The Urban Dharma Newsletter - September, 2009

In This Issue: Ullambana - The Ghost Festival

1. Ullambana
2. Ghost Festival
3. Celebration of Ullambana
4. The Buddha Speaks the Ullambana Sutra
5. The Buddha Speaks about the Deep Kindness of Parents and the Difficulty in Repaying it.



This UD Newsletter is all about Ullambana… “deliverance from suffering”… Also, this Sunday I’ll be giving a talk at Insight LA in West LA, more info below and on Sunday the 27th I’ll be speaking at “Against the Stream” – http://againstthestream.org/

Peace... Rev. Kusala

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Being a Buddhist: A Morning with Rev. Kusala


Speaker: Rev. Kusula Bhikshu
Date: September 12 (Saturday)
Time: 9:30am-12:30pm

Description: This half-day class will give an overview of taking refuge and the five precepts. Kusala will examine the practice of Buddhism and taking it into the world, including walking a skillful path, ending Karma and all future rebirths. He explore the hows and whys of being a religious Buddhist in a secular world.

Location: InsightLA Olympic
1430 Olympic Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Level: All Levels
Cost: Sliding scale from $35 to $50

Please pay at the highest level of the sliding scale that you can afford. This helps us make sure those who pay less can attend.

Whatever you pay above the lowest end of the sliding scale is a tax-deductible donation to InsightLA.

Please email or call us to arrange for work/study or reduced fee (less than $35).

Enrollment Limit: 30

Contact Information: programs@insightla.org or 310-774-3325.

1. Ullambana


Ullambana is a transliteration of the Sanskrit word meaning "deliverance from suffering," and specifically refers to the salvation of anguished souls in Hell. This concept originates from the story of "Mulien Saving His Mother from Hades."

In this Buddhist legend, the protagonist Mulien learns that his mother's ghost is being tortured in Hades by starvation and hanging and thus embarks on a grueling journey to the underworld bringing food to ease her hunger. When he finally succeeds in finding his mother, Mulien offers the food to her but it erupts into flames before she is able to swallow. Despairing, he begs Sakymuni to show him a way to bring salvation to his mother, and is answered by the Buddha, who tells him, "The past sins of your mother are too great for you alone to save her. You must thus find ten monks and pray together on the 15th day of the seventh moon." Heeding Sakymuni's instructions, Mulien begins a ritual Buddhist fast and chants the sutras until finally he succeeds in releasing his mother from hell. This legend has been passed down through the ages and is today is celebrated on Chung Yuan by Buddhists around the world, holding ceremonies of charity so that the outcast and famished ghosts may cross over to salvation. Thus, the 15th day of the seventh moon has become an occasion for teaching the virtues of filial piety.

2. Ghost Festival – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The Ghost Festival is a traditional Chinese festival and holiday, which is celebrated by Chinese in many countries. In the Chinese calendar (a lunisolar calendar), the Ghost Festival is on the 14th night of the seventh lunar month.

In Chinese tradition, the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called Ghost Day and the seventh month in general is regarded as the Ghost Month (鬼月), in which ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm. During the Qingming Festival the living descendants pay homage to their ancestors and on Ghost Day, the deceased visit the living.

On the fifteenth day the realms of Heaven and Hell and the realm of the living are open and both Taoists and Buddhists would perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased. Intrinsic to the Ghost Month is ancestor worship, where traditionally the filial piety of descendants extends to their ancestors even after their deaths. Activities during the month would include preparing ritualistic food offerings, burning incense, and burning joss paper, a papier-mache form of material items such as clothes, gold and other fine goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors. Elaborate meals would be served with empty seats for each of the deceased in the family treating the deceased as if they are still living. Ancestor worship is what distinguishes Qingming Festival from Ghost Festival because the latter includes paying respects to all deceased, including the same and younger generations, while the former only includes older generations. Other festivities may include, buying and releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on water, which signifies giving directions to the lost ghosts and spirits of the ancestors and other deities.

The Ghost Festival shares some similarities with the predominantly Mexican observance of El Día de los Muertos. Due to theme of ghosts and spirits, the festival is sometimes also known as the Chinese Halloween, though many have debated the difference between the two.

Buddhist Ghost Festival: Ullambana

Both Buddhists and Taoists claim that the Ghost Festival originated with their religion but its roots are probably in Chinese folk religion and antedates both religions (see Stephen Teiser's 1988 book, The Ghost Festival in Medieval China). In the Tang Dynasty, the Buddhist festival Ullambana and the Ghost Festival were mixed and celebrated together.

Ullambana origin

The Buddha's joyful day

To 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 rejoice 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 fifteen 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.

Buddhist Origins

Food is offered to the ancestors during the annual Ghost Festival

The Buddhist origins of the festival can be traced back to a story that originally came from India, but later took on culturally Chinese overtones. In the Ullambana Sutra, there is a descriptive account of a Buddhist monk named Mahāmaudgalyāyana, originally a brahmin youth who later ordained, and later becoming one of the Buddha's chief disciples. Mahāmaudgalyāyana was also known for having clairvoyant powers, an uncommon trait amongst monks.

