What is the water and land event about?


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

names altogether.

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.