Mogallana was noted not only for his great supernatural powers but also for his filial piety!
One day, while looking at the realm of hungry ghosts with his divine vision, Mogallana saw his mother suffering there. He was very sad. So, with the help of his supernatural power, the filial Mogallana provided a bowl of rice for his mother. However, when the rice reached his mother’s hands, it turned into burning charcoal and could not be eaten. Upon seeing that, Mogallana could not help but cried sadly. Though he could tell what caused the ghosts to receive their retribution, he could not explain his mother’s suffering. So he immediately went to ask the Buddha.
Buddha said compassionately, “Mogallana, your mother had in her previous life, slandered the Buddha and the Sangha. Moreover, she did not believe in retribution and had been greedy and hot-tempered. That is why she is receiving such a retribution. The reason why you do not know your mother’s karma is that your supernatural power has been hindered by the love between mother and son!”
“Lord Buddha, is there any way to help my mother get out of the realm of hungry ghosts?” Mogallana asked earnestly.
“Mogallana, you cannot save you mother on your own because her bad karma is very serious. The only way is to depend on the supernatural powers of the holy monks to help free her from the suffering in the realm of hungry ghosts.”
“The fifteenth of the seventh lunar month every year is the last day of summer retreat for all monks and many of them will have attained enlightenment by then. If one makes offerings to all holy monks on this day, he can rely on their united efforts to release his parents and relatives from the realms of suffering. If his parents are alive, they will live a longer and happier life.”
The delighted Mogallana carried out Buddha’s instructions and made offerings to all monks on the last day of the summer retreat. True enough, his mother was immediately freed from the realm of hungry ghosts. He was very grateful to Buddha and praised the beneficence of the Triple Gem. He also urged people to make offerings to Buddha and Sangha on the fifteenth of the seventh lunar month to repay the kindness of their parents. This is the origin of the Ullambana Festival.