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. However, his 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 & 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.

Mahāmaudgalyāyana eased his mother's suffering by receiving the instructions of feeding pretas from the Buddha. The Buddha instructed Mahāmaudgalyāyana to place pieces of food on a clean plate, reciting a mantra seven times, snap his fingers then tip the food on clean ground. By doing so, the preta's hunger was relieved and through these merits, his mother was reborn as a dog under the care of a noble family.

Mahāmaudgalyāyana also sought the Buddha's advice to help his mother gain a human birth. The Buddha established a day after the traditional summer retreat (the 14th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar, usually mid-to-late August) on which Mahāmaudgalyāyana was to offer food and robes to 500 bhikkhus. Through the merits created, Mahāmaudgalyāyana's mother finally gained a human birth.

Due to Confucian influence, the offering became directed towards ancestors rather than the Sangha and ancestor worship has replaced the simple ritual of relieving the hunger of pretas. However, most Buddhist temples still continue the ancient practice of donating to the Sangha as well as to perform rituals for the hungry ghosts.


The Ghost Festival is celebrated during the 7th month of the Chinese Lunar calendar. It also falls at the same time as a full moon, the new season, the fall harvest, the peak of Buddhist monastic asceticism, the rebirth of ancestors, and the assembly of the local community.[2] During this month, the gates of hell are opened up and ghosts are free to roam the earth where they seek food and entertainment. These ghosts are believed to be ancestors of those who have forgotten to pay tribute to them after they had died, or those who have suffered deaths and were never given a proper ritual for a sendoff. They have long thin necks because they have not been fed by their family, or it is a sign of punishment so they are unable to swallow. Family members would offer prayers to their deceased relatives and would burn joss paper. Such paper items are only valid in the underworld, which is why they burn it as offering to the ghosts that have come from the gates of hell. Like in the material world, the afterlife is very similar in some aspects, and the paper effigies of material goods would provide comfort to those who have nothing in the afterlife. People would also burn other things such as paper houses, cars, servants and televisions to please the ghosts.

Families would also pay tribute to other unknown wandering ghosts so that these homeless souls would not intrude on their lives and bring misfortune and bad luck. A large feast is held for the ghosts on the 14th day of the 7th month, where everyone brings samplings of food and places them on the offering table to please the ghosts and ward off bad luck. In some East Asian countries today, live performances would be held and everyone was invited to attend. The first row of seats are always empty as this is where the ghosts would sit. The shows were always put on at night and at high volumes as the sound would attract and please the ghosts. Some shows include Chinese opera, dramas, and in some areas, even burlesque shows.[4]
 These acts are better known as "Merry-making".

For rituals, Buddhist and Taoists alike would hold ceremonies to relieve ghosts from suffering, many of them holding ceremonies in the afternoon or at night (as it is believed that the ghosts are released from hell when the sun sets). Altars are built for the deceased and priests and monks alike perform rituals for the benefit of ghosts. Monks and priests often throw rice or other small foods into the air in all directions to distribute them to the ghosts.[5]

During the evening, incense is burnt in front of the doors of each household. Incense stands for prosperity in Chinese culture, so families believe that there is more prosperity in burning more incense.[5] 
During the festival, some shops are closed as they wanted to leave the streets open for the ghosts. In the middle of each street stood an altar of incense with fresh fruit and sacrifices displayed on it.

14 days after the festival, to make sure all the hungry ghosts find their way back to hell, people flow water lanterns and set them outside their houses (a practice mostly found amongst the Japanese). These lanterns are made by setting a lotus flower-shaped lantern on a paper boat. The lanterns are used to direct the ghosts back to the underworld, and when they go out, it symbolizes that they found their way back.

A difference between the two festivals

Chinese Buddhists often say that there is a difference between Ullambana and the traditional Chinese Zhongyuan Jie, usually saying people have mixed superstitions (such as burning joss paper items) and delusional thoughts, rather than think that Ullambana is actually a time of happiness.[citation needed] This time of happiness is sometimes used as a reason for the festival to be called as the Chinese Halloween.


The Ghost Festival in Malaysia is modernized by the 'concert-like' live performances. It has its own characteristics and is not similar to other Ghost Festivals in other countries. The live show is popularly known as 'Koh-tai' by the Hokkien-speaking people, performed by a group of singers, dancers and entertainers on a temporary stage that setup within the residential district. The festival is funded by the residents of each individual residential districts.

Japan: Chūgen

Chūgen, also Ochūgen, is an annual event in Japan on July 15, when people give gifts to one's superiors and acquaintances. One of the three days that form the sangen of Daoism, it is sometimes considered a Zassetsu in the Japanese calendar. Originally it was an annual event for giving gifts to the ancestral spirits.

