Great Compassion Repentance Service during the Ullambamna Festival

Each year during the period from the 2nd to the 9th of the Seventh Month of the Lunar Year, Po Lin Monastery will conduct the Ullambamna service. Its origin can be traced back to a story that originally came from India. In the Ullambamna Sutra, the Buddha instructs his chief disciple, Maudgalyayana on how to obtain liberation for his mother, who had been reborn into the lower realm of the Hungry Ghosts, by making food offerings to the sangha on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. Here is the reason.

According to Buddhist tradition, the result of making merit would depend very much on how the alms-receiver is. If we offer alms to a monk, the purer and more virtuous the monk is, the more merit we will receive. Therefore, Buddhists strongly believe that we would gain even more merit if we offer food collectively to a group of monks and nuns who just complete the 3-month period of rainy retreat from the 15th of the Fourth Month to the 15th of the Seventh Month. It helps deliver all sentient beings from sufferings.

Today, the exact same ritual that the Buddha asked for Mahamaudgalyayana to do is well practiced in many parts of Asia. In Po Lin Monastery, the main activities of the Ullambamna service include, chanting of the Ullambamna Sutra, worship and repentance as well as distribution of food to suffering beings. The purpose is to help render parents of the present world longevity, free from illness and defilements and worries; and to help parents of the previous seven lives free from suffering of the Hungry Spirits destiny, and to be reborn in human or heaven realms, to enjoy endless joy and pleasure. In this sense, the repentance service expresses people’s gratitude towards and their remembrance of our parents, ancestors and all sentient beings, who could have been our parents in our past uncountable lifetimes. Its spirit registers with the traditional Chinese doctrine of filial piety. Its influence is immense and far-reaching.