Translator: CKtalon Editor: CKtalon
Fangzheng smiled. “I already told you a long time ago. In China, Buddhism and Daoism have both fused with the culture over long periods of time. Both religions have learned from each other’s advantages and discarded their disadvantages, resulting in the present day Buddhism and Daoism. The core point of both of them is to make this world have more good and less evil.
“It is said that these festivals originate from the Daoist religion’s three days on which the Three Offices tour the lower realm.
“The Daoist religion believes this day is the day for the Office of Earth’s Emperor of Purity Void Who Liberates from Faults. To put it simply, it’s a day when a high official descends to observe the people and correct the wrongly judged or to redress any injustices. On this day, Daoists chant sutras to receive the descent of the Office of Earth to liberate the evil ghosts, also performing rites for our ancestors.
“And corresponding to that is what the common people know as the month of the ghost where the gates to hell are opened, which happens in the middle of the seventh lunar month.
“Commoners believe the entire seventh lunar month is the ghost month. But the gates actually open on the first and close on the fifteenth of the month. During this time, after experiencing the silence of spring and summer, the ghosts can turn active again. This is why it’s described as the opening of the gates to hell. Ghosts travel the night as they go helter-skelter. To prevent any harm to humans, people organize various activities to placate the ghosts. Similarly, on this day, the ancestors return from the underworld. Their descendants receive their ancestors and honor them. This point is similar to Tomb-Sweeping Day.
“As for the name ‘Yulanpen Festival,’ it comes from Buddhism. In the Buddhist classic, the Yulanpen Sutra, there is such a story:
“After one of the ten main disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha, Maudgalyayana, achieved Abhijñā, he wished to thank his parents for bringing him up. He used his newfound powers to search for his deceased parents. In the end, Maudgalyayana found his mother as a preta in the hungry ghost realm, suffering. She was just bones and looked nothing like a human. Maudgalyayana felt immense sadness and tried to gift her a bowl of rice. Unfortunately as a preta, she was unable to eat the rice as it was transformed into burning coal. It burnt her mouth and made her suffer excruciating pain.
“Helpless, Maudgalyayana sought the help of Buddha to save his mother. 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… On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when the assembled monks of the ten directions release themselves… You should gather food of one hundred flavors… and offer it to the assembled monks, those of great virtue of the ten directions.’
“Therefore Maudgalyayana did according to the Buddha’s advice and extricated his mother from the retribution of suffering as a hungry ghost.
“Buddha also preached, ‘All disciples of the Buddha who practice filial devotion must in every moment of consciousness maintain the thought of their parents and 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 yü-lan bowl and donate it to the Buddha and Shangha to repay the kindness bestowed by parents in nurturing and caring for them. All disciples of the Buddha must carry out this law.’
“This resulted in the the Yulanpen Festival. It so coincided that all three events happen on the fifteenth of the seventh month and that they all honor one’s ancestors to spread the culture of filial piety.
“As such, the so-called Middle Prime Festival is a term from Daoism, while the Yulanpen Festival is a term from Buddhism. As for the Hungry Ghost Festival, that is the term used by commoners.
“Daoism has the Middle Prime Festival while Buddhism has the Yulanpen Festival. What about the common people? When there are so many festivals that it turns complicated and they clash, some parts get forgotten and abandoned or misconstrued. Over time, they end up fusing together. Therefore, the particularities of this festival are no longer different from one religion to another in the commoners’ eyes.”
Red Boy, who was listening, did not say a word. The Yulanpen Festival was a huge festival in his world. In his world, it was a day when the gates to hell were truly open. Tens of thousands of ghosts would climb out of the chasms as heavenly deities and Buddhas would meet to do a sending for the souls. It was a grand sight! However, as they were from different worlds, he had nothing better to say.
“I see. Master, then what will we be doing that day?” asked Lone Wolf out of curiosity.
Fangzheng said, “You will know when it comes. I believe it’s tomorrow.” Just as Fangzheng finished his sentence, the village accountant, Yang Ping, came up the mountain. The moment he entered, he pulled Fangzheng to the side to discuss something. He left immediately after he finished.
“Master, why did Patron Yang come?” asked Squirrel curiously.
“He came to talk about tomorrow’s Yulanpen Festival. How’s the tiny lotus flower I got you to carve?” asked Fangzheng as he diverted the topic.
Squirrel shrank his neck back in embarrassment when he heard that. He left to carve his lotus flower without a fuss. When Fangzheng saw this, he shook his head helplessly. Squirrel was hyperactive by nature. It was indeed difficult to force him to sit silently to carve. It was unknown how long his brief period of enthusiasm would last.
The next day, Fangzheng left the mountain early in the morning. Monkey followed closely behind. As for Red Boy, he had no interest in joining them down the mountain.
At the foot of the mountain, Fangzheng saw that the village was already beginning to put up decorations. There was an offering table at every family’s door. Behind the offering tables, there were black lines drawn with ashes. The lines separated the yards from the offering tables.
“Master, what’s that for?” asked Monkey when he saw that.
Fangzheng explained. “There are various reasons for that according to the people. These ashes are equivalent to the ash at the bottom of a wok. It prevents ghosts from entering. Since the gates to hell are opening tonight, they have to prevent malicious ghosts from entering even if they are taking the opportunity to honor their ancestors.”
Monkey was enlightened as he scratched his head and asked, “Master, this isn’t the first time you mention ghosts. Are there really ghosts in this world?”
