Traditions, beliefs during the Ghost Month-A A +A
Sunday, August 12, 2012
MOST Filipinos, even at this modern time, are very keen on superstitious beliefs to appease the spirits of the underworld or souls that have died from an “unfortunate death.”
Our grandparents, mostly in the barrios, taught us to say “tabi-apo” every time we pass by a big tree so we will not be harmed by creatures from the other world. Or they would not allow us children to go out during night time, saying that this is the time where most of the spirits come out and look for their prey.
These beliefs had been handed down from generations to generations. But nobody could tell if these viewpoints are real or just a mere tool to tame children who love to ramble at night.
But perhaps, not all of us know that some Chinese fear the month of August, starting on the 15th, or the new moon, until September 15, which is the full moon, believing that it is the most ill-fated time of the year.
The seventh month in the Chinese calendar is reportedly the month of the hungry ghosts, Buddhists, Taoists and believers of Chinese folk religions. They believe that during the “ghost month,” the spirits of the dead are released from lower-realms, or hell in our Christian belief, particularly on August 31, which is the “peak day” of their release based on this year’s lunar calendar.
During this time, the spirits reportedly “wander the earth.”
Some believers say the gates of hell are opened and an army of hungry ghosts come out to haunt the living, eat Chinese food, drink rice wine and collect ghost money.
According to a local Feng Sui expert who refused not to be named, the ghost month is mostly a “time of fear and great caution as wandering ghosts, especially those who suffered untimely death, must be pleased” otherwise, they will bring bad luck and misfortunes.
The expert says these ghosts are believed to be the spirits of those who have no relatives to honor them after their death or those who had a bad demise or did not receive a suitable burial.
He shares that the wandering ghosts who roam around the Earth must be given special honor by burning incense, offered a prayer and given gifts of food and fine wares to make them happy.
He says, in return, blessings or good luck may be asked from them.
But if these can’t be done, an angry ghost would attack the living to get attention so they can get what they want.
He adds that for some who feared the ghosts, many activities should not be done during the ghost month.
Based on their superstitious beliefs, which is similar to ours, whistling is avoided as it will draw ghosts to one’s home.
Events such as travelling, moving to a new home, medical procedures or weddings should be rescheduled to other months.
In addition, he says special plans and business deals or openings must be avoided during the ghost month.
“Since ghosts are believed to inhabit water, it is advised not to swim in lakes, rivers or in the ocean during this time. It is not also recommended to go camping, hanging wet clothes at night or perhaps open an umbrella inside the house,” the expert says.
He adds that even buying puppets, sculptures or dolls are prohibited or even just to say the word “ghost.”
“One should not pat someone on the shoulder, or if sometimes someone calls you, don’t turn your back only, you should turn your whole body around and above all, avoid standing under trees or under bus stops at night,” he shares.
He says the whole month is risky, especially on August 31. During this time, most believers just stay at home and offer prayers and food to avoid having an encounter with a ghost.
Based on the Chinese tradition, at the end of the month, which is September 15 or the time of the new moon, some Chinese who still believe in the ghost month pray, burn some stuffs, and offer food and drinks on tables to make sure that the ghosts are happy, well-fed and prosperous.
They also place paper boats with lanterns outside their home or in rivers to guide the ghosts back to the underworld just before the gates of hell closes, waiting until next year.
Cagayan de Oro City Councilor Juan Sia says Buddhist monks and Daoist priests perform rituals and make prayers for the benefit of the ghosts and to relieve their suffering.
But he says they call the seventh month a month of joy because the 15th day is referred to as “Buddha’s Joyful Day.”
“The Buddhist origin of the festival can be traced back to a story that originally came from India but later took on cultural Chinese overtones,” Sia says.
He narrates that in the Ullambana Sutra, there is a descriptive account of a Buddhist monk named Maudgalyayana, originally a Brahmin youth who later ordained and later became one of Buddha's chief disciples.
Maudgalyayana was also known for having clairvoyant powers, an uncommon trait amongst monks.
Sia says after he attained “arhatship,” he began to think deeply of his parents and wondered what happened to them.
“He used his clairvoyance to see where they were reborn and found his father in the heavenly realms, i.e. the realm of the gods,” he claims.
However, Sia adds that Maudgalyayana’s mother had been reborn in a lower realm, known as the “Realm of Hungry Ghosts.”
His mother took on the form of a hungry ghost (preta) – so called because it could not eat due to its highly thin and fragile throat in which no food could pass through, yet it was always hungry because it had a fat belly.
“His mother had been greedy with the money he left her. He had instructed her to kindly host any Buddhist monks that ever came her way, but instead she withheld her kindness and her money. It was for this reason she was reborn in the realm of hungry ghosts,” Sia shares.
Maudgalyayana eased his mother's suffering by receiving the instructions of feeding pretas from the Buddha.
Sia says the Buddha instructed Maudgalyayana to place pieces of food on a clean plate, recite a mantra seven times to bless the food, snap his fingers to call out the deceased and finally tip the food onto a clean ground.
By doing so, he says the preta's hunger would be relieved.
“Through these merits, his mother was able to be reborn as a dog under the care of a noble family,” Sia says.
Maudgalyayana then sought the Buddha's advice to help his mother gain a human birth. The Buddha then established a day after the traditional summer retreat (the 15th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar, usually mid-to-late August) where Maudgalyayana was to offer food and robes to five hundred “bhikkhus.”
Through the merits created, Sia says Maudgalyayana’s mother finally gained a human birth.
“We may believe it or not, there is nothing wrong in praying to God and celebrate this month for spiritual value, just like when we annually celebrate our fiesta celebration in honor of our patron saints,” Sia says.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on August 12, 2012.