"The Origin of the Urabon"
I have received one to of polished rice as white
as snow, a bamboo container of oil as thick as well-aged
sake and a monetary offering of one kan, which you
took the trouble to send me by messenger as a donation for
the urabon ceremony. I was deeply moved by the contents
of your letter.
The urabon ceremony has its origins in the time
when the Venerable Maudgalyayana saved his mother Shodai-nyo
who, because of karmic retribution for her greed and stinginess,
had fallen into the world of hunger for a period of five
hundred lifetimes. However, he could not enable her to become
a Buddha. That was because he himself was not yet a votary
of the Lotus Sutra and thus could not help his mother attain
Buddhahood. Later, in the eight-year assembly on Eagle Peak,
he became a Buddha called Tamalapattra Sandalwood Fragrance
by embracing the Lotus Sutra and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
At that time, his mother became a Buddha as well.
You asked about making offerings of food to the hungry
spirits. The third volume of the Lotus Sutra reads, "It
is as if one came from a famished land and suddenly encountered
a great king's feast." This passage means that the
four great men of Learning, people of intermediate capacity,
had not so much as heard of the choicest delicacy called
ghee until the Lotus Sutra was expounded. Then, for the
first time they savored ghee to their hearts' content, thus
quickly bringing to an end the long-unsatisfied hunger in
their hearts. Therefore, when you make offerings of food
to the hungry spirits, you should recite the above passage
from the sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for their repose.
Hungry spirits are generally divided into thirty-six kinds.
One of them, the cauldron-shaped hungry spirits, have no
eyes or mouth. The reason for this is that, while in this
world, they attacked people under cover of night or committed
robberies. Vomit-eating hungry spirits feed on the food
that people throw up. The cause of their state is the same
as that of the cauldron-shaped hungry spirits. It is also
because they robbed people of their food. Thirst-consumed
hungry spirits drink the water that people out of filial
piety offer to their deceased parents. Property-possessing
hungry spirits are greedy enough to try to extract water
even from horses' hooves. While alive, they begrudged their
property and concealed their food. Property-less hungry
spirits have not even heard of food or drink since their
Law-devouring hungry spirits renounce the world to spread
Buddhism only because they think that if they preach the
Law, people will respect them. Seeking worldly fame and
fortune, they spend their entire present lifetime trying
to outdo others in everything. They neither help people
nor attempt to save even their own parents. Such persons
are called Law-devouring hungry spirits, or those who use
the Law to satisfy their desires.
When we observe the priests in our times, some of them
secretly have offerings given to themselves alone. The Nirvana
Sutra calls such men priests with the hearts of dogs. In
their next life they will become ox-headed demons. Others
openly receive offerings but, being greedy, will not share
them with others. In their next existence they will be born
as horse-headed demons.
Some lay believers do not pray for the repose of their
parents who have fallen into the world of Hell, Hunger or
Animality and are undergoing excruciating agonies. They
themselves are luxuriously clad and fed, having an abundance
of oxen and horses and retainers and enjoying themselves
as they please. How their parents must envy and resent them!
Even priests, with the exception of a very few, neglect
praying for the repose of their parents and teachers on
the anniversaries of their deaths. Certainly the gods of
the sun and moon in heaven and the deities on earth must
be angry and indignant with them, condemning them as unfilial.
Although such ingrates possess human form, they are no better
than animals. They should rather be called human-headed
I, Nichiren, am convinced that, by eradicating karmic impediments
of the kind described above, I will abe able to go to the
pure land of Eagle Peak in the future. Therefore, although
various grave persecutions may fall on me like rain or rise
up like clouds, because I meet them for the sake of the
Lotus Sutra, my sufferings do not seem like sufferings at
all. Those who became disciples and followers of this person
Nichiren are votaries of the Lotus Sutra. Especially the
deceased Myoho, the anniversary of whose death falls on
the twelfth day of this month, was none other than a votary
of the Lotus Sutra and a follower of Nichiren. How could
she possibly have fallen into the world of Hunger? Without
a doubt she is now in the presence of Shakyamuni, Taho and
all the Buddhas of the ten directions. They themselves must
be saying, "So this is the mother of Shijo Kingo!"
and, with one accord, stroking her on the head and joyfully
singing her praises. For her part, she must be telling Shakyamuni
Buddha what a splendid son she has.
The Lotus Sutra says, "If there are men of devout
faith or women of devout faith who, hearing the Devadatta
chapter of the Lotus Sutra, with a pure heart believe and
revere it, harboring no doubts or uncertainties, they will
not fall into the world of Hell, Hunger or Animality, but
will be reborn in the presence of all the Buddhas of the
ten directions. They will constantly hear this sutra wherever
they may be born. If they are reborn in the world of Humanity
or Heaven, they will enjoy supreme happiness. If they are
in the presence of Buddhas, they will be reborn by transformation
from a lotus blossom." Note the phrase "women
of devout faith." If it does not refer to the deceased
Myoho, then to whom does it refer? The sutra also states,
"It is difficult to sustain faith in this sutra. One
who embraces it even for a short time will delight me [Shakyamuni]
and all other Buddhas. A person like this will be praised
by all Buddhas." No matter how highly I, Nichiren,
may praise your mother, it does not amount to much. But
the sutra states that she will be "praised by all the
Buddhas." How encouraging! How reassuring! With this
conviction, you should deepen your faith all the more. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
With my deep respect,
The twelfth day of the seventh month
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 4, p. 91-95.