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Verses after meals

Verses after meals

Part of a series of short talks about the meaning and purpose of the food offering prayers that are recited daily at Sravasti Abbey.

  • Offering to the pretas
  • Mantras to purify wrongdoings
  • Dedicating especially for those who offer us food
  • Dedicating for those who have harmed us

What we do after the meal is we make an offering to the hungry ghosts. In the Chinese tradition they do it before the meal. We do it after the meal. You take some of the food that you’ve eaten—usually you have rice or bread or something you can take and put in your hand and make (your hand) into a fist. Often you block it, but you don’t have to. It has to be made from the food that you’ve eaten because the hungry ghosts cannot partake of fresh food because of their karma. Their karma obscures them from seeing fresh food as something edible.

There’s a story that at the time of the Buddha there was one mother hungry ghost—the Sanskrit term is “preta”—she was killing human beings, stealing human beings and their children to feed her own children. The Buddha saw all these people disappearing, babies disappearing, and said what’s happening. The mama preta said, “Well, I have 500 children and they’re hungry and I’ve got to feed them.” And the Buddha said, “Better to be vegetarian and abandon killing, and my disciples will feed you every day so that you have food for your children and you don’t have to kill any other living beings to get it.” That’s the story behind the preta offering.

We make it every day after lunch, having it in our hands, and then when we say this mantra:

om utsita bandi ashibya soha
(to offer to the pretas)

We imagine it transforming into blissful wisdom nectar and the mantra helps the pretas to be able to see it as something edible. Then you usually throw it on the floor, you throw it in the middle of the table and you snap your fingers to call the pretas to come.

If you’ve done this inside and the pieces are all over the place, then after the meal you take them and you put them outside. Sometimes at the Abbey we’re in the habit of passing around pieces of bread that then people taste and then use, but what people should be more careful with is if you have rice, if you have bread that you’ve already been eating, save some of what you took on your plate and use that. I think that’s actually more in line than giving everybody something a little bit extra at the end.

Of course, you’re not going to do that with spaghetti sauce or with salad, that’s just going to make a mess. You do it with some kind of grain that you can hold in your hand.

Then we usually say the perfection of wisdom mantra after that….

tayata gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi soha

…before we snap our fingers, because that’s reminding us that it’s going into emptiness and then coming out as something edible for all the pretas. Then we toss it. And you can imagine all the pretas coming to get it and being satisfied because you’ve made it really huge and enormous with the ability to satisfy their hunger and thirst. You imagine that. It’s an act of generosity that we practice.

We should do it every day here at the Abbey because they say there are some pretas that turn up every day, they’re in the habit. Like we turn up every day. Food, food. The pretas come every day, “Food, food.” So we should make sure that, even on days that we’re doing nyung ne, if there’s somebody who isn’t that there’s a preta offering made so that they receive something.

Then we do:

chomdenday deshin shegpa drachompa yangdagpar tsogpay sangye rinchen okyi gyalpo may o rabtu selwa la chag tsal lo (3x)

Translation: I bow to the bhagavan, the tathagata, the arhat, the fully accomplished Buddha, victor of precious light, brightly shining fire light.

That’s a Tibetan one.

The next one:

nama samanta prabhara jaya tathagataya arhate samyaksam buddhaya namo manjushriye kumara bhutaya bodhisattvaya mahasattvaya maha karunikaya tayata om niralambha nirabhase jaya jaye lambhe mahamate daki dakenam meparishvadha soha (3x)

Translation: This is in Sanskrit. This is also to the tataghata, an arhat, a fully awakened Buddha, homage to Manjushri, to the bodhisattva, the great being, the great compassionate one, it is like this….

And then the rest of the mantra I really don’t know what it means.

The idea behind reciting these two is, if we accepted food as offerings but somehow we made mistakes in our precepts or we’re not fully fulfilling what we should be doing, reciting this helps to purify, so it’s good to imagine the Buddha at that time, and light coming into us as we recite this, and then purifying any kind of misdeeds on our part.

Then we’ll start the dedication prayer. These next set of verses (we won’t do them all today), they’re a dedication prayer from the Tibetan tradition, and we’re dedicating for all sentient beings, but specifically for the people who donated the food. So, all of you who came to the Abbey and made food offerings, all the people who send money to the people in Coeur d’Alene and Spokane who buy groceries on their behalf and bring them up here. All these people who contribute to our having food at the community and the food we share with all of you, it’s all coming from offerings, then we dedicate for the wellbeing and the spiritual progress of all of these people. Because there’s a very close relationship between somebody who’s practicing and the people who are keeping them alive so they can practice. It’s a very close relationship. So of course we want to thank those people, and the best way is to dedicate for their wellbeing.

We start out:

May all those who offered me food attain happiness of total peace.

Which means may they attain nirvana.

May all those who offered me drink [things to drink], who served me….

Who put the food out, who put our bowls on our tables or served us, sometimes you’re eating in places they put the food directly on your plate. This could include the people who transported the food and who grew it, because all of those are people who served me in some way or another. The people who clean up, who do the pots and pans and wash our bowls and plates and so on. All of those people.

