There are many sutras to recite from during the Hungry Ghost Festival – or Enlightenment Ceremony, the modernised name of the festival – each with a specific purpose, with the most common recitation being the Ullambana Sutra (also called Yulanpen Sutra), from which the festival originated from in Buddhist beliefs.
However, this year on 22nd August, Xiao En’s Enlightenment Ceremony will perform the recitation of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Sutra (The Original Vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Sutra) and the Medicine Buddha Sutra (The Meritorious Virtues and the Original Vows of the Medicine Buddha of Pure Crystal Radiance Sutra)
Here are the specifics of what you need to know about these sutras and get yourself into the right spiritual and mental mindset for this year’s ceremony.
Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Sutra Recitation
This sutra narrates the tale of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva’s vows to attain Buddhahood only after he has emptied hell of tormented souls. It is regarded as one of the main teachings on filial piety in Buddhism and is often used by Buddhist practitioners in prayers to help deceased parents and ancestors gain a better rebirth, thereby repaying them with gratitude.
Usually held on the birthday of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva in the Chinese lunar calendar’s 7th month (also called the “Month of Filial Piety”), devotees would visit temples to attend prayer ceremonies which consist of the recitation of this sutra on the fundamental vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva and his name.
The sutra also encourages devotees to emulate the Bodhisattva’s great vows to repay kindness, help all sentient beings, and attain Buddhahood.
Medicine Buddha Sutra Recitation
In contrast to the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Sutra recitation which focus on conferring merits to the deceased, recitation of the Medicine Buddha Sutra is for the living. This sutra narrates how Bhaisajyaguru Buddha – now known as the Medicine Buddha and also called the Buddha of the Pure Land of Lapis Lazuli – spoke with monastics, bodhisattvas, kings, and magistrates concerning meritorious virtues and the twelve great vows he made when he was a bodhisattva.
The sutra emphasises the liberation of sentient beings from illnesses, suffering, disasters, and misery, as well as acquiring blessings of prosperity and happiness during this lifetime. It also teaches that devotees who follow the Medicine Buddha’s vows can be reborn in his domain, the Lapis Lazuli Pure Land.
As such, during the 9th month of the Chinese lunar calendar, the Medicine Buddha Sutra is recited in prayer ceremonies to confer merits unto the living that they may avoid calamity and be blessed with longevity. Devotees would also take a prostrating position should they commit to following the vows.
Thoughts of Gratitude & The Present
Much has happened since 2020 till now and the world still faces the ongoing struggle to the Covid-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, conflict and resentment continue to grows due to existing issues being further aggravated – be it economics, politics, social status, and even values.
During these difficult times, it is important to reflect on the past and be grateful for the contributions of our parents and ancestors in advancing mankind’s achievements – such as technology that can create vaccines in record time that wouldn’t be possible centuries ago – while also considering the tribulations we face today, and empathising with the suffering.
Hence, it is fitting that this coming Enlightenment Ceremony, we recite Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Sutra and Medicine Buddha Sutra Recitation to confer merits to the departed in gratitude and to the living with empathy and well-wishes. May these blessings create a better fate for all.