The Hall of Precepts is fronted by Rocana Buddha seated on a giant lotus flower surrounded by four great Bodhisattvas – Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, Manjushri Bodhisattva, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva and Samantabhadra Bodhisattva.
There are eight Vajrakumuras guarding at each corner of an octagon that symbolises the Noble Eightfold Path. These Dharma protectors are wrathful at the defilements entrapping all sentient beings.
On the walls and ceilings are depictions of celestial beings offering alms, music and precious items to the Buddha out of respect.
Once, when the Buddha was staying in Rajgir, Maudgalyayana and Shariputra generated and sincerely practised bodhicitta. Wanting to benefit sentient beings, they then went to the lower realms and encountered a female hungry ghost. An old woman, she had a belly as large as a valley and a mouth as small as the eye of a needle. Hair covered her entire body and fire blazed from her mouth. She was in great suffering, moaning and weeping in anguish. Food and drink appeared to her as blood and pus. Yet, even then she did not have the good fortune to be able to eat or drink at all, not even the excrement and urine she perceived.
"What karma did you create that led you to endure such terrible suffering?" asked the two great Venerables. "Please ask the Buddha that question," replied the pitiful hungry ghost.
They went to the Buddha and He told them the cause: In the past, many lifetimes ago, there lived a rich merchant who owned a huge sugar cane factory. At that time, a solitary realiser with very few possessions resided in a nearby forest. Suffering from an unquenchable thirst, the solitary realiser (Pratyekabuddha) sought treatment from a doctor and was advised to drink sugar cane juice. So he went to ask some from the merchant. The merchant agreed. But as he was rushing to attend to an important business, the merchant instructed his servant to offer the juice.
The merchant's helper was very stingy. "If I give him enough juice now, he would come back again and again, asking for more," she thought disdainfully. So to prevent this from happening, the helper disrespectfully filled the alms bowl with goat's urine and placed some bubbles of sugar cane juice on top, and returned it to the solitary realiser. The noble one understood her nature and threw it on the ground. This was the act that caused her to be reborn as a hungry ghost, explained the Buddha.
The lunar seventh month is known as the Ghost Festival to many people where it is believed that the hell gates are opened, and ghosts are set free for a month. However, in the context of Buddhism, the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is known as the Ullambana Festival or month of filial piety.
What is Ullambana, and why is filial piety linked to it?
The Buddha's Joyful Day / Sangha Pravarana Day
According to the Ullambana Sutra, during the Buddha’s time, the Sangha (the community of Buddhist monks) were to stay indoors and practise diligently for three months during the rainy season in India as it is very inconvenient to ask for alms during this season of the year.
On the completion of the rain retreat that falls on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, many venerables gained enlightenment. The venerables will gather and report to the Buddha on their meditation progress. The Buddha was delighted with the venerables' progress, and this day became known as the Buddha's joyful day and/or Sangha Pravarana Day.
Origin of Ullambana Festival
Venerable Maudgalyayana wanted to repay the kindness of his father and mother after he attained arhartship. He used his clairvoyant powers to search for them, and he realised that his father was reborn in the heavenly realm, while his mother was reborn as a hungry ghost. She was suffering due to her attachment to the inheritance left by Venerable Maudgalyayana's father; she did not follow his instruction to make offerings to Buddhist monks who came her way.
Venerable Maudgalyayana was deeply saddened and filled a bowl with food to offer to his mother. The food turned into burning coals whenever the food was placed in his mother's palm and his mother could not eat. He approached the Buddha for help and advice on how he can help to ease his mother's suffering.
The Buddha instructed Venerable Maudgalyayana to make offerings to the Sangha on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. Venerable Maudgalyayana did as the Buddha advised, and the merits accrued helped his mother obtain a better rebirth.
Month of Filial Piety
The Buddha said that if anyone who wish to practise filial piety can make offerings to the Sangha on this day. After the offerings are made, one can transfer the merits to their parents, past and present. By making offerings to the Sangha on this day, the merits and virtues will liberate parents of past lives and bless our present parents with health and longevity. This month is also known as the Month of Filial Piety.
Till today, Buddhist temples continue with the traditional Ullambana ritual by conducting the Compassionate Samadhi Water Repentance Puja and Yogacara Ulka-mukha Puja on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month. Due to the COVID-19 situation, and in consideration of the health and safety of our devotees, the Ullamabana Festival Puja will be a closed-door event. Devotees can participate in the chanting of the Compassionate Samadhi Water Repentance Puja on 2 September 2020 through the live-streaming on our Facebook page and YouTube.
Located on the fourth level of the Venerable Hong Choon Memorial Hall is an awe-inspiring giant Shakyamuni Buddha statue in the Hall of No Form, measuring 13.8 metres from its lotus base.
