In Vietnam culture, some people call it Vu Lan or Vietnamese Mother’s Day, others call it Trung Nguyen as it is the day for lost souls to be in the search of mercy-the festival has it all. Under any disguises, this festival takes place on the 15th day of the seventh month in Lunar Calendar.
Vu Lan Festival
Buddhists from China claim that the Ghost Festival originated with the canonical scriptures of Buddhism, but many of the visible aspects of the ceremonies originate from Chinese folk religion, and other local folk traditions (see Stephen Teiser’s 1988 book, The Ghost Festival in Medieval China). This process of syncretism is not limited to China: the ghost festival has parallels in Theravada Buddhism, such as the Cambodian Pchum Ben festival, reflecting the same assumptions about an annual opening of the gates of hell, and with the same (ultimately canonical) role of King Yama. In Tang-dynasty China, the Buddhist festival Ullambana (see below) and the Ghost Festival were mixed and celebrated together.
To Mahayana Buddhists, the seventh lunar month is a month of joy. This is because the fifteenth day of the seventh month is often known as the Buddha’s joyful day and the day of rejoicing for monks. The origins of the Buddha’s joyful day can be found in various scriptures. When the Buddha was alive, his disciples meditated in the forests of India during the rainy season of summer. Three months later, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, they would emerge from the forests to celebrate the completion of their meditation and report their progress to the Buddha. In the Ullambana Sutra, the Buddha instructs his disciple Maudgalyāyana on how to obtain liberation for his mother, who had been reborn into a lower realm, by making food offerings to the sangha on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. Because the number of monks who attained enlightenment during that period was high, the Buddha was very pleased.
Being the second largest annual traditional festival of Vietnam right after Tet Holiday, Vu Lan is widely celebrated throughout the country—among businesses, families, and other institutions.
In accordance with Buddhism’s belief, the seventh lunar month is known as the spirit month. On this month’s full moon, wandering souls are believed to return to their former homes.
The legend behind this festival is that once when mediating, a Buddha’s disciple named Muc Kien Lien saw that his mother was suffering from hell’s tortures. Following Buddha’s advice, on the seventh full moon of the year, Muc Kien Lien gathered monks and devotees and pray with them for his mother’s relieve. Hence, this festival is to express gratitude and appreciation towards ones’ parents (especially mothers) and also help ancestors’ lost souls find their way back to earth.
Some important information
On this day, people visit pagodas and temples to worship ghosts and hungry spirits through offerings of food, clothes and other items, and release animals like birds or fish. Apart from that, they give presents and flowers to their parents to show their appreciation and gratitude.
- Time: 7th full moon
- Purpose: express filial piety, worship wandering spirits
- Activities: offerings and animal releasing; giving presents to parent
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