One day, Ananda received a visitor. He was a horrible Hungry Spirit, belching fire from his mouth. He said, “You will die in three days and fall into the World of the Hungry Spirits. This is your fate. If you don’t like it, serve meals to all of the Hungry Spirits tomorrow."
It seemed impossible to serve meals to all in the world of Hungry Spirits. Ananda asked the Buddha how he could be saved from certain doom. The Buddha replied, “Instead of serving meals, hold a Buddhist service for them and chant the sutras. The merits of holding services and chanting sutras will save all of them from the suffering of starvation.” This is the origin of Segaki.
Segaki can be held at anytime but the purpose of this event is almost the same as the summer events associated with Obon. One may say, “Obon is held to save friends, relatives, or lost souls while Segaki is to save oneself.” The first Obon service was held by Mokuren to save his mother. The first Segaki service was held by Ananda to save himself from falling into the world of the Hungry Spirits. The result turned out the same: to try to save all living beings and all souls from suffering.
Our founder Nichiren Shonin wrote about Mokuren’s episode in a letter commonly known as the Urabon Gosho:
“After all, Mokuren could not save his suffering mother, because he had believed in the Hinayana teaching and observed its 250 disciplines. However, Mokuren later put his faith in the Lotus Sutra and discarded the 250 disciplines. He recited the Lotus Sutra ‘Namu Myoho Renge Kyo’ by heart. As a result, he became a Buddha called Tamarabassendan Fragrance Buddha. At that moment, his parents, too, became Buddhas.
“The great merit of Mokuren’s faith in the Lotus Sutra is that not only he himself attained Buddhahood but that his parents, too, attained the same. Not only his seven generations of ancestors and posterities, but also those in innumerable generations in the past and future are bound to attain Buddhahood without knowing it. … Therefore, it is stated in the third roll of the Lotus Sutra ‘May this merit spread over all living beings, and may we altogether attain Buddhahood.’”