O-bon, or simply Bon, is the Japanese version of the Ghost Festival. It has since been transformed over time into a family reunion holiday during which people from the big cities return to their home towns and visit and clean their ancestors' graves.

Traditionally including a dance festival, it has existed in Japan for more than 500 years. It is held from of July 13, to July 16, ("Welcoming Obon" and "Farewell Obon" respectively) in the eastern part of Japan (Kantō), and in August in the western part (Kansai).

Vietnam: Tết Trung Nguyên

This festival is viewed as the time for the pardoning of condemned souls who are then released from hell. Those which are "homeless" should be "fed" and appeased with offerings of food. Merits for the living are also earned by the release of birds and fish.

Influenced by Buddhism, this holiday coincides with Vu Lan,the Vietnamese transliteration for Ullambana.

In modern times Vu Lan is also seen as Mother's Day. People with living mothers would give thanks while those without would attend services to pray for the deceased.

3. Celebration of Ullambana


August 30, Sunday, 2009: Celebration of Ullambana at the City of 10,000 Buddhas.

Ullambana is the day for helping those beings who are suffering so that they can obtain liberation.

The Venerable Mahamaudgalyayana, one of the great disciples of the Buddha, was foremost in spiritual powers. When he obtained the six spiritual penetrations, he searched for his departed mother. He discovered that she had fallen into the hells. Although the Venerable Maudgalyayana had great spiritual powers, he could not save his mother. Thereupon he knelt before his teacher, the Buddha, and beseeched the World Honored One to help.

The Buddha explained that his mother was suffering in the hells because of her deep offenses and so the Venerable Maudgalyayana must rely on the united strength of the Sangha of the ten directions in order to save his mother.

The Buddha said, “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month you should make an offering of the finest vegetarian foods and drinks and offer it to the Buddha and the Sangha. By making this offering, the Way-virtue of the high Sanghans of the ten directions will then be able to save your mother.”

The Venerable Mahamaudgalyayana did as the Buddha had instructed. Due to the strength of the greatly virtuous ones of the ten directions, his mother was reborn in the heavens. Since then, the Ullambana festival has become an annual Buddhist celebration and a day upon which anyone can rescue his or her parents of seven lives past.

The Venerable Master Hsuan Hua taught:

"No teaching is apart from Filiality. Apart from filiality, there is no teaching. When the limitless lessons under the sky are summarized, it is just this one lesson. This lesson encompasses limitless learning. Study this lesson to perfection and other lessons will also be completed.”

4. The Buddha Speaks the Ullambana Sutra – THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS


Thus I have heard, at one time, the Buddha dwelt at Shravasti in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary. Mahamaudgalyayana had just obtained the six penetrations and wished to cross over his father and mother to repay their kindness for raising him. Thus, using his Way Eye, he regarded the world and saw that his deceased mother had been born among the hungry ghosts. Having neither food nor drink, she was but skin and bones.

Mahamaudgalyayana felt deep pity and sadness, filled a bowl with food, and went to provid for his mother. She got the bowl, screened it with her left hand, and with her right hand made a fist of food. But before it entered her mouth, it turned into burning coals which could not be eaten. Mahamaudgalyayana called out and wept sorrowfully, and hastened to return to the Buddy to set forth all of this.

The Buddha said, "Your mother's offenses are deep and firmly rooted. You alone do not have enough power. Although your filial sounds move heaven and earth, the heaven spirits, the earth spirits, twisted demons, and those outside the way, Brahmans, and the Four Heavenly King Gods are also without sufficient strength. The awesome spiritual power of the assembled Sangha of the ten directions is necessary for liberation to be attained. I shall now speak a Dharma of rescue which causes all those in difficulty to leave worry and suffering, and to eradicate obstacles from offenses."The Buddha told Maudgalyayana, "The fifteenth day of the seventh month is the Pravarana Day for the assembled Sangha of the ten directions. For the sake of fathers and mothers of seven generations past, as well as for fathers and mothers of the present who are in distress, you should prepare an offering of clean basins full of hundreds of flavors and the five fruits, and other offerings of incense, oil, lamps, candles, beds, and bedding, all the best of the world, to the greatly virtuous assembled Sangha of the ten directions.

"On that day, all the holy assembly, whether in the mountains practicing dhyana samadhi, or obtaininging the four fruits of the Way, or walking beneath trees, or using the independence of the six penetrations to teach and transform Sound Hearers and Those Enlightened to Conditions, or provisionally manifesting as Bhikshus when in fact they are Great Bodhisattvas on the Tenth Ground-all complete with pure precepts and ocean-like virtue of the holy Way--should gather in a great assembly and all of like mind receive the Pravarana food.

"If one thus makes offerings to these Pravarana Sanghans, one's present father and mother, parents of seven generations past, as well as the six kinds of close relatives will escape from the three paths of suffering, and at that time attain release. Their clothing and food will spontaneously appear. If the parents are still alive, they will have wealth and blessings for a hundred years. Parents of seven generations past will be born in the heavens. Transformationally born, they will independently enter the celestial flower light, and experience limitless bliss."

