Ullambana – Saving Damned Souls

UllambanaReligious legends offer some of the most interesting stories based upon morality. Buddhism has its fair share of interesting sutras and the Ullambana Sutra is one such story that is not only entertaining but forms the basis of a Buddhist festival known as the Ghost Festival. The Ullambana Sutra is about a Buddhist follower feeling particularly tormented because his mother is being tortured in Hades (or the lower realm). The Buddhist follower then makes his way into the lower realm in order to find his mother and give her food – one of the tortures his mother is being subjected to involves starvation – he eventually find her and is unable to give her food because it constantly bursts into flames before she is able to eat it.

After this, the man appeals to the Buddha in order to find a way to save his mother from this wretched torment. He is instructed to pray with monks at fairly specific intervals whilst fasting. Using this method he is able to free his mother from torment – the story itself teaches Buddhists about the values inherent in filial piety. The story itself is interesting because it is actually about saving a soul from the deepest reaches of hell (or Hades). It is a strong fable about the power of faith and dedication. It is a widely spread fable and has deep seeded roots in festival events that are dedicated to leaving charitable offerings for spirits in order to allow them to escape from Hades and into salvation. Quite a noble cause for those of us who are spiritually inclined – although, Buddhists are known for their generosity.
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Although some cultures with Buddhism as a predominant religion claim that the Ghost Festival predates the fable – the Chinese folk religion lay a great claim to being the originator of the festival rather than Buddhism – Ullambana is a celebrated Sutra that is not only relevant to a great lesson in morality but offers entertainment. The story itself would form the basis of a great novel without having any religious connotation (besides that of hell). While the story may alter depending on which country (that practices Buddhism) is responsible for proliferating it, the basic tenements of the story remain unchained. The Ullambana Sutra is actually thought to have been written after the death of the Buddha and is a story inspired by followers after the initial creation of Buddhism as a widely followed religion.