Hungry Ghosts 3: Sermons for the Dead


(Continued from Hungry Ghosts 2: Cầu Siêu Ritual)

The word that describes someone who can see and communicate with spirits is called Mediumship.  A Medium is able to see or sense or hear or smell a spirit being just as clearly as you or I could see and hear each other if we were in the same room together.  If we were to go with that definition, my mother would most definitely be considered a medium, except she got scared and kept herself from being involved in the spirit realm.

Now, whether you choose to believe that they can or cannot see ghosts, ghouls, and the likes doesn’t matter in the least.  Do you want to know why?

It’s because your opinion doesn’t change anything at all.

yellowflowerchickAt the end of the day, you can go home, back to your daily life and you never have to think about this subject, ever again.  After all, there’s no such things as ghosts, right?  Or maybe there is.  You don’t know for sure.

But oh well, it doesn’t matter because real life is a merry-go-round of work and eat and sleep, over and over.  Who has time to think about such trivialities?

You get to go home and go back to your merry-go-round ride, but your opinion of whether or not ghosts exist doesn’t change anything for these mediums.  At the end of the day, they can go home, but they CANNOT GET AWAY FROM IT ALL.

There is no such thing as a vacation from seeing or sensing spirits.  They are stuck with their gift whether they want it or not.

Since they have no choice but to deal with it, they end up doing one of four things:

  1. If they can see, like my mother, they have the choice of ignoring it and hoping it will go away, or if not, at least hope that their ability to see will not affect their daily lives too badly (this was what Mom chose to do).
  2. They can choose to be a fortune teller/clairvoyant and charge people a bit of money to give them ghost readings.  They can even hire themselves out to the business community and make big money, although this is one of those activities which I would advise caution (more on this later).
  3. They can choose to proactively act upon it and become a professional parapsychologist, where they can get a bachelor’s, a master’s, or even a Ph.D. from an accredited university so that they can gain at least a modicum of respectability while the pursue the scientific understanding of why they see what they see.
  4. Or they can turn to the temples and become a nun or monk so that, under the protection of the temple, they can actively participate in dealing with (and coming to terms with) the gift/curse they have been given.

The Big Kahuna Senior Nun who did the Cầu Siêu ritual that I wrote about in my previous post, Hungry Ghosts and the Cầu Siêu Ritual, was most likely one of those cursed with the ability to see/sense spirits.  In this respect, she did not have to be the oldest nun, or even the longest serving nun.

She only needed the ability to see.


My retelling of the Cầu Siêu ritual ended after the nuns and monks finished their work and left, but the story does not end there.  What happened afterwards deserve to be told as well, because the second part of this Cầu Siêu ritual would actually be the most rigorous and demanding of the entire ordeal, and it would be done with little fanfare and even less recognition or appreciation.

You see, these spirits that the nuns and monks have ‘rescued’ would then need to be escorted back to the temple where they will now reside.  And then it would take years of rehabilitation so that these so-called hungry ghosts can let go of whatever psychological damage that had been done to them in life.  They would have to be taught the various sutras, so that they could, day in and day out, chant the words until one day, they are finally able to absorb into their very essence, the understanding of the teachings.

Although I have heard that this is what happens at the temples, for the benefit of the souls, I had never been in on any mass services or sermons for the dead events.  It was mostly curiosity that led me to doing a bit of research on what actually happens to the souls once they reach the temples.  I quickly found out that it is not a ‘lost art’ or something that one could only find in anime or martial arts movies.

These types of sermons for the dead occur quite frequently, as the temple considers the patrons of the temple to be not just the living people but also the lost souls who have not yet moved on.

Sermons for the Dead


On the morning of May 14, 2017 there was a large Lễ Trai đàn Chẩn tế cô hồn – Cầu siêu bạt độ, which is a fancy Vietnamese term for a mass sermon held out of compassion for the souls of the dead, to help the souls cope with their existences as hungry ghosts, and to work towards finding a way to reincarnate (the one thing about ancient Viet words is that it takes quite a few modern words to translate a single Viet word).

It was held at Thiền Tôn Phật Quang, a Buddhist Temple located on Mount Dinh, in Vũng Tàu, Vietnam.  As luck would have it, this temple is not that far from my home in Vietnam.  Although I didn’t actually attend the sermon, it was recorded in video format and  I was lucky enough to get a transcript of the actual sermon.  All I had to do was translate it properly so that it made sense in English, and this translation is what I will share with everyone. 

It was headed by the Head Monk, along with approximately 500 Buddhist monks and nuns from far and near (this was a huge event), and the mass sermon specifically targeted deceased Viet citizens within the country and around the world, dead soldiers, and more than 6,000 souls who were currently residing at the temple, along with thousands of deceased spirits who were relatives of the Buddhist temple members residing elsewhere. 

Here is the sermon that the hungry ghosts receive from the monks on a regular basis, much like some people go to church on Sunday to receive teachings.  There were twelve things that spirits needed to abide by.