At that time the Buddha commanded the assembled Sangha of the ten directions to recite mantras and vows for the sake of the donor's fumily, for parents of seven generations. After practicing dhyana concentration, the Sangha accepted the food. When they first received the basin, they placed it before the Buddha in the stupa. When the assembled Sangha had finished the mantras and vows they received the food.

At that time the Bhikshu Maudgalyayana and the assembly of Great Bodhisattvas were all extremely delighted and the sorrowful sound of Maudgalyayana's crying ceased. At that time Maudgalyayana's mother obtained liberation from one kalpa of suffering as a hungry ghost. Maudgalyayana addressed the Buddha and said, "This disciple's parents have received the power of the merit and virtue of the Triple Jewel, because of the awesome spiritual power of the assembled Sangha. If in the future the Buddha's disciples practice filiality by offerins up the Ullambana basins, will they be able to cross over their present fathers and mothers as well us those of seven generations past?"

The Buddha replied "Good indeed! I am happy you asked that question. I just wanted to speak about that and now you have also asked about it. Good man, if Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, kings, crown princes, great ministers, great officials, cabinet members, the hundred ministers, and the tens of thousands of citizens wish to practice compassionate filial conduct, for the sake of the parents who bore them, as well as for the sake of fathers and mothers of seven lives past, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, the day of the Buddha's Delight, the day of the Sangha's Pravarana, they all should place hundreds of flavors of foods in the Ullambana basins, and offer them to the Pravarana Sangha of the ten directions. They should vow to cause the length of their present fathers' and mothers' lives to reach a hundred years without illnesses, without sufferings, afflictions, or worries, and also vow to cause seven generations of fathers and mothers to leave the sufferings of the hungry ghosts, to be born among humans and gods, and to have blessings and bliss without limit."

The Buddha told all the good men and good women, "Those disciples of the Buddha who cultivate filial conduct should in thought after thought, constantly recall their present fathers and mothers when making offerings, as well as the fathers and mothers of seven lives past, and for their sakes perform the offering of the Ullambana basin to the Buddha and the Sangha and thus repay the loving kindness of the parents who raised and nourished them."

At that time the Bhikshu Maudgalyayana and the four-fold assembly of disciples, hearing what the Buddha said, practiced it with delight.

End of the Buddha Speaks the Ullambana Sutra.

The Filial Piety Sutra

5. The Buddha Speaks about the Deep Kindness of Parents and the Difficulty in Repaying it. – From BuddhaNet.net


Thus I have heard, at one time, the Buddha dwelt at Shravasti, in the Jeta Grove, in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary, together with a gathering of great Bhikshus, twelve hundred fifty in all and with all of the Bodhisattvas, thirty-eight thousand in all.

At that time, the World Honoured One led the great assembly on a walk toward the south. Suddenly they came upon a pile of bones beside the road. The World Honoured One turned to face them, placed his five limbs on the ground, and bowed respectfully.

Ananda put his palms together and asked the World Honoured One, "The Tathagata is the GreatTeacher of the Triple Realm and the compassionate father of beings of the four kinds of births. He has the respect and reverence of the entire assembly. What is the reason that he now bows to a pile of dried bones?

The Buddha told Ananda, "Although all of you are my foremost disciples and have been members of the Sangha for a long time, you still have not achieved far-reaching understanding. This pile of bones could have belonged to my ancestors from former lives. They could have been my parents in many past lives. That is the reason I now bow to them." The Buddha continued speaking to Ananda, "These bones we are looking at can be divided into two groups. One group is composed of the bones of men, which are heavy and white in color. The other group is composed of the bones of women, which are light and black in color."

Ananda said to the Buddha, "World Honoured One, when men are alive in the world, they adorn their bodies with robes, belts, shoes, hats and other fine attire, so that they clearly assume a male appearance. When women are alive, they put on cosmetics, perfumes, powders, and elegant fragrances to adorn their bodies, so that they clearly assume a female appearance. Yet, once man and women die, all that is left are their bones. How does one tell them apart? Please teach us how you are able to distinguish them."

The Buddha answered Ananda, "If when men are in the world, they enter temples, listen to explanations of Sutras and Vinaya texts, make obeisance to the Triple Gem, and recite the Buddha's names, then when they die, their bones will be heavy and white in colour. Most women in the world have little wisdom and are saturated with emotion. They give birth to and raise children, feeling that this is their duty. Each child relies on its mother's milk for life and nourishment, and that milk is a transformation of the mother's blood. Each child can drink up to one thousand two hundred gallons of its mother's milk. Because of this drain on the mother's body whereby the child takes milk for its nourishment, the mother becomes worn and haggard and so her bones turn black in colour and are light in weight."

