On the Urabon
I have placed your offerings of one sack
of rice, parched rice, melons, eggplants and other items
before the Buddha.
As to the origin of the festival known
as urabon, among the disciples of the Buddha was one called
the Venerable Maudgalyayana. As the foremost in transcendental
powers among the disciples, he ranked alongside Shariputra,
the foremost in wisdom. These two were like the sun and
moon ranged over Mount Sumeru, or like the ministers of
the left and right who assist a great king.
Maudgalyayanas father was called
Kissen Shishi and his mother was called Shodai-nyo. His
mother, because she was guilty of the fault of greed and
stinginess, after her death was reborn in the realm of hungry
spirits, but the Venerable Maudgalyayana rescued her from
there, and that is how the festival began.
It came about as follows. Though Maudgalyayanas
mother had fallen into the realm of hungry spirits and was
suffering there, Maudgalyayana, being only a common mortal,
had no way of knowing this. When he was a young boy, he
entered the house of a teacher of Brahmanism and there made
an exhaustive study of the four Vedas and the eighteen major
scriptures, which constitute the complete sacred writings
At this time, however, he still did not
know where his mother had been reborn.
Later, at the age of thirteen, he and Shariputra
together visited Shakyamuni Buddha and became his disciples.
Thereafter, Maudgalyayana was able to free himself from
the illusions of thought and to advance to the first stage
of sagehood, and then to cut off the illusions of desire
and become an arhat, thereupon gaining the three insights
and the six transcendental powers. Having opened the divine
eye, he could see throughout the entire major world system
as though it were reflected in a clear mirror. His vision
penetrated the earth and he could see into the three evil
paths just as we, looking down through a layer of ice, see
fish beneath the ice when the morning sun shines on it.
And as he looked down, he saw that his mother was in the
realm of hungry spirits.
She had nothing to drink, nothing to eat.
Her skin was like that of a golden pheasant when its feathers
have been plucked, her bones were like round stones placed
one beside the other. Her head was big as a ball, her neck
thin as a thread, and her stomach like a great sea swelling
out. Her appearance as she opened her mouth and pressed
her palms together begging for something was such that she
resembled a starving leech that has caught the scent of
human beings. Her figure as she gazed at the son she had
had in her previous existence and began to weep, and her
famished form, were beyond the power of analogy to describe.
One can imagine how heartrending this sight must have been
The priest Shunkan, temple administrator
of Hossho-ji, was exiled to the island of Nagashima. His
body naked, his hair hanging down unbound, he wandered,
wasted and thin, along the seashore, where he picked up
bits of seaweed and wrapped them about his loins or, spotting
a single fish, seized it with his right hand and gnawed
it with his teeth. At that time a youth who had once been
in the priests service came to the island to visit
him. I wonder which was the more miserable sight, this priest
or Maudgalyayanas mother? I venture to think that
Maudgalyayanas mother was even more pitiful to look
at that, the priest.
Maudgalyayana was so overwhelmed with pity
at the sight of his mother that he immediately employed
his great transcendental powers and offered her some rice.
His mother was delighted and, seizing some of the rice in
her right hand, while concealing the remainder with her
left, she stuffed the rice into her mouth. What should happen
then but the rice changed into fire and began to burn! It
burst into flame as though a bundle of torches had been
lit, and his mothers body crackled and burned.
When Maudgalyayana saw this, he panicked
and became utterly confused, and, employing his transcendental
powers, summoned forth a great flood of water. But the water
turned into firewood and his mothers body only burned
more fiercely, the sight of which filled him with even greater
Maudgalyayana, realizing that his own transcendental
powers were altogether inadequate to remedy the situation,
raced away and in an instant appeared in the presence of
the Buddha, where he presented his tearful appeal.
"I was born into a family of believers
of Brahmanism," he said, "but later I became a
disciple of the Buddha. I have gained the rank of arhat,
freed myself from rebirth in the threefold world, and acquired
the three insights and the six transcendental powers that
go with the status of arhat. But now when I try to rescue
my own mother from the great sufferings that beset her,
I seem only to make her anguish worse than before, which
fills my heart with grief!"
