Buddhist celebration cultivates gratitude for parental love

August 12, 2022 - 14:31
The Vu Lan Festival is a gentle reminder every year for those who have lost sight of being grateful to appreciate their families

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A mother pins a pink rose on her daughter's shirt. During Vu Lan Festival, people whose parents are alive use a red or pink rose, while those whose parents have passed away wear a white rose. VNS Photo Minh Phương

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Vân Nguyễn

In the front yard of a pagoda, full of bonsai and Buddhist statues, Venerable Quảng Tịnh in his brown Buddhist Kasaya guides followers through a quiet tea meditation.

The session is part of a series of activities held at Linh Ứng Pagoda, located on Trương Định Street in Hà Nội, in celebration of Vu Lan Festival, a big holiday in Buddhism in honour and appreciation of parents.

“The meditation helps people be mindful, cherish the present moment and reflect on their parents,” said Venerable Thích Quảng Tịnh who is based in HCM City's Giác Ngộ Pagoda and has been invited to Hà Nội to perform the sessions.

Ringing the bell to help practitioners return to their conscious breathing, the monk calmly instructs them to be mindful and present during all aspects of the tea ritual, including making the tea, enjoying its scent and drinking the tea.

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 “The Vu Lan Festival is a gentle reminder every year for those who have lost sight of being grateful to appreciate their families,” he said. 

“Vietnamese people have a tradition of cherishing their ancestors and families.”

He said: “This beautiful mindset is an integral part of Vietnamese culture. Unfortunately, with globalisation and the rising tendency to put oneself and sensory pleasure first, this custom is at risk of being eroded away.

“This year, I’m overjoyed to see celebrations taking place all over the streets of Hà Nội and other places. Many areas host week-long celebrations of the Vu Lan festival. It is an effective way to spread the message of the festival,” he said.

Vu Lan (Ullambana) Festival, also known as the Amnesty of Unquiet Spirits, is held during the seventh lunar month as this is also considered to be the month lost souls are in the search of mercy. It has become one of the largest annual traditional festivals in Việt Nam that is celebrated throughout the country.

The origin of the festival is explained by the legend of Maudgalyayana (known as Muc Kien Lien in Vietnam), a chief disciple of Sakyamuni Buddha, who was unable to alleviate the suffering of his mother in the realm of hungry ghosts.

He was told that the only way to deliver his mother from the pains of suffering is to rely upon the strength of monastics of all directions in their cultivation of meritorious virtues.

The merits could liberate the deceased from the three suffering realms and allow them to enjoy a life of abundance, good fortune and longevity. Therefore, by observing the practice, all Buddhists can deliver their parents from the miseries of the three suffering realms.

From this, many Buddhist countries have developed their own custom of offering food, clothing, and other items to hungry spirits in the seventh lunar month.

This festival has been widely celebrated in Vietnam to express respect, love and honour towards parents.

On this day, people visit pagodas and temples to worship ghosts and hungry spirits through offerings of food, clothes and other items and release animals like birds or fish.

​65-year-old Phạm Thị Yến from Hà Nội said the session at Linh Ứng Pagoda left her with emotions.

“The festival centres around how children should be grateful for the sacrifices their parents have made for them. I am delighted to participate in such an event.”

On this day, people use flowers as a way to express their gratitude to their parents. Red roses are pinned on those who have parents with them and white roses for those whose parents have passed away.

“I am very happy because my parents are still here with me, so I was able to pin roses to their shirts as an expression of gratitude to them.”

Đào Thị Bích Chiên, 20 years old from Hưng Yên Province, said: “The rose represents the gift of our parents’ presence with us. Not only that, it also means they will always be by our side, supporting us.”

She said the venerable’s lectures about parental love are “thought-provoking” and mean a lot to listeners.

“The Venerable’s lectures are very insightful and special. They really touched me. Reflecting on his words, I personally think that I have already expressed affection for my parents verbally. Although I’d like to do it more often, I think that telling your parents you love them from time to time is still better than doing nothing.”

“I am very moved by this festival. I hope the following Vu Lan season will continue to gather such a large crowd. It reminds me to spend more time with my parents while I am still able to,” she said. VNS