“You have to do it three times”
My friend corrected my clumsy attempts at doing my Buddhist merits.
“And remember to pray too”, she said in a serious voice.
We were at a small temple in District 7. A southern neighborhood in Saigon – the capital of Vietnam.
The incense smell was strong and there were many visitors. More than usual. In addition I noticed that many people were wearing grey robes.
And we were all here to celebrate the hungry ghost festival, or Vu Lan day that it’s also known in Vietnam.
Hungry Ghost Festival In Vietnam
The hungry ghost festival is a Buddhist festival celebrated throughout Asia. It takes place on the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar. And the seventh month as a whole is referred to as ghost month. This month is believed to be haunted and unlucky, and it’s considered a bad idea to start a business or even go swimming.
In Vietnam, ghost day is taken very seriously. Vietnamese are very superstitious and almost everyone believes in ghosts and spirits. Hence they are very careful not to upset or make them angry.
During ghost month deceased relatives pay a visit to the living. And the ghosts are hungry and demand a lot of entertainment! Hence, all throughout the month you will see people burning incense, burning fake money and placing food offerings on the streets. Most people also visiting temples to pray.
In addition it’s also important to be a good person. Some families, and those who have a business, will give money, fruit and food to strangers. They believe the more people that come and pick it up, the more lucky and successful they will become. The family call these people “living spirits”.
Finally there are some things that you should try to avoid during ghost months. In particular on ghost day that is considered extraordinary unlucky.
Things You Should Never Do During Hungry Ghost Festival!
- Never hang your washed clothes at night! The ghosts could steal them. And when returned they could have a curse hanging over them causing illness to the person wearing them.
- Never take photos at night! You could end up with some unexpected spirits in your photo. The ghosts love to photobomb!
- Never plan a big life event! Like starting a business or getting married during ghost month. Those things are bound to fail!
- Never wear clothes with skulls and bones! The spirit may think you are one of them and take you with them!
- Never pick up money on the street! This money may have been offered to the ghosts. And they will come and try to collect it!
- Never loudly call someone’s name on street! Or when hearing someone calling your name from behind, you should never turn around.
- Never look in the mirror after 11pm! Vietnamese believes ghosts will appear in mirrors. And that is the reason why all mirrors are covered in a Vietnamese home during a funeral.
- Never hit the bowl with your chopsticks when eating! Vietnamese believes the sound can alert the ghosts. And the ghosts will think that their food is getting stolen.
Vu Lan day
Vietnam also has “Vu Lan day” during ghost month. For a Buddhist, Vu Lan day is almost like parent’s day. Most people will visit temples and pray for their parents. In addition they will try to avoid killing animals and will eat only vegetarian food. They will also offer food and other items for the poor. And free animals.
It’s believed the more good deeds they do, the more fortunes and luck their parents will receive.
The origin of “Vu Lan” is from a story about a god named “Muc Kien Lien”. His mother had been sent to hell due to her many crimes. And he wanted to save her. But when he arrived in hell with food offerings for his mother, everything turned into fire. Instead he followed Buddha’s instructions to start praying to save his mother. Hence the fifteenth day of the seventh month is when people can pray for forgiveness for their parent’s crime.
This is what I like most about traveling: experience the local holidays and customs first hand!
I recommend that you do the same. Don’t just stay on the beach all your vacation. Get out there and experience things like a local.
I guarantee you will be rewarded with tons of unforgettable experiences!
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