Auspicious Seventh Lunar Month

Tzu Chi advocates for Buddhism that emphasises the right beliefs. During the seventh month of the lunar calendar, we focus on the values of filial piety, virtue, compassion for all beings and protecting the environment by reducing carbon footprint. Master Cheng Yen appeals to all to regard seventh lunar month as an auspicious month, to dispel the common misconception that it is a month associated with ghosts.

During the seventh lunar month, the Chinese community traditionally adheres to the belief that "worshipping brings protection" and engages in abundant offerings, including three types of livestock and joss paper. Since 1968, Master Cheng Yen advocated for a frugal approach to ancestral worshipping and expounded on the true meaning of great liberation, which is to save the suffering.

In 2008, Tzu Chi Taiwan launched a campaign to promote vegetarianism , benevolence and environmental protection in the auspicious seventh lunar month. Tzu Chi volunteers worldwide subsequently encouraged the public to join the "Auspicious Seventh Lunar Month Prayer Ceremony" to endorse the idea that the month signifies auspiciousness, filial piety and joy. The campaign also advocated against burning of joss paper, promoted vegetarianism and paying respect to ancestors with a sincere heart.


The Seventh Lunar Month is a Joyous Month

In Mahayana Buddhism, the celebration of "Buddha's Joyful Day"  on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar stems from the Vassa Retreat (that is, a monastic retreat) during the Buddha’s era, and is related to the present-day Kathina festival of Theravada Buddhism.

During Buddha’s time, insects and snakes plagued India during the hot and humid monsoon season. To prevent insects from being harmed accidentally while the monks were out for alms, the Buddha instituted the three-month Vassa Retreat in summer. This three-month period which occurs in the middle of the Indian calendar year, allowed monks to focus on their spiritual practice without going out for alms. Lay Buddhist disciples supported the monks for their daily meals during this period. On the 15th day of the seventh month of the Indian calendar, the Buddha was delighted by the significant progress of many disciples. This day is thus known as the Buddha’s Joyful Day or Sangha Day.

Following the spread of Buddhism to various regions, different schools of Buddhism localised their practices and designated three months each year as a period for vigorous retreat when going out is deemed inconvenient. In Mahayana Buddhism, the "Vassa Retreat" spans from the 15th day of the fourth lunar month to the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. Over time, the Buddha's Joyful Day on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month became intertwined with the Ullambana Festival (a Buddhist ceremony where merits are transferred to ancestors to alleviate their sufferings), the Hungry Ghost Festival from Chinese tradition, as well as the Zhong Yuan Festival from Chinese Taoism. Consequently, the original significance of the "Buddha's Joyful Day" gradually faded from public awareness.


The Seventh Lunar Month is a Month of Filial Piety

The association of the seventh lunar month with filial piety stems from the tale of Maudgalyayana rescuing his mother.

The Buddha’s great disciple Maudgalyayana, who was well-known for his supreme psychic powers among all the Buddha’s disciples, witnessed his mother becoming a hungry ghost after her passing. Despite possessing supernatural abilities, Maudgalyayana was unable to alleviate her hunger. The Buddha advised him to place a variety of fruits and nuts in a pot and offer them to monks from all directions on the Buddha’s Joyful Day. The collective merit generated by the monks' blessings would then be able to rescue his mother's soul.

Since then, temples have been holding the Ullambana ceremony on Buddha's Joyful Day. The Sanskrit word avalambana means "to save those hanging upside down" and refers to the liberation of the suffering hungry ghosts.

Tzu Chi combines the concepts of filial piety from the Maudgalyayana tale and great liberation of sentient beings, urging modern day people to express their reverence for departed loved ones and all beings through offerings of fruits, flowers and a sincere heart. Moreover, the substitution of flowers and fruits for livestock protects animals and exemplifies the spirit of "saving those hanging upside down".

Filial piety is all about being filial to one’s elders in time. During the Auspicious Seventh Lunar Month Prayer Ceremony, Tzu Chi sets up a special tea serving or foot-bathing area, inviting attendees to express their gratitude and repentance for the "two living Bodhisattvas in their homes” (that is, parents), so as to fulfil their filial piety in a timely manner.


The Seventh Lunar Month is an Auspicious Month

In general, many believe that “the more joss paper you burn, the more blessings you will receive” in the Great Liberation worshipping ceremony. However, burning of joss paper, that contains chemicals, emits black smoke, causing environmental pollution and posing risks to our health.

Singapore is a multicultural society, extensive paper burning in neighbourhoods can have adverse effects on both the environment and public health, potentially impacting livelihoods as well. In 2022, the Alliance for Action (AfA) on Norms for Joss Paper Burning was established. It is a collaborative effort involving government agencies, civil society groups and private enterprises aimed at promoting public education. Tzu Chi was invited to partake in the AfA meeting as the Foundation shares the same goal.

Tzu Chi encourages people to replace the burning of joss paper with vegetarianism to express their filial piety to their ancestors. At the same time, the money spent on paper offerings can be used to do good deeds and accumulate blessings, which will help to relieve the suffering of sentient beings and bring peace to all.