The Buddha replied, "Your mother has
committed grave misdeeds. You alone do not have the power
to remedy this situation. And indeed no one, neither the
gods of heaven, the gods of earth, the devils of heaven,
the Brahmans, the Taoist priests, the Four Heavenly Kings,
nor the gods Taishaku and Bonten have the power to do so.
Therefore, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, you
should bring together all the holy monks of the ten directions,
prepare offerings of food and drink representing a hundred
different flavors, and present them for the purpose of rescuing
your mother from her sufferings."
Maudgalyayana did just as the Buddha had
instructed him, and as a result his mother was freed from
the realm of hungry spirits, where she had been destined
to suffer for the period of a kalpa. So we are told in the
scripture known as the Urabon Sutra. That is the
reason why even now, in this latter age after the passing
of the Buddha, people perform this ceremony on the fifteenth
day of the seventh month. It is common practice for them
to do so.
I, Nichiren, would like to note the following.
Maudgalyayana was, among the Ten Worlds, one who belonged
to that of the voice-hearer. His observance of the two hundred
and fifty precepts was as firm as a rock, and his attention
to the three thousand rules of conduct, without a single
exception, was as perfect as the full moon on the night
of the fifteenth. His wisdom was like the sun, and his transcendental
powers enabled him to encircle Mount Sumeru fourteen times,
and thereby move the huge mountain.
And yet, even though he was a sage of this
order, he found it very difficult to repay the great debt
of kindness he owed his mother. Moreover, when he attempted
to repay it, he actually increased her great suffering.
In comparison, the priests of today observe
the two hundred and fifty precepts in name only, and in
fact use their so-called observance of the precepts as a
means to dupe others. They have not a trace of transcendental
power -- a huge stone could sooner ascend to heaven than
they could exercise such powers. Their wisdom is in a class
with that of oxen, no different from that of sheep. Though
they might gather together by the thousands or ten thousands,
they could never relieve one iota of the suffering of departed
All things considered, the reason Maudgalyayana
could not rescue his own mother from suffering was that
he put his faith in the Hinayana version of Buddhism and
devoted himself to the observance of the two hundred and
fifty precepts. According to the Vimalakirti Sutra, the
layman called Vimalakirti criticized Maudgalyayana, saying,
"Those who give alms to you will fall into the three
evil paths." The meaning of this passage is that, although
the Venerable Maudgalyayana is a most worthy man who observes
the two hundred and fifty precepts, those who make offerings
to him will be reborn in one of the three evil paths. And
this does not apply to Maudgalyayana alone, but to all the
voice-hearers, and to those in this latter age who place
great emphasis upon the observance of the precepts.
In comparison to the Lotus Sutra, this
Vimalakirti Sutra I have just mentioned is no more than
a lowly servant far down in the ranks of retainers. The
point is that the Venerable Maudgalyayana had not yet attained
Buddhahood himself. Since he himself had not yet attained
Buddhahood, it was very difficult for him to relieve the
sufferings of his parents. And how much more difficult would
it have been for him to do so for anyone else!
Later, however, following the teaching
of the Lotus Sutra to honestly discard expedient means,
the Venerable Maudgalyayana summarily rejected and cast
aside the two hundred and fifty precepts of the Hinayana
teaching and chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. In time Maudgalyayana
attained Buddhahood and was called by the name Tamalapattra
Sandalwood Fragrance Buddha. And at that time his father
and mother, too, attained Buddhahood. Hence it is said in
the Lotus Sutra, "Then our wishes will be fulfilled
and the longings of the multitude will likewise be satisfied."
Maudgalyayanas physical body was
inherited by him from his parents. Therefore, when his own
physical body attained Buddhahood, the bodies of his father
and mother likewise attained Buddhahood.
By way of analogy, let us consider the
case of the military leader Taira no Kiyomori, the governor
of Aki, who lived at the time of the eighty-first sovereign
of Japan, Emperor Antoku. Kiyomori, engaging in one battle
after another, overthrew the enemies of the nation and in
time advanced to the highest post in the government, that
of grand minister of state. Emperor Antoku was his grandson.
All the members of his clan were permitted to enter the
palace and were assigned to positions of great eminence.