The Twelve Commandments for Wandering Spirits


    1. First, we must not enter other people’s bodies to drive them insane. This is an act of sowing a very serious sin.  When we do this, we are sowing madness, and we will fall backwards. While we are waiting for the chance to reincarnate, if we continue to enter into other people’s bodies and cause major disturbance to the lives of those around us, it does not simply affect us in this realm.  We will fall into a heavier realm that is hell, so we absolutely must not do this.
    2. Second, we must not listen to bad yin people and harm good people.  You are in the yin realm.  It is just like the yang realm. There are still bad forces, there are still evil people. Even though you live in this yin realm, you must rely on your good sense and knowledge.  You must rely on the grace of the Three Jewels, of the Buddha, and of the goodwill of the monks who live here, to uphold their teachings so that you do not follow the evil words of bad forces and end up harming good people.
    3. Third, you must not listen to the words of some other force to destroy someone’s dharma, and their morality (meaning the spirits must not sway someone away from their own path towards enlightenment) . This is a very serious sin.  If you commit this sin, you will forever, be lost in hell and can never be reborn again. So, we have to pay attention to this error, and not to violate it.
    4. Fourth, in the underworld, there are also friends and sects. You should not associate with gangs to bully new ghosts. Old ghost must not rape (bully) new ghost.
    5. Fifth, you must not prevent others from practicing the Way (their religious beliefs).  (note: this is so important, it has been repeated).
    6. Sixth, you are not allowed to reveal your ghostly selves to frighten people, if you do, there will be retribution whereby your mind will always be confused. When you finally have the opportunity to practice the Way, you will not be able to practice because you have accidentally frightened others by revealing your ghostly appearance.
    7. Seventh, you should not interfere into the lives of those people still living in the yang world, affecting their lives.
    8. In addition, in the yin world, you have the ability to create a lot of blessings for those in the yang world.  You must protect and support the old places.  When the temples are peaceful, the practice of spiritually is not obstructed. This is one of the extremely good things that you, as spiritual beings, are able to do, especially here, so take note of this.  Today, after this mass for the spirits is concluded, and you have been conscripted at this Zen Buddhist temple, you must try to support and actively protect the temple members who come here to worship.  These Buddhists who have entered the temple to diligently practice the Way create a lot of good merit for everyone, including you. When adherents who come to the temple create a lot of merit, they increase their spirituality, you will also naturally receive a lot of this merit.
    9. Again, you must know how to support the religious ascetics (the monks and nuns who live in the temple), because they are like a lamp to light up the good things in this life. Although you may not be able to be a monk or a nun at this time, nevertheless, you should always silently support, so that as the true practitioner is on the way to propagate enlightened beings, you are also greatly blessed.  You also must try to help the other yin spirits in this realm. They are also suffering the same pain that you are suffering, so in the shared suffering, you have to love and help each other, because even though you suffer, you still must hold onto your morality, you have to love, and in loving each other, that suffering will subside. It decreases tremendously. At the same time, even though you are, at this point, waiting until the day you have enough merit to reincarnate, you have actually already started the process of living again, and loving each other again.
    10. Alongside all of that, you may be existing in the yin world, but you must still practice the Way in the underworld. Both yin and yang people, both monks and lay people, one of the indispensable practices is that we must have reverence for the Buddha. So, you must spiritually try to practice to respect Buddha, but in order to show respect for Buddha, we have to understand Buddha. In addition, we have to practice how to attain a humble mind.  Since you have made the wrong choices in your previous life (many times already), even if we have the Buddha Dharma, we must be determined to be more humble and live more loving. Remember the saying: “The sea is the mother of hundreds of rivers”.   Because the sea is lower than a hundred rivers, it is able to receive the hundred rivers.  The more humble we are, the more good things will come to us.
    11. In particular, let us understand and apply the law of cause and effect to our lives, in all our thoughts, actions, and deeds.  You must ask yourself whether it is right or wrong, is it beneficial to all people or not.  If not, we absolutely mustn’t do it. And the other important thing is that we have to revere the Buddha, practice Meditation, follow the precepts and live within the framework of the instructions and teachings of the dharmapala (A protector of Buddhist dharma) around the temple.
    12. Lastly, I wish all of you spirits to reduce offenses, and proceed to sin no more. At the same time always try create a lot of good merit.

What a sermon!


OMG, #4 cracked me up.  I was laughing because it just sounds so silly.  Old ghosts must not bully new ghosts.  That sounds like something that would be told to kids in secondary school, but as I thought about this, I realized that even in adult situations like the work place or social situations, and even online, in forums and threads, there is a lot of bullying going on.  Much of this bullying happens between adults who should know better.

Number 6 also made me laugh.  You are not allowed to reveal your ghostly selves to frighten people.  Doesn’t that just sound like a mother, admonishing her young children to not pull pranks on people so as to scare them? 

I think in most instances, the people who end up being these wandering hungry ghosts are those who have missed out on knowing how to interact in society.  In life, they lived such craptastic lives that once they died, they were unable to move onward into the light.

sorryThey lived such miserable existences that they must now be conscripted to join the temple and listen to all this basic preaching that should have been taught to grade school kids.  And OMG, there just wasn’t a few of them.  There were thousands!

I have to admit, my jaw dropped to the floor when I saw the number of deceased souls that the temple claimed were currently residing within temple grounds.

There were only 200 monks and nuns residing at that particular temple, and they had to take care of six thousand lost souls!!!

How do they squeeze six thousand souls into a temple like that?  Of course, this is just an academic question because I do realize that the souls don’t have mass, nor do they occupy space.  But still…

In the end, the contents of the sermon were eye-opening.  I did not know how compassionate these monks were until I read the entirety of the sermon from start to finish.  This is a real mass for the dead, not the living, but of particular interest, at least to me, was that this mass was also held for the new spirits who have not yet found their way to the temple and are still wandering around the mountains and forests surrounding the temple.  From what I gather, there are many still lost and wandering, and part of the monks and nuns’ jobs is to search and gather the lost souls back to the temple.  

What a job.

(Continue to Hungry Ghosts 4: Temple for Spirit Conscripting)


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