The hall is mainly used for talks, seminars, symposia, meditation, and Dharma activities, including the Refuge-taking and Five Precepts ceremony. Visitors are welcome to do silent prayers or meditation, and experience the tranquillity in this hall.
Full Moon in October
Abhidhamma Day The Festival of Lights
The Full Moon Day of Thadingyut (October) is
of special significance to the Buddhists, not because it
is the end of the Rains Retreat (Vassa ) but because it
highlights one of the most important events in the life
of Gotama Buddha.
According to Buddhist chronicles, the Tathagata
or Buddha, the Enlightened One, went to the Tavatimsa
Heaven to preach Abhidhamma (Higher Subtleties of
the Dhamma) to His mother, who passed away seven
days after His birth and was reborn in the Tusita Heaven
as a Deva called Santussita.
The Buddha propounded Abhidhamma for the
first time there in the presence of Santussita and other
Devas for 90 days. At the end of the Rains Retreat
(Vassa) i.e. on the Full Moon Day of Thadingyut, the
Tathagata descended to earth (to the human abode) at
the city of Sankassa.
Now Buddhists observe Abhidhamma Day annually
in commemoration of the Buddha’s return from
the abode of celestials to that of human beings. It is a
significant religious occasion as the Abhidhamma is
really the golden knowledge which will help one to discard
wrong views and to acquire the right views for
one’s total liberation from all miseries. Buddhists offer
lights to the Buddha image and perform meritorious
deeds on this day in accordance with the tradition which
has been upheld since the life time of the Buddha.
The Festival of Lights in the month of
Thadingyut (October) may seem an occasion for
rejoicing and merry-making but in essence, it is an
auspicious occasion for spiritual delight and merit
Dana, or generosity, is the act of giving. We can look at the Buddha’s life and teachings to see how generosity has played an important role in this tradition from the beginning. When the Buddha began teaching, he gave his teachings for free. He was a monk, traveling around without permanent home or shelter. He generously gave his teachings, and the laypeople generously provided him with food and shelter. The generosity of the community around him allowed the Buddha to continue teaching without having to work to provide for himself. The Buddha was thus able to devote his entire life to teaching dhamma. Generosity is an important part of the Buddhist tradition, rooted in the very beginnings of this path.
Generosity is the act of giving and one of the ten perfections. We can complicate it a million ways, but dana really is simply giving with the intention to give. We don’t have to “feel generous” in order to give (more on this below). Dana is simply just giving. It may be money, resources, time, attention, energy, or any other thing we have to offer. I personally believe that attention is one of the greatest things we can offer someone with generosity. It’s important to understand that dana is not a feeling or an emotion. Dana is an action. We give of ourselves with the intention of giving, and we give appropriately. The Buddha said that a rich man feeding the entire sangha of monks and nuns is as generous as a poor man tossing his scraps of food to fish in a pond. We give what we can, when we can.
Caga is a Pali word (as is dana). Caga refers to a quality of mind/heart, where dana refers to the actual action. Caga is the quality of a mind inclined toward generosity. It is a word that means “feeling generous.” when we develop and cultivate caga, we feel more inclined to give with kindness. Being generous arises naturally, and we act with dana with ease. When cultivated, caga gives rise to dana. However, it may also go the other way around.
We don’t always give just because we are feeling generous or because caga has been cultivated in the mind. Sometimes we act with generosity in order to cultivate caga. As we continue to act with generosity, we slowly cultivate the mind that is inclined toward giving. Sometimes I have to give myself a little nudge toward generosity. Other times generosity comes easily as a result of the caga in the mind. It can be very helpful to understand the difference between the act of dana and the quality of caga. When we tune in to experience, we can see the difference easily.
Cultivating Caga, Acting with Dana
Caga is an important quality to cultivate. It is helpful in and out of our formal meditation practice. We cultivate caga in many ways. First, we act with dana. The generous heart doesn’t pop up overnight. As we continue to put forth effort to bring generosity to our actions, the mind and heart eventually open up to care and generosity. We keep acting with generosity even when we are not feeling generous. We give people our full attention, help others when we are able, and are present for life.
We may also work on cultivating caga by practicing with metta, the practice of cultivating gentle friendliness. As we begin to open the heart to both ourselves and others, we begin caring about the wellbeing of all. As we grow to care about the wellbeing of ourselves and others, we naturally begin feeling more generous. Metta practice is a great way to cultivate caga and begin acting with generosity.
You may also cultivate caga by noticing how it feels when somebody else acts with generosity. Whether they are being generous toward you or somebody around you, you may notice a feeling arise in the heart and body of how it feels to be around generosity. This can serve as an inspiration to grow and cultivate these qualities. Surrounding ourselves with good community is extremely important. When we are surrounded by generosity, we begin to feel the effects and opening of the heart.