Fangzheng explained. “Ghosts are in one’s heart. It you are upright, the ghost in your heart is your ancestor who will protect you your entire life. If you aren’t upright, the ghost in your heart will be a malicious ghost. You will slowly walk towards the chasm of evil and be doomed for all eternity.”
Monkey wore a puzzled look as he did not understand a thing.
Fangzheng also had no intention to explain the matter clearly with any more words. Certain things would be understood when the time came. It was pointless to explain further.
The offering tables of the villagers were still empty at this time. Placing the offerings outside early on such a hot day would only expedite the spoiling process.
At all crossroads of the village, circles had been drawn with white ash. Some were bigger, while others were smaller. Regardless, they were all concentrated at the crossroads. When the duo came, Sun Qiancheng was in the middle of bringing Mengmeng around to draw circles. Both of them looked extremely serious, and they failed to notice Fangzheng’s arrival.
Mengmeng held an ash bowl as her eyes sparkled. She cocked her head and asked, “Daddy, why are the Uncles all drawing circles?”
Monkey looked at Fangzheng at nearly the same moment. Fangzheng smiled and looked forward to indicate Monkey to listen for himself.
“These circles represent the graves of our ancestors. Each circle should have a hole in it. This represents the entrance to the tomb. Also, this entrance should be in the direction of the actual tomb. Tonight, when we burn paper money for Grandma and the rest, we will be burning it here. Mengmeng, were Grandpa and Grandma good to you?” asked Sun Qiancheng.
Mengmeng was still not very aware of life and death. She cocked her head and thought for a moment before saying, “They were very good to me.”
“That’s right, so tonight, you will be burning paper money with me, got it? We must show Grandpa and Grandma how filial their obedient granddaughter is,” said Sun Qiancheng.
Mengmeng nodded immediately and said, “Alright, alright. Mengmeng will be coming too!” The little girl jumped as the ash bowl in her hand trembled, with some ashes spilling out. A gust of wind blew it all away.
Monkey had gone forward out of curiosity, and by a stroke of bad luck, the ashes blasted him right in the face! He did not manage to dodge on time.
At that moment, a pair of eyes blocked Monkey’s eyes and warded off the ashes. However, his face was still left covered in ash. Even his fur had turned white.
The commotion made Sun Qiancheng look up. When he saw Fangzheng, he hurriedly stood up and smiled. “Venerable Fangzheng, why are you here? Aiyah, I nearly forgot. It’s the middle of the seventh month. I’ll thank you for your troubles today.”
Fangzheng pressed his palms together. “Amitabha, this is what This Penniless Monk ought to do.”
Sun Qiancheng added. “Venerable One, I mentioned it before. Our family didn’t grow up here. We moved here from somewhere else so other than my parents, my grandparents are not buried here. To be honest, I have no idea where the exact location of their burial grounds is. Seeing that it’s the fifteenth of the seventh month…” With that said, Sun Qiancheng looked at the white circle on the ground. The reason why he chose to ask Fangzheng was because Fangzheng had solved his problem about honoring his ancestors during Tomb-Sweeping Day. He had learned how to honor all his ancestors then. Today, he had actually been planning on going up the mountain to ask if Fangzheng didn’t come down. Since he bumped into him now, he naturally asked for help.
Fangzheng said, “Patron, this is easily resolved as well. All you need to do is aim the entrance of the tomb to the west. As the saying goes, ‘riding a crane towards the west.’ There’s definitely no mistake if you point it toward the west.”
Sun Qiancheng’s eyes lit up immediately as he hurriedly thanked Fangzheng. “Thank you for your guidance, Venerable One. To be honest, this problem has been troubling me for quite a while. I never knew it would be so simple.”
With that said, Sun Qiancheng quickly squatted down and drew a huge circle with its hole aimed toward the west.
After bidding Sun Qiancheng farewell, Fangzheng brought Monkey to the only store in the village. The store had changed owners a few times and at present, the store owner was Chen Jin. Back then, Chen Jin wanted to make Fangzheng’s life difficult, but Fangzheng then saved his entire family during a fire. He was immensely grateful towards Fangzheng because of that. Later on, Chen Jin’s house was rebuilt, but he decided that he did not want to do farming work again. Therefore, he had bought the store and sat there every day. He had placed two tables there and played cards with others while chatting to well away the time.
However, there was no one playing cards at Chen Jin’s store today. This was because the store’s interior was piled with all sorts of paper money. Ever since Fangzheng had told them that the currency of the underworld was paper money and not golden ingots, no one in the village burned those things again. Therefore Chen Jin only sold yellow paper money. It was placed inside in bundles.
Chen Jin sat at the door playing with his cell phone when he heard a sound. He looked up and saw Fangzheng. He hurriedly stood up and smiled. “Venerable Fangzheng, you came? What do you need? Take anything you want. It’s all on the house.”
Fangzheng shook his head. “This Penniless Monk was poor in the past, so he had to accept everyone’s generosity. Now that the monastery is doing well with incense offerings, how can This Penniless Monk take things for nothing? The money still needs to be paid.”
“Venerable Fangzheng, that’s not right, is it? You saved my family’s lives. Is it too much to give you some things? You have to take what you want, and take freely! If you don’t, I will… send everything up the mountain. I don’t care if you want anything, because I don’t want it!” Chen Jin immediately acted in a scoundrelly manner.