The Chinese believe that during the 7th lunar Chinese calendar month, the gate of hell would be opened for the lost souls to roam the surface of the earth and receive blessings and offerings from their living relatives or descendants. The Chinese Lunar 7th month Ghost festival is a major event observed by Singaporean Chinese.
It is a common belief among the Chinese to avoid holding auspicious events such as wedding ceremonies, starting business ventures, opening new shops, or shifting houses. During this period, one would find that restaurant and night entertainment business would also be adversely affected. Chinese families also shun going to the beaches and swimming pools during this inauspicious season. My previous experience as a voluntary lifeguard prompted me to take note of the unusually high incidents of drowning during the ghost month. During this period, we find ethnic Chinese, young and old, educated and illiterates, men and women, alike, dutifully making offerings at the roadsides.
Nonetheless, personally, I consider that the essence of the festival is to uphold the traditional value of showing our deference to our deceased elders and our ancestors, as well as those roaming spirits.
And, I have always interpreted that making offerings, burning candles, and joss sticks, as gestures symbolizing deference, our earnest intention to pay respect to the spirits. Ordinary persons do not have the spiritual attainment of channeling their thoughts to perform such acts and have to rely on a medium of offering to convey their feelings of gratitude and reverence.
Coming back to my story, on the first day of the 7th lunar month of 1995, I was disturbed by eerie high-pitched screams in the middle of the night. It happened after I went against advice and meditated into the middle of the night. My teacher had earlier warned me not to meditate during the “devil” hours between 1 am and 4 am, especially during the 7th Moon Festive month. He explained that the spirits and other negative elementals would be most active during those hours. They are especially alert in looking out for those people who meditate and generate high energy but did not have the ability to defend themselves adequately.
The following evening, I took the unprecedented step of making the offerings – burning of incense and paper money – to appease the restless spirits, which I had never done before. Thereafter, the ghastly screams did not come back.