When Ananda heard these words, he felt a pain in his heart as if he had been stabbled and wept silently. He said to the World Honoured One, "How can one repay one's mother's kindness and virtue?"

The Buddha told Ananda, "Listen well, and I will explain it for you in detail. The fetus grows in its mother's womb for ten lunar months. What bitterness she goes though while it dwells there! In the first month of pregnancy, the life of the fetus is as precarious as a dewdrop on grass: how likely that it will not last from morning to evening but will evaporate by midday!"

"During the second lunar month, the embryo congeals like curds. In the third month it is like coagulated blood. During the fourth month of pregnancy, the fetus begins to assume a slightly human form. During the fifth month in the womb, the child's five limbs- two legs, two arms, and a head- start to take shape. In the sixth lunar month of pregnancy, the child begins to develop the essences of the six sense faculties: the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. During the seventh month, the three hundred sixty bones and joints are formed, and the eighty-four thousand hair pores are also complete. In the eight lunar month of the pregnancy, the intellect and the nine apertures are formed. By the ninth month the fetus has learned to assimilate the different nutrients of the foods it eats. For example, it can assimilate the essence of peaches, pears, certain plant roots and the five kinds of grains."

"Inside the mother's body, the solid internal organs used for storing hang downward, while the hollow internal organs used for processing, spiral upward. These can be likened to three mountains, which arise from the face of the earth. We can call these mountains Mount Sumeru, Karma Mountain, and Blood Mountain. These analogous mountains come together and form a single range in a pattern of upward peaks and downward valleys. So too, the coagulation of the mother's blood from her internal organs forms a single substance, which becomes the child's food."

"During the tenth month of pregnancy, the body of the fetus is completed and ready to be born. If the child is extremely filial, it will emerge with palms joined together in respect and the birth will be peaceful and auspicious. The mother will remain uninjured by the birth and will not suffer pain. However, if the child is extremely rebellious in nature, to the extent that it is capable of committing the five rebellious acts*, then it will injure its mother's womb, rip apart its mother's heart and liver, or get entangled in its mother's bones. The birth will feel like the slices of a thousand knives or like ten thousand sharp swords stabbing her heart. Those are the agonies involved in the birth of a defiant and rebellious child."

To explain more clearly, there are ten types of kindnesses bestowed by the mother on the child:

The first is the kindness of providing protection and care while the child is in the womb.

The second is the kindness of bearing suffering during the birth.
The third is the kindness of forgetting all the pain once the child has been born.

The fourth is the kindness of eating the bitter herself and saving the sweet for the child.

The fifth is the kindness of moving the child to a dry place and lying in the wet herself.

The sixth is the kindness of suckling the child at her breast, nourishing and bringing up the child.

The seventh is the kindness of washing away the unclean.

The eight is the kindness of always thinking of the child when it has traveled far.

The ninth is the kindness of deep care and devotion.

The tenth is the kindness of ultimate pity and sympathy.


The causes and conditions from accumulated kalpas grows heavy,
Until in this life the child ends up in its Mother's womb.
As the months pass, the five vital organs develop;
Within seven weeks the six sense organs start to grow.
The mother's body becomes as heavy as a mountain;
The stillness and movements of the fetus are like a kalpic wind disaster.
The mother's fine clothes no longer hang properly,
And so her mirror gathers dust.


The pregnancy lasts for ten lunar months
And culminates in difficult labour at the approach of the birth.
Meanwhile, each morning the mother is seriously ill
And during each day drowsy and sluggish.
Her fear and agitation are difficult to describe;
Grieving and tears fill her breast.
She painfully tells her family
That she is only afraid that death will overtake her.


On the day the compassionate mothers bears the child,
Her five organs all open wide,
Leaving her totally exhausted in body and mind.
The blood flows as from a slaughtered lamb;
Yet, upon hearing that the child is healthy,
She is overcome with redoubling joy,
But after the joy, the grief returns,
And the agony wrenches her very insides.


The kindness of both parents is profound and deep,
Their care and devotion never cease.
Never resting, the mother saves the sweet for the child,
And without complain she swallows the bitter herself.
Her love is weighty and her emotion difficult to bear;
Her kindness is deep and so is her compassion.
Only wanting the child to get its fill,
The compassionate mother doesn't speak of her own hunger.


The mother is willing to be wet
So that the child can be dry.
With her two breasts she satisfies its hunger and thirst;
Covering it with her sleeve, she protects it from the wind and cold.
In kindness, her head rarely rests on the pillow,
And yet she does this happily,
So long as the child is comfortable,
The kind mother seeks no solace for herself.


The kind mother is like the great earth.
The stern father is like the encompassing heaven:
One covers from above; the other supports from below.
The kindness of parents is such that
They know no hatred or anger toward their offspring,
And are not displeased, even if the child is born crippled.
After the mother carries the child in her womb and gives birth to it,
The parents care for and protect it together until the end of their days.


