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 birth.
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 beasts.
I, Nichiren, am convinced that, by eradicating karmic impediments of the kind described above, I will 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. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
With my deep respect,
The twelfth day of the seventh month