Ullambana Sutta

1. The Yu-lan-p'en Sutra
Thus have I heard.

Once, the Buddha resided in the kingdom of Sravasti,among the Jetavana trees in the garden of Anathapindika. The Great Mu-chien-lien began to obtain the six penetrations. Desiring to save his parents to repay the kindness they had shown him in nursing and feeding him, he used his divine eye to observethe worlds.

He saw his departed mother reborn among the hungry ghosts: she never saw food or drink, and her skin hung off her bones.

2. Mu-lien took pity, filled his bowl with rice, and sent it to his mother as an offering. When his mother received the bowl of rice, she used her left hand to guard the bowl and her right hand to gather up the rice, but before the food entered her mouth it changed into flaming coals, so in the end she could not eat.

Mu-lien cried out in grief and wept tears. He rushed back to tell the Buddha and laid out everything as it has happened.

3. The Buddha said, "The roots of your mother's sins are deep and tenacious. It is not within your power as a single individual to do anything about it. Even though the fame of your filial devotion moves heaven and earth, still spirits of heaven and spirits of earth, harmful demons and masters of the outer paths, monks and the four spirit kings of heaven cannot do anything about it.

You must rely on the mighty spiritual power of the assembled monks of the ten directions in order to obtain her deliverance.

4. I shall now preach for you the method of salvation, so that all beings in trouble may leave sadness and suffering, and the impediments caused by sin be wiped away."

The Buddha told Mu-lien, "On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when the assembled monks of the ten directions release themselves, for the sake of seven generations of ancestors, your current parents, and those in distress, you should gather food of the one hundred flavors and five kinds of fruit, basins for washing and rinsing, incense, oil lamps and candles, and mattresses and beđing; take the sweetest, prettiest things in the world and place them in a bowl and offer it to the assembled monks, those of great virtue of the ten directions.

5. On this day, the entire assembly of saints - those in the mountains practicing meditation and concentration; those who have attained the fruit of the four paths; those who practice pacing under trees; those who use the six penetrations to be free; those who convert others, hear preaching, and awaken to causality; and the great men, those bodhisattvas of the ten stages who provisionally manifest the form of a bhiksu - all of those who are part of the great assembly shall with one mind receive the patra [bowl] of rice.

[A monk who] possesses fully the purity of the precepts and the Way of the assembly of saints - his virtue is vast indeed.

6. When you make offerings to these kinds of monks as they release themselves, then your current parents, seven generations of ancestors, and six kinds of relatives will obtain release from suffering in the three evil paths of rebirth; at that moment they will be liberated and clothed and fed naturally.

If one's parents are living, they will have one hundred years of joy and happiness. If they are deceased, then seven generations of ancestors will be reborn in the heavens; born freely through transformation, they will enter into the light of heavenly flowers and receive unlimited joy."

7. Then the Buddha decreed that the assembled monks of the ten directions should first chant prayers on behalf of the family of the donor for seven generations of ancestors, that they should practice meditation and concentrate their thoughts, and that they should then receive the food.

In receiving the bowls, they should first place them in front of the Buddha's stupa; when the assembled monks have finished chanting prayers, they may then individually partake of the food.

8. At this time the bhiksu Mu-lien and the assembly of great bodhisattvas rejoiced. Mu-lien's sorrowful tears ended and the sound of his crying died out.

Then, on that very day, Mu-lien's mother gained release from a kalpa of suffering as a hungry ghost.

Then Mu-lien told the Buddha, "The parents who gave birth to me, your disciple, are able to receive the power of the merit of the Three Jewels because of the mighty spiritual power of the assembly of monks. But all of the future disciples of the Buddha who practice filial devotion, may they or may they not also present yu-lan bowls as required to save their parents as well as seven generations of ancestors?"

The Buddha said, "Excellent! This question pleases me very much. It is just what I would like to preach, so listen well!

9. My good sons, if there are bhiksus, bhiksunis, kings of states, princes, sons of kings, great ministers, counselors, dignitaries of the three ranks, any government officials, or the majority of common people who practice filial compassion, then on behalf of their current parents and the past seven generations of ancestors, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, the day on which Buddhas rejoice, the day on which monks release themselves, they must all place food and drink of the one hundred flavors inside the yu-lan bowl and donate it to monks of the ten directions who are releasing themselves.

When the prayers are finished, one's present parents will attain long life, passing one hundred years without sickness and without any of the torments of suffering, while seven generations of ancestors will leave the sufferings of hungry ghosthood, attaining rebirth among gods and humans and blessings without limit."
The Buddha told all of the good sons and good daughters.

10. "Those disciples of the Buddha who practice filial devotion must in every moment of consciousness maintain the thought of their parents, including seven generations of ancestors. Each year on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, out of filial devotion and compassionate consideration for the parents who gave birth to them and for seven generations of ancestors, they should always make a yu-lan bowl and donate it to the Buddha and Sangha to repay the kindness bestowed by parents in nurturing and caring for them. All disciples of the Buddha must carry out this law."

Upon hearing what the Buddha preached, the bhiksu Mu-lien and the four classes of disciples rejoiced and put it into practice.

Notes by Minh Quang < BuddhistI@aol.com> :
Today is the Vu-lan festival, a Buddhist ceremony, but also celebrated by lay people in East Asia as the hungry ghost festival (lễ cô hồn). Ullambana (Vu lan bồn) is also celebrated in other Buddhist countries.

In Vietnam and China, we used to chant the Yu-lan-p'en Sutra (Kinh Vu-lan-bồn) which had many different translations, although the most popular was the one in Vietnamese poetic style of "two seven, one six, one eight syllables" (song thất lục bát) which most of us have heard at least a few times.

The Chinese translation was not difficult to find, and usually said to be first translated from Sanscrit to Chinese in the third century by Dharmaraksa (505-313) [Ðàm Ma La Sát, hoặc Pháp Hộ) who originated from Tun-huang (Ðôn Hoàng) and has translated 210 works (or 175 accordingto Chinese source) into Chinese, including the Lotus Sutra (Kinh Diệu Pháp Liên Hoa) and the Ullambana Sutra (Kinh Vu Lan Bồn) [cf Lịch Ðại Tam Bảo Ký].

Source:  www.budsas.org                  Jun 5, 2006