Originally, she had a pretty face and a beautiful body,
Her spirit was strong and vibrant.
Her eyebrows were like fresh green willows,
And her complexion would have put a red rose to shame.
But her kindness is so deep she will forgo a beautiful face.
Although washing away the filth injures her constitution,
The kind mother acts solely for the sake of her sons and daughters,
And willingly allows her beauty to fade.


The death of loved ones is difficult to endure.
But separation is also painful.
When the child travels afar,
The mother worries in her village.
From morning until night, her heart is with her child,
And a thousand tears fall from her eyes.
Like the monkey weeping silently in love for her child,
Bit by bit her heart is broken.


How heavy is parental kindness and emotional concern!
Their kindness is deep and difficult to repay.
Willingly they undergo suffering on their child's behalf.
If the child toils, the parents are uncomfortable.
If they hear that he has traveled far,
They worry that at night he will have to lie in the cold.
Even a moment's pain suffered by their sons and daughters.
Will cause the parents sustained distress.


The kindness of parents is profound and important.
Their tender concern never cease.
From the moment they awake each day, their thoughts are with their children.
Whether the children are near or far away, the parents think of them often.
Even if a mother lives for a hundred years,
She will constantly worry about her eighty year old child.
Do you wish to know when such kindness and love ends?
It doesn't even begin to dissipate until her life is over!

The Buddha told Ananda, "When I contemplate living beings, I see that although they are born as human beings, nonetheless, they are ignorant and dull in their thoughts and actions. They don't consider their parents' great kindness and virtue. They are disrespectful and turn their backs on kindness and what is right. They lack humaneness and are neither filial nor compliant."

"For ten months while the mother is with child, she feels discomfort each time she rises, as if she were lifting a heavy burden. Like a chronic invalid, she is unable to keep her food and drink down. When the ten months have passed and the time comes for the birth, she undergoes all kinds of pain and suffering so that the child can be born. She is afraid of her own mortality, like a pig or lamb waiting to be slaughtered. Then the blood flows all over the ground. These are the sufferings she undergo."

"Once the child is born, she saves what is sweet for him and swallows what is bitter herself. She carries the child and nourishes it, washing away its filth. There is no toil or difficulty that she does not willingly undertake for the sake of her child. She endures both cold and heat and never even mentions what she has gone through. She gives the dry place to her child and sleeps in the damp herself. For three years she nourishes the baby with milk, which is transformed from the blood of her own body."

"Parents continually instruct and guide their children in the ways of propriety and morality as the youngsters mature into adults. They arrange marriages for them and provide them with property and wealth or devise ways to get it for them. They take this responsibility and trouble upon themselves with tremendous zeal and toil, never speaking about their care and kindness."

"When a son or daughter become ill, parents are worried and afraid to the point that they may even grow ill themselves. They remain by the child's side providing constant care, and only when the child gets well are the parents happy once again. In this way, they care for and raise their children with the sustained hope that their offspring will soon grow to be mature adults."

"How sad that all too often the children are unfilial in return! In speaking with relatives whom they should honour, the children display no compliance. When they ought to be polite, they have no manners. They glare at those whom they should venerate, and insult their uncles and aunts. They scold their siblings and destroy any family feeling that might have existed among them. Children like that have no respect of sense of propriety."

"Children may be well taught, but if they are unfilial, they will not heed the instructions or obey the rules. Rarely will they rely upon the guidance of their parents. They are contrary and rebellious when interacting with their brothers. They come and go from home without ever reporting to their parents. Their speech and actions are very arrogant and they act on impulse without consulting others. Such children ignore the admonishments and punishments set down by their parents and pay no regard to their uncles' warnings. Yet, at the same time, they are immature and always need to be looked after and protected by their elders."

"As such children grow up, they become more and more obstinate and uncontrollable. They are entirely ungrateful and totally contrary. They are defiant and hateful, rejecting both family and friends. They befriend evil people and under influence, soon adopt the same kinds of bad habits. They come to take what is false to be true."

"Such children may be enticed by others to leave their families and run away to live in others towns, thus denouncing their parents and rejecting their native town. They may become businessmen or civil servants who languish in comfort and luxury. They may marry in haste, and that new bond provides yet another obstruction which prevents them from returning home for long periods of time."

"Or, in going to live in other towns, these children may be incautious and find themselves plotted against or accused of doing evil. They may be unfairly locked up in prison or they may meet with illness and become enmeshed in disasters and hardships, subject to the terrible pain of poverty, starvation, and emaciation. Yet no one there will care for them. Being scorned and disliked by others, they will be abandoned on the street. In such circumstances, their lives may come to an end. No one bothers to try to save them. Their bodies swell up, rot, decay, and are exposed to the sun and blown away by the wind. The bones entirely disintegrate and scatter as these children come to their final rest in the dirt of some other town. These children will never again have a happy reunion with their relatives and kin. Nor will they ever know how their ageing parents mourn for and worry about them. The parents may grow blind from weeping or become sick from extreme grief and despair. Constantly dwelling on the memory of their children, they may pass away, but even when they become ghosts, their souls still cling to this attachment and are unable to get it go."

