Maudgalyayana was foremost in supernatural powers among the Buddha’s disciples. While his mother was alive, she slandered the sages and those who were virtuous; therefore, she fell into the realm of hungry ghosts after death.
Using his supernatural powers, Maudgalyayana learned of his mother’s suffering and wished to offer her food. Even though she was hungry, whenever food entered her mouth, it turned into ashes.
Maudgalyayana sought the Buddha’s advice on how to save his mother. The Buddha told him that her negative karma was so strong that individual effort was insufficient to rescue her.
Maudgalyayana was instructed to offer a variety of food to the Sangha on the last day of the rainy season retreat. The merits gained from the offerings could help her repent her wrongdoings and free her from suffering.
This was the origin of the Ullambana service.
Nugget of Wisdom:
Filial piety is of utmost importance in the teaching of Buddhism. In fact, according to the Sutra of Meditation on Bodhisattva Universal Worthy, practising filial piety is one of the five methods of repentance to eradicate one’s negative karma and offenses.
Nowadays, the practice of filial piety is on the decline even in the Asian societies. This is most regrettable because filial peity is the bedrock of Asian values and culture.
Some people enjoy talking about unconditional love and acceptance of “neighbours” and “enemies”. Give yourself a moment to think: who is most deserving of unconditional love than our parents who give lives to us?