3. Sending goat
A popular folk custom during the festival requires that a grandfather or uncle on the mother's side send a live goat to his grandson or nephew. Legend has it that the custom has something to do with the myth of Chenxiang Saving His Mother from the Mountain. The custom has gradually evolved into sending a pair of flour goats.
Taboos of the Zhongyuan Festival
• Never refer to ghosts as ghosts, but as buddies or brothers. This is supposed to appease them. Calling them “kui” is deemed crude, just like calling disabled people handicapped or crippled.
• Be home before dusk. Night time is for ghosts. They roam the neighborhood, looking for offerings of prayers, wine and food left on the roadside. They roam because they do not have a family to go back to for such offerings. Like they say, a hungry man is an angry man. Likewise, it is not a good idea to bump into a hungry ghost.
• Do not step on prayer items and food. Ghosts unseen could be feasting there and a misstep on their victuals could incur their wrath. How would you feel if someone were to step on your food while you were eating? Also, under no circumstances should you touch tributes!
• If you hear your name being called in the middle of the night, never turn back to look or acknowledge the voice. Just pretend that you did not hear it. It could be a ghost trying to take your soul.
• Do not dry your clothes at night. Dry clothes are likely to attract drifting items, so they may also attract ghosts. In addition, hanging clothes can seem like a trap to catch ghosts, so it won't be a surprise if they come after you.
6. Do not swim in dangerous waters. It is said that water ghosts will find people to replace them so that they can be reincarnated.
The legend of Mulian Saves His Mother
The Ullambana Fast is related to the legend of Mulian Saves His Mother.
It is said that after going through innumerable trials and hardships in the nether world, Mulian finally saw his mother, only to find her tortured by a group of hungry ghosts. Mulian wanted to send his mother rice and dishes with an earthen bowl, but the food was snatched by hungry ghosts. Mulian had no choice but to ask Buddha for help. Moved by his filial piety, Buddha presented Mulian with the Ullambana Sutra and told him to have an Ullambana Fast on July 15 of the lunar calendar. On that day, food of various kinds as well as five fruits -- peaches, plums, apricots, chestnuts and dates -- should be provided to all Buddhist monks. Under the instruction of the Ullambana Sutra, Mulian filled the Ullambana vessel with fruits and vegetarian food to offer sacrifice to his mother on July 15. His starving mother finally got the food. To show his gratitude to the Buddha, Mulian held an almsgiving activity every year to release the hungry ghosts from the disaster of being hanged by their feet.
The day has become a festival to honor departed ancestors, relatives and friends. Every theater in old Beijing will stage a Beijing opera version of Mulian Saves His Mother for several consecutive days to celebrate the occasion.
Obon (Ullambana Festival) in Japan
The Obon Festival was introduced into Japan in the Flying Bird Age. It has now become a grand festival second only to New Year’s Day. The Obon Festival is also called the spirit sacrifice, lantern festival, and “Buddhist spirits meeting”. Originally a day to honor departed spirits, it has now become a day for family reunions. All Japanese enterprises will have a holiday lasting seven to 15 days for Obon so that people can go back home. During the festival, every household will set up a spiritual area, light up mukae-bi (“welcoming flame”) and okuri-bi (“seeing-off flame”), and offer sacrifices to departed ancestors.