HCM CITY Throngs of worshippers streamed into temples across the city on Wednesday and yesterday to pay their respects to Buddha, chant sutras, listen to monks speak and pray for the welfare of their parents on Buddhist filial piety day.
The festival day is called Vu Lan Bon, the Vietnamese translation of the concept of Ulambana, a Sanskrit term used to describe the untying of ropes that are used to hang people as a punishment for sins they have committed.
According to scholars, the festival is an occasion for children to do good deeds to neutralise any punishment their dead forebears and living parents have received for wrongful actions.
Falling on the 14th and 15th of the seventh lunar month, the festival and the month has long been associated with filial piety, in which children reflect on their behaviour with the aim of improving.
On these days, people visit temples during the day, give alms and food to the poor, and set free caged fish or birds, while at home they prepare offerings of fruit and vegetarian food to the Buddha and to their ancestors.
During this period, Buddhists do not eat meat and chant sutras every day since the first day of the month is in commemoration of their dead parents and they must attribute merit to them.
At Giac Ngo Pagoda in District 10 s Nguyen Chi Thanh Street, hundreds of Buddhists this week crammed into a narrow Buddhist hall to listen to venerable monks preaching the significance of the day and how to change the karma of their parents.
They reviewed the example of Muc Kien Lien (Maudgalyayana), one of the Buddha s disciples who visited hell to save his doomed mother the story from which the festival derives, according to the Ulambana sutra.
"Sutras say that the father and mother are two buddhas at home that should be revered," said Dr Ven. Thich Nhat Tu, abbot of the pagoda and vice rector of Viet Nam Buddhist University, adding that Buddhism stresses filial piety when the parents are alive.
Tu said that children should cater to parents both physically and mentally, inherit their spirit and admonish them to be good and stay away from evil.
However, the most common way Buddhists pray for their parents is to provide social relief, he said, noting that his pagoda had donated up to 25 tonnes of rice to the needy, which had been contributed by Buddhists from the beginning of the month.
The Buddhists shirts were pinned with red, pink or white roses, which represented living parents, a dead parent and two dead parents, respectively, so they could feel the "sacred presence of their parents, in this life" and "how much we re made up of parents blood and tears".
In an upstairs room, children of all ages visited their deceased parents and grandparents, who were resting in peace in small rectangular boxes.
They often came with families, from five to 10 members each, cleaning the boxes of their forebears and arranging fruit offerings for them.
"It s a must for any filial Buddhist to visit dead parents on this day," said Nguyen Tan Nhan, 42, who lives in District 10 s Ba Hat Street.
He sat still in front of the box containing the remains of his cremated mother for almost an hour until the incense burned down.
"Lots of memories about her flash back to me, which almost makes me shed tears," Nhan said, adding that he was broken-hearted remembering how his mother suffered from gangrene that was diabetes-related. Nhan said that he visited his mother every year since she passed away five years ago, and his brothers and sisters took turns to visit her during the festival.
At District 5 s Thien Ton Pagoda, Buddhists came in from the early morning on Wednesday until the peak time in the evening, occupying the entire space.
"Since the beginning of the month, I came here every evening to chant the Ulambana sutra to pray for my parents health and longevity and to do penitence for all of their wrong-doings," said Quach Thi Loan, 25, a food-seller in District 10.
Vo Trung Tin, 44, who works at District 5 s Import-Export Company, said he had chanted the sutra every year since he was 18 and now fully understood its meaning and knew some parts of it by heart.
Tin said he was too busy to go to the pagoda every evening like his wife and 10-year-old son, but he has never missed the filial piety festival as well as other important Buddhist days.
"I come here to seek peace in my mind and to know whether my deeds in the past were right or wrong," said La Nhan Thien, 73, a retiree who once worked at District 5 s Department of Education. VNS