighted/gladdened in this merit and goodness. They know that their descendants haven’t forgotten about them. And if they are a deva, they know that their descendants haven’t forgotten them, and they have happiness and ease of mind.
Or even if they have been reborn as a human being, the children and grandchildren who do the dedications in the present, are considered to be ones who express their gratitude and their intention to repay those who have done them kindness, like our parents.
So this Chinese festival, on the 15th day of the 7th month in the Chinese calendar, is called the Ghost Festival. It is an important day for the people of Chinese descent, to express their gratitude to their ancestors. And there is a method to make offerings to these spirits.
And it is also believed that it is the month that the doors of hell are opened, and all spirits can come to receive merit and goodness. This is taken as a long standing belief, that it is at this time when Yama, King of Hell, checks the list of the dead, and sends the good spirits to heaven and send the bad spirits to hell. All the Chinese people feel pity for the evil spirits. So they make merit and goodness and dedicate it to the evil spirits to come out to receive it, so they can gain a bit of happiness.
And in the legends, there is a story of a young man named Mulian, who was very strict in his Buddhist practice. And this was opposite to his mother, who was a bad, immoral person who never believed in Heaven and Hell. One year, during the Vegetarian Festival, she was annoyed by the moral people who wore white and kept precepts, and who ate vegetarian. She didn’t know if they were even real. She had no faith or belief in it. But she came up with a plot. She invited those people keeping precepts and eating vegetarian to eat at her house where she would cook them a meal.
The ones keeping precepts and eating vegetarian were delighted to hear the news that Mulian’s mother had gained faith and wanted to make merit this time. So they came to eat at Mulian’s house, but did not know that the soup had pig fat/lard mixed into it. Mulian’s mothers actions were considered wrong-doing and heavy kamma. When she died, she fell into Aviji Hell, the eighth and deepest hell realm, where she received great suffering and torture.
When Mulian thought of his mother, he sent his divine body into the hell realm. So he learned that his mother was starving and suffering. He tried to feed her food, but it was fought for and consumed by all the starving ghosts and spirits. And the grain of rice that was fed to her turned into flames, burning his mother’s lips until it swelled. But with gratitude and pity for his mother who was suffering so badly, Mulian went to ask King Yama if he could take the punishment on his mother’s behalf. But this is called receiving punishment that could not be taken by anyone else. One’s kamma is one’s own.
Here, the Lord Buddha came down to tell Mulian that this could not be done. Any karma that one commits will be their own karma. But if he wanted his mother to overcome her suffering, or to at least reduce her suffering, he had to chant the Yulanpen Sutta and to offer food every year in the month when the gates of Hell were opened. Then he would be able to help his mother to be free from her punishment.
And since then, the Chinese people have regarded it as a tradition to practise, and to pass on. They make offerings of food, rice, sweets, paper money and gold paper to be placed in front of their house or at a junction that is not far away. Its meaning is to distract the interest of the wandering spirits that were passing near their residence. This is their tradition.
So there are many ways to think about this tradition. The important thing is the quality of gratitude and intention to repay the ancestors who have passed away. And it is a tradition that is a skilful method that helps each person in the family to gather together to conduct an activity. It is also to teach and tell the children that doing this is building merit and goodness.
And it may be a good opportunity for the children to go to the monastery and they get to experience the atmosphere in the monastery. They may gain more faith and confidence in Buddhism. They may even want to do more than just making offerings for the deceased ancestors, grandparents, and parents who have passed away. They may feel closer to Buddhism, and they may get more interested in the teachings of the Buddha. And so this will benefit all the future generations.
So when we make offerings and dedicate it to those who have passed away, what should we offer? Offering Sangha-dana is good and offering cast-off cloth, and dedicating it to them. And then we can do the pouring of water ceremony to dedicate it to them. But if we have no water, then we can just determine in our minds to dedicate the merits to them. So when they have already passed away, we do it like this.
But sometimes, in the situation where our relatives, friends, or parents are sick and ill, and it has got to the point where they may die, will we wait for them to die first, for them to lose their life already, before we build goodness to give to them? So when the situation is like this that they are very sick, and it’s not sure if they will be able to get better or not, but it looks like they may die, then we can make a mental determination or vow, that may I ordain for one month as a repayment to the kindness of my mother. For one month or three months, and may the merit from this be dedicated to the karmic debtors – all the karmic debtors of my mother, or my father, or that relative, friend or companion, may they overcome their sickness and illness, and may they have a long life. That strength of merit, strength of goodness, the strength of the mind, the strength of the mental determination and vow, the strength of doing that goodness that we have determined to do, this may be able to help our father or mother, overcome their sickness and pain that they may die from. This is about merit and goodness.
There are even some situations where the person who is waiting in the middle of the ocean is about to die. They think they will lose their lives, and they may not be able to wait for anyone to make merit for them after they die. Or maybe there won’t be anyone to do so. So they mentally vow that if they are still alive, they will make merit, and they will be ordained for the rest of their life. Or ordain for three months. And they are able to escape death. It’s a miracle, as well.
So at this time, we will express our gratitude and intention to repay our relatives, friends and companions, and we will make merit and dedicate it to our parents. This is included as one virtuous symbol of a good person, and it is a blessing for our lives. Another thing is that it passes the tradition on to our children and grandchildren, for them to learn and know. So it’s like we are doing benefit, while at the same time teaching our children and grandchildren to see the benefit of what we are doing as well. This shows that we are intelligent. We have firm faith and confidence in Buddhism. And we have intelligence in telling and teaching through our actions. So may you all be diligent in building virtue and goodness. And constantly contemplate that life is uncertain like this. If our father and mother have passed away, it’s not just them who die from this world, it’s not just grandparents, parents, relatives, friends and companions who die, we ourselves are currently leaving this world, in each moment, each minute, each day, each month, each year, so we should build merit for ourselves first. After we have died, whether someone later dedicates merit to us or doesn’t, we have already done it fully for ourselves. So we should maintain and pass on these traditions. It’s a beautiful and fine tradition, expressing kataññū katavedita. May you all grow in Dhamma.