Hungry Ghost Altar

Hungry Ghost Ceremony via Zoom

Sunday, October 31, 2021    |    10:30 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. via Zoom Place: Vermont Zen Center | 480 Thomas Rd | Shelburne, VT

A Ceremony for the Liberation of Hungry Ghosts will be held on Sunday, October 31, at 10:30 a.m. During this observance, we offer food and drink to the hungry, thirsty inhabitants of the preta realm.

Hungry ghosts, or pretas, are beings in a sub-human state of development. Due to their extreme greed in prior lifetimes, they have been reborn in a state where they constantly suffer from hunger and thirst. Their stomachs are grossly distended, their limbs emaciated, and their mouths are as small as the eye of a needle. Whatever they eat turns to poison; whatever they drink turns to fire.

Ceremony History

According to legend, a disciple of the Buddha, Moggallana, was plagued by nightmares of his mother being tormented in a realm in which she could neither eat nor drink. The Buddha told Moggallana that his mother was in the realm of pretas, and he should try to help her overcome her bad karma through a special ceremony.

Making Offerings

During the Hungry Ghost Ceremony, we make offerings of food and water to the beings of the preta realm and chant sutras on their behalf. The food, freely offered, does not turn into poison or fire. To make this gift, we must overcome our own greed, and by doing so, we set an example for the hungry ghosts. This is why at many Buddhist homes and temples, small bowls are passed at the beginning of each meal to make food and drink offerings to the hungry ghosts.

Changes to Remembrance Ceremony—Please Read

Although the ceremony is directed to hungry ghosts, it is also a time to remember all beings who have died in the preceding year. After the ceremony proper, a purification fire is lit, during which time people offer the names of deceased loved ones. This year, since only a few people will be physically present for the ceremony, please send Roshi the names of those you would like to remember, and she will place the remembrance papers in the fire.

In previous years, as each name was placed in the fire, a few words were said about the person. This year, since we don't know how many people will participate in the ceremony, it might not be possible for everyone to talk about the people they are remembering. Once we have a count of the number attending, we can figure out whether or not people can say something about who they are remembering or whether it would be better to do this another way, such as printing a list on the member page with short tributes.

Personal Ghosts

Finally, the ceremony is an opportunity to appease our personal ghosts—the voracious demons who fill us with passions for food, drink, recognition, possessions, money, and all manner of unhappiness. The ceremony, then, is one of personal, as well as other-worldly, cleansing, appeasement, and renewal. It is also an expression of our compassionate concern for beings in all realms.

At our Center, we combine the Hungry Ghost Ceremony with a Halloween celebration. Children are especially welcome, so please extend a cordial invitation to all your family members to participate via Zoom. Friends and relatives who are not Sangha members are also invited. Participate in street clothes or wear a costume if you wish.

Altars for Relatives/Ancestors—Not This Year

Ancestor Altar

In recent years we have had a space to honor our ancestors during the Hungry Ghost ceremony. This year we will not do that as it won't be possible for anyone other than the few people physically present to set up individual altars. In addition, we are too short staffed to do the extensive preparations necessary. But, you can always do this in your home.

We hope you will join us in this ceremony of aid for the beings in the realm of the Hungry Ghosts.