…who received me,

Often the sangha eats at homes of people who have invited the sangha to come. This would be if somebody received you, asked you out for sangha dana (to offer food) at their home, at a restaurant, they’re the people who received you.

who honored me,

If you are ordained and they show respect to you because you’re ordained.

or who made offerings to me….

Anybody who offers us, like, the whole meal is offered to us, or make any kind of other offerings to us that enable us to stay alive, so I think if you’re working at a job maybe you have to dedicate for your employer who is paying you money because they’re offering you the money that you use to stay alive and that’s kindness on their part. It’s in interesting, instead of ,”I worked for this, I earned it, give it to me,” to think of, “When I came into this world I was totally broke and look at everything I have now and it’s all because people gave it to me.”

…may they attain happiness which is total peace.

May they attain nirvana. It could be the nirvana of an arhat, but better we dedicate for the non-abiding nirvana of a buddha.

May all those who scold me, make me unhappy, hit me, attack me with weapons, or do things up to the point of killing me attain the happiness of awakening. May they fully awaken to the unsurpassed, perfectly accomplished state of Buddhahood.

Here’s the more difficult one. The first verse it was everybody who’s nice to me. So of course praying for them, dedicating for them, may they all attain nirvana. But those who scold me? May they go to hell. Those who make me unhappy? May they go to an even lower hell. This is our ordinary way of thinking. But that ordinary way of thinking is not becoming for somebody who is on the receiving end of offerings. So we have to change our attitude, and especially this judgmental, critical attitude and the mind that just says, “Well, people treat me mean, I throw them in the ‘enemy’ category, throw them out the window, they’re irredeemable and I hate them forever….” We’ve got to change that attitude. You can’t be a Dharma practitioner and hang onto that attitude. You have to work with it.

And I don’t care how horribly somebody may have treated you in this life or previous lives, for our own wellbeing and benefit we have to forgive. We have to drop the anger. It’s not a matter of saying what they did is right, we can say what they did was not appropriate and it was harmful, but for our own well being we cannot go through this life and future lives hanging onto grudges and hatred, because we’re the primary person that is miserable because of it. And you’ve never heard of a buddha who wants revenge. In all the stories of the Buddha’s previous lives,, you don’t read a Jataka Tale, “When the Buddha was a bodhisattva he decided to take revenge on somebody who harmed him.” No. All the stories are about when the Buddha was a bodhisattva how he forgave and found a way to communicate with that person and overlooked what happened. So we’ve got to transform our mind into that.

People who scold us, who yell at us, who point our faults out, who say what we did was wrong. Look around you, you see them all. They’re also the same people who were kind to you, who served you, who honored you, and who made offerings to you.

People who make you unhappy. All the people who make us whine, “I’m so unhappy, this world is unfair, I should be happy all the time and I’m not and it’s their fault.” All those people who make us unhappy, and the people who make us unhappy because all they do is whine and complain about being so unhappy…. [laughter] So, all those people who make us unhappy, who hit us (that includes the cat), attack us with weapons. All the terrorists, all the criminals, all the people we want to put one label on and throw out the window, but they’re more than that one act in their life. Who hit is, who attack me with weapons, or who do things up to the point of killing us. They’re really ferocious and are victimizing us in some ways. All those people, they’re victimizing us but we refuse to be a victim. We refuse to be a victim by not holding a victim mentality. This verse is telling us how to not hold a victim mentality. All those people that do things up to the point of killing us. How do we not hold a victim mentality? We say, “May they attain the happiness of awakening.”

If anybody deserves happiness it should be the people who harm us the most because they’re the most unhappy. People who are happy don’t harm other people. People who are unhappy are the people that we should especially pray for them to have happiness. Instead of always focusing on what they did to us think about their unhappiness that made them act in that way. Also recognize that whatever they did is just this life’s suffering. The worst anybody can do to us is kill us. But nobody can make us take a lower rebirth. People may kill us, they cannot make us take a lower rebirth. What makes us take a lower rebirth? Our own negative actions. So other people are not the real enemies to be afraid of. It’s our own self-grasping, our own self-centeredness that are the real enemies. Those are the things that send us to hell. But those are the things that we invite into our lives and take care of. “Oh self-centeredness please come into my life and help me get everything I want. And self-grasping, please help me be the most important person.”

“May they fully awaken to the unsurpassed perfectly accomplished state of buddhahood.” Not even arhatship. Not even just being a bodhisattva. But fully awakened buddhas whose mindstreams are completely purified, who have gained all the realizations. So all these people, you imagine all… Jihadi John, and you make this prayer for Jihadi John. And you make this prayer for whoever it was who beat you up on the playground in first grade who you still hate.

When I did Vajrasattva retreat many years ago I realized I was still mad at my second grade teacher for not letting me be in the class play. Ridiculous, isn’t it? The kind of grudges we hold onto, for stupidaggios. Do we want to die with those grudges? No thank you. So completely changing our mind is what we need to do, and this is the verse that helps us do it.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.