Not Thanking Them for the Food: On Food Offering Prayers

Photo by Nathan Tice.

Dialogue from Lama Karma’s Ngondro Group

(Editor’s note: many people are familiar with Lama Karma Drodhul, one of KTD’s resident lamas, who has taken a special interest in Ngondro and training students in the traditions of the Mahamudra preliminaries. Lama Karma’s Ngondro Group on Google is a place for practitioners to share their Ngondro experiences and challenges, and find advice and tips on their favorite practice. Sometimes, discussions cover other topics, as well. Here is one such exchange, in which students share their experiences of the Meal Offering Prayer.)

DEAR LAMA KARMA, I have been trying to be more mindful about doing the food offering prayer, and I think that one reason I forget is that I’m not sure what it means.
I understand the Christian idea of praying before you eat because you are basically saying, “God provided this good food to nourish our bodies and we’re thankful for what we are about to receive.  Thank you, God.”  It’s being thankful for something God has given you. But in the Buddhist prayer, we are offering the food to the Three Jewels — and then we eat.

I understand the offerings we make on the shrine because it is not something we consume, and the offerings correspond to good qualities we are trying to cultivate in ourselves for the benefit of all sentient beings.  But I don’t understand making offerings and then eating them.  Though now that I think of it we do it in the practice of Tsok feast, too. I’m sure it’s simple!  Thank you for explaining when you have the time.

LAMA KARMA WRITES: The meaning of food offering is that people take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha with understanding. We take refuge in the Three Jewels in order to liberate all beings from suffering. Right now, we don’t have the power to do that, and we need to travel on the path just like all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas did. Therefore we take the Three Jewels as an example how they are able to help so many beings. After taking refuge in them, we treasure the Three Jewels and offer anything to them before we enjoy it so that way we have less attachment to the things and we gather accumulation of merit. Once we offer, then we can eat.

If we don’t eat, then our body can’t go on in order to practice. In this way, the food that we eat not only lacks bad intention, it is also blessed by the Three Jewels. Karmapa Chenno!

DEAR LAMA KARMA, Thank you for this.  I’m going to print it out and put it on my refrigerator. If I understand correctly, the prayer is a way of being mindful.  We’re not “thanking them for the food” the way it is in the Christian tradition.  But we are taking the moment of eating as a way to remember the Three Jewels, to honor them by symbolically offering the food and receiving their blessings in return, and then eating for strength to follow the path.  By offering, we get into the habit of symbolically giving the food instead of just eating greedily for ourselves.

Another question — I don’t mean this to be silly — what about snacks?  I often grab a handful of almonds or a banana.  Should we do the prayer whenever we eat anything or drink tea?  Or is it just for the big meals?  I have a feeling it should be every time because it makes you more conscious.

DEAR LAMA KARMA, aren’t we supposed to offer all things given to us, or what we buy, or eat, or get for the first time, or make… aren’t we supposed to offer all good, new, first-time possessions to the Three Jewels?

DEAR LAMA KARMA,  I had a problem with compulsively grabbing some food and eating it as I went through my day, especially if I was stressed out.  I have found that once I got into the habit of doing the purification and offering prayers before I eat *anything* it helped me realize I didn’t really need to do this.  Not surprisingly the “compulsive eating” and “offering” states of mind are mutually incompatible and become glaringly so once you start to recite the prayers!  Even if in my absentminded stupor I forget the blessings, I find I now get a strong “wake-up” as soon as the food hits my mouth, which is disconcerting… but in a good way.  I think there’s a little dharmapala that has taken up residence there.(smile) I won’t pretend to have the right answer to the question, but when I offer to the Three Jewels what I myself am about to eat it reminds me that I am taking refuge in the Three Jewels and committing the body to use the food to perform actions that benefit others.  From that perspective, it has been a  happy practice for me at least.

Offered a sandwich at lunch today that had a few bites out of it, but that’s progress!

