Tirokudda Sutta: Hungry shades outside the wall

When he was wandering along still a saint with no mission accomplished, King Bimbisara wanted him to make one promise: visit him first on the next visit to Rajagaha. The sage's next visit took five long years of hardship. The Buddha kept the promise when he was in hometown after nine months of enlightenment; King Bimbisara, for that matter, was topmost even above his one-time family.

On the Buddha's second day at Rajagaha, the king's palace was experiencing great hue and cry from some apparitions. The apparitions were workers tasked with distributing alms to the Buddha and the retinue, eons ago. But they neglected their duty keeping some gifts for themselves.

They suffered so long, for that reason, and became apparitions in Kassapa Buddha's period. Kassapa Buddha asked them to wait for Gauthama Buddha's time when King Bimbisara, their one-time relative, gathers merit for them by distributing alms to the Buddha. They waited so long, and had to create a scene when King Bimbisara failed to fulfill what they require.

The Buddha could see the plight in his divine eye and spelled it out to the king. The Buddha accepted the alms by the king and invoked blessings to the dead relatives reciting Tirokudda Sutta.

This contemplative recital is found in Khuddakapatha recitals in Khuddaka Nikaya (short recital section), elucidating the generosity expounding how gifts to the Sangha can be dedicated to the welfare of one's dead relatives.

Here goes the poetic translation into English by Ven. Thanissaro, an American Buddhist monk of the Thai forest kammatthana tradition:

Outside the walls they stand, and at crossroads.

At door posts they stand,
returning to their old homes.
But when a meal with plentiful
food and drink is served,
no one remembers them:
Such is the Kamma of living beings.

Thus those who feel sympathy
for their dead relatives give timely
donations of proper food and drink
- exquisite and clean - thinking:
"May this be for our relatives.
May our relatives be happy!"

And those who have gathered there,
the assembled shades of the relatives,
with appreciation give their blessing
for the plentiful food and drink:
"May our relatives live long
because of whom we have gained (this gift).
We have been honored,
and the donors are not without reward!"

For there (in their realm) there is
no farming,
no herding of cattle,
no commerce,
no trading with money.
They live on what is given here,
hungry shades
whose time here is done.

As water raining on a hill
flows down to the valley,
even so does what is given here
benefit the dead.
As rivers full of water
fill the ocean full,
even so does what is given here
benefit the dead.

"He gave to me, she acted on my behalf,
they were my relatives,
companions, friends."
Offerings should be given for the dead
when one reflects thus
on things done in the past.
For no weeping,
no sorrowing
no other lamentation
benefits the dead
whose relatives persist in that way.
But when this offering is given,
well-placed in the Sangha,
it works for their long-term benefit
and they profit immediately.

In this way the proper duty
to relatives has been shown,
great honour has been done to the dead,
and monks have been given strength:
The merit you have acquired
Is not small.

- SM

source: http://www.dailynews.lk/2009/01/10/fea11.asp