"Others of these unfilial children may not aspire to learning, but instead become interested in strange and bizarre doctrines. Such children may be villainous, coarse and stubborn, delighting in practices that are utterly devoid of benefit. They may become involved in fights and thefts, setting themselves at odds with the town by drinking and gambling. As if debauchery were not enough, they drag their brothers into it as well, to the further distress of their parents."

"If such children do live at home, they leave early in the morning and do not return until late at night. Never do they ask about the welfare of their parents or make sure that they don't suffer from heat or cold. They do not inquire after their parents' well being in the morning or the evening, nor even on the first and fifteenth of the lunar month. In fact, it never occurs to these unfilial children to ever ask whether their parents have slept comfortably or rested peacefully. Such children are simply not concerned in the least about their parents' well being. When the parents of such children grow old and their appearance becomes more and more withered and emaciated, they are made to feel ashamed to be seen in public and are subjected to abuse and oppression."

"Such unfilial children may end up with a father who is a widower or a mother who is a widow. The solitary parents are left alone in empty houses, feeling like guests in their own homes. They may endure cold and hunger, but no one takes heed of their plight. They may weep incessantly from morning to night, sighing and lamenting. It is only right that children should provide for ageing parents with food and drink of delicious flavours, but irresponsible children are sure to overlook their duties. If they ever do attempt to help their parents in any way, they feel embarrassed and are afraid people will laugh at them. Yet, such offspring may lavish wealth and food on their own wives and children, disregarding the toil and weariness involved in doing so. Other unfilial offspring may be so intimidated by their wives that they go along with all of their wishes. But when appealed to by their parents and elders, they ignore them and are totally unfazed by their pleas."

"It may be the case that daughters were quite filial to their parents before their own marriages, but they may become progressively rebellious after they marry. This situation may be so extreme that if their parents show even the slightest signs of displeasure, the daughters become hateful and vengeful toward them. Yet they bear their husband's scolding and beatings with sweet tempers, even though their spouses are outsiders with other surnames and family ties. The emotional bonds between such couples are deeply entangled, and yet these daughters hold their parents at a distance. They may follow their husbands and move to other towns, leaving their parents behind entirely. They do not long for them and simply cut off all communication with them. When the parents continue to hear no word from their daughters, they feel incessant anxiety. They become so fraught with sorrow that it is as if they were suspended upside down. Their every thought is of seeing their children, just as one who is thirsty longs for something to drink. Their kind thoughts for their offspring never cease."

"The virtue of one's parents' kindness is boundless and limitless. If one has made the mistake of being unfilial, how difficult it is to repay that kindness!"

At that time, upon hearing the Buddha speak about the depth of one's parents kindness, everyone in the Great Assembly threw themselves on the ground and began beating their breasts and striking themselves until their hair pores flowed with blood. Some fell unconscious to the ground, while others stamped their feet in grief. It was a long time before they could control themselves. With loud voices they lamented, "Such suffering! What suffering! How painful! How painful! We are all offenders. We are criminals who have never awakened, like those who travel in a dark night. We have just now understood our offenses and our very insides are torn to bits. We only hope that the World Honoured One will pity and save us. Please tell us how we can repay the deep kindness of our parents!"

At the time the Tathagata used eight kinds of profoundly deep and pure sounds to speak to the assembly. "All of you should know this. I will now explain for you the various aspects of this matter."

"If there were a person who carries his father on his left shoulder and his mother on his right shoulder until his bones were ground to powder by their weight as they bore through to the marrow, and if that person were to circumambulate Mount Sumeru for a hundred thousand kalpas until the blood that flowed out covered his ankles, that person would still not have repaid the deep kindness of his parents."

"If there were a person who, during the period of a kalpa fraught with famine and starvation, sliced the flesh off his own body to feed his parents and did this as many times as there are dust motes as he passed through hundreds of thousand of kalpas, that person still would not have repaid the deep kindness of his parents."

"If there were a person who, for the sake of this parents, took a sharp knife and cut his eyes and made an offering of them to the Tathagatas, and continued to do that for hundreds of thousands of kalpas, that person still would not have repaid the deep kindness of his parents."

"If there a person who, for the sake of this father and mother, used a sharp knife to cut out his heart and liver so that the blood flowed and covered the ground and if he continued in this way to do this for hundreds of thousands of kalpas, never once complaining about the pain, that person still would not have repaid the deep kindness of his parents."

"If there were a person who, for the sake of his parents, took a hundred thousand swords and stabbed his body with them all at once such that they entered one side and came out the other, and if he continued in this way to do this for hundreds of thousands of kalpas, that person still would not have repaid the deep kindness of his parents."