Kiyomori held the entire country of Japan, with its sixty-six
provinces and two outlying islands, in the palm of his hand,
and people bowed before him as plants and trees bow before
a great wind.
But he became arrogant and puffed up with
pride, and in the end treated the gods and Buddhas with
contempt and attempted to dictate to the shrine keepers
and the Buddhist priests. As a result, he aroused the enmity
of the priests of Mount Hiei and of the seven major temples
of Nara. Eventually, on the twenty-second day of the twelfth
month in the fourth year of the Jisho era (1180), he went
so far as to burn down two of those seven temples, Todai-ji
The retribution for this grave offense
soon fell upon the person of the grand minister and lay
priest himself. In the following year, the first year of
the Yowa era, on the fourth day of the second intercalary
month, [having contracted a fever,] he began to burn like
a piece of charcoal, his body the fuel, his face the flames.
In the end, tongues of flame shot out from his body and
he perished from the heat.
The results of his grave offense then fell
upon his second son, Munemori. Munemori was thought to have
drowned in the western sea [at the battle of Dannoura, but
he came floating up on the eastern horizon, where he was
captured, bound and forced to kneel in the presence of the
General of the Right, Minamoto no Yoritomo.
Meanwhile, Kiyomoris third son, Tomomori,
threw himself into the sea and ended up as the excrement
of fish. And his fourth son, Shigehira, was taken captive
and bound, and after having been dragged first through Kyoto
and then through Kamakura, was in the end handed over to
the seven Major temples of Nara. There a great multitude
of a hundred thousand temple followers gathered and, declaring
him to be the enemy of their Buddha, one by one slashed
him with swords.
The greatest evil among evils produces
consequences that not only affect the perpetrators personally,
but extend to their sons, their grandsons and so on down
to the seventh generation. And the same is true of the greatest
good among good.
The Venerable Maudgalyayana put his faith
in the Lotus Sutra, which is the greatest good there is,
and thus not only did he himself attain Buddhahood, but
his father and mother did so as well. Not only that, but
all the fathers and mothers of the preceding seven generations
and the seven generations that followed, indeed, of countless
lifetimes before and after, were able to attain Buddhahood,
amazing as it may seem. And in addition, all their sons,
their wives or husbands, their retainers, supporters and
countless other persons were not only enabled to escape
from the three evil paths, but all attained the first stage
of security and then Buddhahood, the stage of perfect enlightenment.
Therefore it is said in the third volume
of the Lotus Sutra: "We beg that the merit gained through
these gifts may be spread far and wide to everyone, so that
we and other living beings all together may attain the Buddha
With all this in mind, I note that you
have a grandson, Jibu-bo, who is a Buddhist priest. This
priest does not uphold the precepts and is lacking in wisdom.
He does not observe a single one of the two hundred and
fifty precepts, nor a single one of the three thousand rules
of conduct. In his lack of wisdom he is in a class with
oxen or horses, and because of his failure to observe the
rules of conduct he resembles a monkey. But he reveres Shakyamuni
Buddha and puts his faith in the teaching of the Lotus Sutra.
Hence he is like a snake that grips a jewel in its mouth,
or a dragon that bears sacred relics on its head. A wisteria
vine, by twining around a pine, may climb a thousand meters
into the air, and a crane, because it has its wings to rely
upon, can travel ten thousand miles. It is not their own
strength that allows them to do these things.
This applies likewise in the case of the
priest Jibu-bo. Though he himself is like the wisteria vine,
because he clings to the pine that is the Lotus Sutra, he
is able to ascend the mountain of perfect enlightenment.
Because he has the wings of the single vehicle to rely upon,
he can soar into the sky of Tranquil Light. With wings such
as these he is a priest who can bring comfort to the souls
not only of his parents and his grandfather and grandmother,
but of all his relatives down to the seventh generation!
How fortunate you are to possess this fine
jewel of a grandson! The dragon kings daughter offered
her jewel and thereby obtained Buddhahood. You have given
your grandson to be a votary of the Lotus Sutra, and this
will lead you to enlightenment!
I am so pressed by various matters that
I cannot write in detail just now. I will write again another
The thirteenth day of the seventh month
To the grandmother of Jibu-bo
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 7.