Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Hungry Ghosts and the Living

Sangha Day Hsi Lai Temple

According to Chinese belief, the 7th month of the lunar year is called the Ghost Month, and the 15th day of the 7th month is called Ghost Day, when the realms of Heaven, Hell and the living are opened up to each other; and it is on Ghost Day when the Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated.

Although this festival is claimed to spring from Buddhism’s canonical scriptures, many of the festival’s aspects, which include ritualistic food offerings and the burning of papier-maché replicas of such goods as cars and iPads, are rooted in Chinese folk tradition, which emphasize showing filial piety to one’s ancestors even after the latter are long gone.

Such traditions have practical applications as far as relations between the spirit and living worlds are concerned. Although the spirits of the dead can become hungry ghosts if they killed, stole or engaged in sexual misconduct while they were alive, these spirits can also become hungry ghosts if they are neglected by their descendants – thus the need to perform the proper rituals.

So, given that the ghosts, which can possess or otherwise cause misfortune among the living, have free rein during this period, what can people do to avoid the occasional hungry ghost? Limiting one’s activities at night is a good idea, since the ghosts are more active at night than they are by day. Such activities include shaving, cutting one’s hair and leaving one’s home.

Moving house and getting a new car (or other vehicle) is also not a good idea at this time, as the chances of bumping into a ghost are higher by doing these. Staying away from walls is also a good idea, since ghosts love to stay near these.

And, as with all human ventures related to the dead – think of the businesses and industries that benefited from the creation of the tombs of the pharaohs, such as stoneworkers for the pyramids and craftsmen for the items buried with the pharaohs, for example – the Festival is good business.
In Singapore, walking tours will be organized and held in Chinatown which will enable the participants – locals, tourists and expatriates alike – to take part in the rituals and view the festivities. Some of the performers also say they get more bookings during the Festival period.

And, of course, there are all the craftsmen who create the papier-maché goods as well.
The Hungry Ghost Festival isn’t just for the dead, after all.

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