The Hungry Ghost Festival

The Hungry Ghost Festival is also known as the Zhong Yuan (中元) Festival. Some people fell that the term hungry is inappropriate as it shows disrespect for our ancestors and that is should simply be called the Ghost Festival or better still, the Happy Ghost Festival.

Since ancient times, the Chinese believe that the gates of hell are open between the 1st and 30th day of the Chinese lunar 7th month. During this period hungry ghost are allowed to wander on earth to look for food.

There is a popular Buddhist legend on this festival about a Buddhist priest by the name of Mu Lian. He was very concerned for his bereaved mum who was apparently not a very good person when she was alive.

He remembered Sakyamuni Buddha teachings that when the wisdom eye is opened, one can see anything. Tapping on this teaching and his own power, he looked everywhere for his mother. Finally he found his mother – in hell.

He was saddened. His mother was competing with the other ghosts for food and looking miserable. Seeing that, he sent food (by making offerings) to his mother but to his dismay, the food turn into burning coal and burnt her mother’s mouth.

He went to his teacher for advice. His teacher told him to make offerings (plenty of it) on the 15th Day of the 7th lunar month. Strangely it worked and his mother was fed.

From that day onwards, people made offerings to the ghost in the form of prayers, food and paper money.

In Malaysia, pieces of gold and silver coloured paper are rolled into tubes and folded in both ends to make them look like silver and gold ingots. The Chinese believe that by doing so, they would receive blessings from the gods and spirits (Somehow feeding the ghost became secondary to money).

During this period, the ghost (and human beings) are also entertained with public performance of Chinese operas on make shift stages erected in open spaces.

This is however changing as Chinese operas troupes are dwindling and harder to come by. Replacing them are performances by Chinese pop artists.

In addition to the offering and performances, dinners and auctions are also held raise fund for temples and other charitable organizations.

What has this got to do with Feng Shui? The Chinese believe the 7th month is a dangerous month with so many ghosts wandering in the streets. It is a taboo to move house or get married during this period. This is the connection to Feng Shui!

Not everybody however subscribe to this taboo. In my practice, I normally ask my clients if they adhere to his belief. If they do, I would select a ‘move’ date outside of the lunar 7th month. It so happens that the 8th month is highly auspicious.

The Chinese have other taboos about the 7th lunar month. It is a month of excessive yin and therefore one should not wear black coloured clothing to avoid absorbing negative energy into the body.

Also it is not a good time to attend funerals, visit the sick or attend any ‘yin’ celebration. It is a good time to do some charity work and take vegetarian meals on the 1st and 15th day. And do not stay out late.

Many people claim that there are more disasters and accidents during the 7th month. They also claim that more people fall sick during this period. I have not done any research on this but it is something worth looking into.

In some years, in addition to the 7th month there is another 7th leap month. Does this means that the ghost are out for 60 days instead of 30. The answer is no. The leap month is not considered!

Are you grateful that the ghosts are out for 30 days only instead of 60?

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