Author Zong Ze of the Song dynasty says in Shui-lu yuan-qi (Condition
Arising for Water and Land):
‘Presently, in honoring a Buddha and offering food to a monastic,
immeasurable merit and virtue are to be gained, not to mention in
universal worship for the Three Jewels of all ten directions and myriad
spirits throughout the six ways of sentient existence, which not only
benefits self alone but subsequently brings grace upon all nine clans.
Some are financed by one particular wealthy individual and others
by a group of the less wealthy joining forces.’
Such occasions are what came to be known as water and land
under a single family name and water and land under many family
Tribute paid during the water and land event comes in upper, middle,
and lower (portions): in the upper portion, offerings for all the Buddhas,
bodhisattvas, pratyekabuddhas, sravakas, rajas or fierce spirits who
are messengers, eight classes of supernatural beings, and Brahmana
immortals of the Dharma-realms; in the middle portion, offerings for
Brahma, sovereign Sakra, 28 devalokas or heavens, and all honored
deities to the end of space in the seven luminaries and all the constellations;
and in the lower portion, offerings for dragon-gods of the five
mountains, rivers, seas, and vast lands, ancestors, asuras, underworld
officials and families, living beings of the hells, lonely and hindered
spirits, all ghosts and deities with no directions and no support, and
animals of the Dharma-realms.
On the surpassing occasion of water and land, those yet to initiate
the bodhi mind shall thereby do so, those yet to relinquish the wheel of
suffering shall thereby never recede and change, and those yet to attain
the Way and complete Buddhahood shall thereby do so.
Performance of the water and land mode denotes two formats,
surpassing recommendation and supplementary recommendation.
Lonely spirits repeatedly pleaded with emperor Wu of Liang in his
dreams for deliverance. An eminent monk, eventually coming to the
rescue of the emperor already much stricken, brought light to his
perplexity. With compassion in mind, the emperor assumed the format
of surpassing recommendation and did vegetarian offerings for all
lonely spirits in his dreams. He assembled virtuous masters headed
by the great monk Zhi to put together the Mahayana texts expressly
honoring all lonely spirits. Among those are Di-zang pu-sa ben-yuan
gong-de jing (hereafter Sutra of Merit and Virtue of Ksitigarbha
Bodhisattva' s Fundamental Vows) and specially selected texts from Boye
jing (hereafter Prajna Sutras). In particular, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva' s
vows of great compassion are empowered to enable living beings in the
hells to hear the Dharma. The entire ceremony, abound with detail and
adornment and hence infrequent in practice, does continue to this day.
The water and land event—abbreviated as shui-lu fa-hui, Dharma
function benefiting both the underworld and this life—undertakes to
salvage all creatures flying and swimming, all animals and plants,
all dwellers in water, on land, and in midair. Inner and outer platforms
in place amounting to a total of seven, eminent monks are requested
to lead sutra and dharani recitations and conduct repentances.
Supreme merit and virtue are hence transferred to all participants
on the occasion in elimination of hardships and turmoil and growth of
blessedness and wisdom, and the same to all ancestors and departed
loved ones in exit from suffering, attainment of joy, and rebirth in the
Pureland. Anyone partaking the seven-day event in joy at an adorned
bodhi site reaps merit and virtue immeasurable.