"If there were a person who, for the sake of his parents, beat his bones down to the marrow and continued in this way to do this way to do this for hundreds of thousands of kalpas, that person still would not have repaid the deep kindness of his parents."

"If there were a person who, for the sake of this parents, swallowed molten iron pellets and continued in this way to do this for hundreds of thousands of kalpas, that person still would not have repaid the deep kindness of his parents."

At that time, upon hearing the Buddha speak about the kindness and virtue of parents, everyone in the Great Assembly wept silent tears and felt searing pain in their hearts. They reflected deeply, simultaneously brought forth shame and said to the Buddha, "World Honoured One, how can we repay the deep kindness of our parents?"

The Buddha replied, "Disciples of the Buddha, if you wish to repay your parents' kindness, write out this Sutra on their behalf. Recite this Sutra on their behalf. Repent of transgressions and offenses on their behalf. For the sake of your parents, make offerings to the Triple Gem. For the sake of your parents, hold the precept of pure eating. For the sake of your parents, practise giving and cultivate blessings. If you are able to do these things, you are being a filial child. If you do not do these things, you are a person destined for the hells."

The Buddha told Ananda, "If a person is not filial, when his life ends and his body decays, he will fall into, the great Avici Hell. This great hell is eighty thousand yojanas in circumference and is surrounded on all four sides by iron walls. Above, it is covered over by nets, and the ground is also made of iron. A mass of fire burns fiercely, while thunder roars and bright bolts of lightning set things afire. Molten brass and iron fluids are poured over the offenders' bodies. Brass dogs and iron snakes constantly spew out fire and smoke which burns the offenders and broils their flesh and fat to a pulp."

"Oh, such suffering! Difficult to take, difficult to bear! There are poles, hooks, spears, and lances, iron halberds and iron chains, iron hammers and iron awls. Wheels of iron knives rain down from the air. The offender is chopped, hacked, or stabbed, and undergoes these cruel punishments for kalpas without respite. Then they enter the remaining hells, where their heads are capped with fiery basins, while iron wheels roll over their bodies, passing both horizontally and vertically until their guts are ripped open and their bones and flesh are squashed to a pulp. Within a single day, they experience myriad births and myriad deaths. Such sufferings are a result of committing the five rebellious acts and of being unfilial when one was alive."

At that time, upon hearing the Buddha speak about the virtue of parents' kindness, everyone in the Great Assembly wept sorrowfully and addressed the Tathagata, "On this day, how can we repay the deep kindness of our parents?"

The Buddha said, "Disciples of the Buddha, if you wish to repay their kindness, then for the sake of your parents, print this Sutra. This is truly repaying their kindness. If one can print one copy, then one will get to see one Buddha. If one can print ten copies, then one will get to see ten Buddhas. If one can print one hundred copies, then one will get to see one hundred Buddhas. If one can print one thousand copies, then one will get to see one thousand Buddhas. If one can print ten thousand copies, then one will get to see ten thousand Buddhas. This is the power derived when good people print Sutras. All Buddhas will forever protect such people with their kindness and their parents can be reborn in the heavens to enjoy all kinds of happiness, leaving behind the sufferings of the hells."

At that time, Ananda and the rest of the Great Assembly the asuras, garudas, kinnaras, mahoragas, people, non-people, and others, as well as the gods, dragons, yakshas, gandarvas, wheel-turning sage kings, and all the lesser kings, felt all the hairs on their bodies stand on their ends when they heard what the Buddha had said. They wept grievously and were unable to stop themselves. Each one of them made a vow saying, "All of us, from now until the exhaustion of the bounds of the future, would rather that our bodies be pulverised into small particles of dust for a hundred thousand kalpas, than to ever go against the Tathagata's sagely teachings. We would rather that our tongues be plucked out, so that they would extend for a full yojana, and that for a hundred thousand kalpas an iron plough run over them; we would rather have a hundred thousand bladed wheel roll freely over bodies, than to ever go against the Tathagata's sagely teachings. We would rather that our bodies be ensnared in an iron net for a hundred thousand kalpas, than to ever go against the Tathagata's sagely teachings. We would rather that for a hundred thousand kalpas our bodies be chopped, hacked, mutilated, and chiseled into ten million pieces, so that our skin, flesh, joints, and bones would be completely disintegrated, than to ever go against the Tathagata's sagely teachings."

At that time, Ananda, with a dignity and a sense of peace, rose from his seat and asked the Buddha, "World Honoured One, what name shall this Sutra have when we accord with it and uphold it?"

The Buddha told Ananda, "This Sutra is called THE SUTRA ABOUT THE DEEP KINDNESS OF PARENTS AND THE DIFFICULTY OF REPAYING IT. Use this name when you accord with it and uphold it."

At that time, the Great Assembly, the gods, humans, asuras, and the others, hearing what the Buddha has said, were completely delighted. They believed the Buddha's teaching, received it, and offered up their conduct in accord with it. Then they bowed respectfully to the Buddha, before withdrawing.

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