LAMA KARMA WRITES:  Thank you all of your support for each other and it makes us very happy as family! When I grab a snack (first I typed snake! Oops), it is a reminder of the Three Jewels, and I say in Tibetan, “I offer this to the Three Jewels” sometimes out loud, and sometimes mentally. It’s a very good method to develop awareness and be mindful. As mentioned above, we offer every good thing to the Three Jewels. It gathers a lot of merit! Karmapa Chenno! You guys are great!

DEAR LAMA KARMA,  I have found some sources on the internet to share with everyone about food offering prayers.

  • Food offering prayers are almost ubiquitous on the net, but here’s one source.
  • Also, Thrangu Rinpoche’s site.
  • A search of KTD’s site brought up this translation.
  • The original Tibetan as well as yet another phonetization/translation can be found here  … check the menu on the left hand side for study and practice aids.
  • www.lamakathy.net has that prayer and others to download! Check out her site. Always keep an eye (and ear) on Lama Kathy’s site, a treasure house of limitless generosity.

At Thrangu Rinpoche’s Vajra Vidya Retreat Center they teach both a mantra and an offering prayer to be recited one after the other before the meal. The first is to purify the offering, second to actually make the offering:

Mantra to Purify Offerings:
NAMO BHAGAWATE SUMERU KALPA RAJAYA TATHAGATAYE ARHATE
SAMYAKSAMBUDDHAYE TADYATHA OM KALPE KALPE MAHAKALPE KALPE PARISHODHANI SVAHA

Translation:
I prostrate to the Bhagavan, the king comparable to Mount Meru, the Tathagata, Arhat, complete and perfect Buddha.
Thus it is: Om, comparable, comparable, great comparable, comparable, completely pure. So be it.”
(The “comparable” part confuses me a bit but on the other hand I’ve rarely seen mantras translated at all!)

Meal Prayer:
TUN PA LA MAY SANG GYE RINPOCHE
KYOP PA LA MAY DAM CHÖ RINPOCHE
DREN PA LA MAY GEN DUN RINPOCHE
KYAB NE KON CHÖK SUM LA CHÖ PA BÖL

Translation:
The unsurpassable teacher is the precious Buddha.
The unsurpassable protector is the precious Dharma.
The unsurpassable refuge is the precious Sangha.
To these Three Jewels, we make this offering.

Hope this helps!

Print your own copy of the Mantra to Purify Offerings and the Meal Prayer here.  Works best if the printer is set to ‘landscape’ paper orientation.

A STUDENT WRITES: That is wonderful. Thank you!  I’m printing it out and putting in on my fridge.  I work at home and can be a bit of a grabber, too. Thank you, this is really useful. At the Monlam, when the tea was served and proceedings paused, was this the mantra they chanted? (just wondering) …  that’s the meal chant passed numerous times yesterday …

I watched the Monlam online and recall that, yes, the “Mantra to Purify Offerings” quoted above was the mantra they used at the tea breaks. I remember because it was one of the rare occasions while listening that my wife and I recognized something we knew.  So we immediately chimed in loudly to offer our support!

A QUESTION FOR LAMA KARMA: When I make offerings of water and food at the shrine in the morning I say the same mantra and offering prayer.  I don’t know if this is correct–no one ever taught me how to do this–but it seemed like the right thing to do.  Is there a better practice for this? Tashi Delek!

LAMA KARMA WRITES:  Thank you for sending the mantra and prayers for the meal! We are using this often and it’s good to have translation. When we fill the shrine bowls, we use neither the mantra and nor the prayer. These are the “meal prayer” recitations, and we don’t use these for any other offerings, such as new clothes or any new items. When we fill the bowls on our shrine, we just think we are offering them to the Three Jewels for the sake of all beings and with devotion. There is a special “offering mantra” for this purpose, and it’s quite long. It multiplies the offering when we recite it. I will type one day when I get a proper transliteration.
Karmapa Chenno!

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2 thoughts on “Not Thanking Them for the Food: On Food Offering Prayers

  1. Thanks for this great article. Interest and requests for copies of the meal prayer and questions around mindful eating came up during our most recent retreat “Opening to Compassion: A Workshop on Addiction Recovery” at KTD 🙂

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