Today my temple celebrated Ullambana, also known as ‘Ancestor’s Day,’ or ‘ Filial Piety Day.’ It’s a celebration of our parents, grandparents, and ancestors. In the Ullambana Sutra, Buddha instructs Maudgalyāyana to practice filial piety.

Ullambana Altar

Ullambana Altar

The story of Maudgalyāyana is about when he reached Enlightenment, he was able to see his mother reborn in a lower realm (hell) as a hungry ghost. Seeing this, he was saddened and went to where his mother was to offer her a bowl of rice. His mother in her past life was a horrible woman; she killed dogs and offered it monks, mocking them, she wasn’t a very good mother, and her personality was violent and very unkind.

When Maudgalyāyana offered the bowl of rice to his mother, she held the bowl and tried to hide it from the other hungry ghosts so she wouldn’t have to share, still being unkind and selfish, but every time she took a bite, the rice turned into flames and she couldn’t eat it.

Saddened, Maudgalyāyana went to the Buddha and told him what he could do to help her. The Buddha told Maudgalyāyana that he couldn’t change her, she would have to change herself in order to get out of hell. So the Buddha told him to gather 99 other monks and himself for 100 monks and chant for 100 days, praying for her. Hearing her son’s voice, Maudgalyāyana mother thought to herself, “I hear my son’s voice. He loves me and cares for me, and wants me to suffer no longer.” So she had to change herself, and she did and she was able to get out of hell.

So on Ullambana, we celebrate and give thanks to our parents and elderly. Because no matter the relationship you have with your parents, whether it’s good or bad, very close or non-existent, without them you would not be here. And no matter what, our parents will always love us – through all our successes and especially through our failures.

As far as the ceremony and service went, flowers were given out and worn: red if both our parents are alive, pink if one parent is alive, white if both parents are deceased, and yellow for the monks and nuns. This reminds us to be thankful and respectful towards our parents and to always love them and care for them like they love and care for us. So remember to be kind, love, and care for your parents. Love them no matter the relationship you have with them.


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