Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

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Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby Kaji » Fri Aug 24, 2012 12:15 pm

I've just done a quick search for "preta-dana" and it seems this topic has not been discussed on dharmawheel.net. Does anybody here apart from me practises it on a regular basis?

I have made a commitment to do preta-dana every evening. I include in the ritual dharani that can help direct the ghosts (and any other beings) to the Pure Land(s), or at least become Deva.

Here I offer to perform preta-dana for any beings that you (i.e., all fellow forum users) name here. Simply type the names of the relatives, friends, pets, enemies, etc. in your post. I will try to summon them the next time I perform preta-dana and hopefully they will receive the benefits. It is OK if you don't know the name of the beings, as long as you give me a specific way to summon them, e.g.
- "John Doe's karmic debts"
- "The ant that I, John Doe, accidentally stepped on this morning"
- "All the animals that I, John Doe, have eaten in the past"
- "All the parents of me, John Doe, in all my previous lives"
- "All those who have died in the recent natural disaster"

It is OK to do this for them even if you are not sure if they have been reincarnated into e.g. a human or animal. According to what I have learned, they in their current life forms would still benefit from the blessing.

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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby catmoon » Fri Aug 24, 2012 12:18 pm

Anyone who does the water bowl offering is practising this when the think "may all sentient beings have food, water, light...." and so on.
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby Kaji » Fri Aug 24, 2012 12:28 pm

catmoon wrote:Anyone who does the water bowl offering is practising this when the think "may all sentient beings have food, water, light...." and so on.

I am not too familiar with the water bowl offering. In my preta-dana practice I...
1) Firstly use mantra to summon the preta
2) Sprinkle water blessed with the mantra of Ratna-Shikine Tathaagata to relieve them of suffering and help them open their mouths
3) Invite the preta to repent and make the four bodhisattva vows together with me
4) Take refuge to the Triple Gems together with them
5) Bless seven grains of rice with the names of the eight Buddha
6) Bless the rice grains with dharani so that the preta will be reborn to the Pure Land or at least devahood
7) With a mantra multiple the amount of the rice grains manyfold and offer to the preta
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby Ikkyu » Sat Aug 25, 2012 5:24 am

To me the whole concept behind preta-dana is about sacrificing oneself and one's ego for the good of all beings, and in this case those beings that suffer more than humans. I usually stop it at that -- it's a quaint notion. But to actually believe that you can summon ghosts and direct them to other planes of existence with mantras, dharanis, etc. and "offerings" of food and water is just silly. I guess that many Buddhist texts, including the Buddha himself as he is quoted in the main canons, refer to hungry ghosts and whatnot. But you have to remember that this concept was endemic to India and the ancient Vedic peoples and is really nothing more than superstition. I think the spirit of the thing (i.e. being altruistic for the compassion of many) is more important than the literal idea of satiating ghosts. Summoning ghosts and sending them to the Pure Lands is basically the same as what the Mormons do when they baptize dead people so they can go to their version of Heaven.
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby Blue Garuda » Sat Aug 25, 2012 7:30 am

I'm not sure why other spirits have been ignored in defining this narrow group as worthy of special attention.

Offerings should be inclusive not exclusive. ;)
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby Kaji » Sat Aug 25, 2012 8:34 am

Ikkyu wrote:To me the whole concept behind preta-dana is about sacrificing oneself and one's ego for the good of all beings, and in this case those beings that suffer more than humans. I usually stop it at that -- it's a quaint notion. But to actually believe that you can summon ghosts and direct them to other planes of existence with mantras, dharanis, etc. and "offerings" of food and water is just silly. I guess that many Buddhist texts, including the Buddha himself as he is quoted in the main canons, refer to hungry ghosts and whatnot. But you have to remember that this concept was endemic to India and the ancient Vedic peoples and is really nothing more than superstition. I think the spirit of the thing (i.e. being altruistic for the compassion of many) is more important than the literal idea of satiating ghosts. Summoning ghosts and sending them to the Pure Lands is basically the same as what the Mormons do when they baptize dead people so they can go to their version of Heaven.

You may want to refer to a number of sutra for the Buddha's teaching. I list below a few examples; there are many more relevant ones.

Taisho Tripitaka Indian Compilation - T21 Esoteric Teachings Division IV (List available at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Portal_ta ... _sutras.29)
1191. The Sutra of Manjushuri's Fundamental Liturgy in the Great Means Expansive Bodhisattvas' Treasury (vol 10)
1313. The Buddha Speaks of the Sutra of the Dharani of Saving Hungry Ghosts from Flaming Mouths
1314. The Buddha Speaks of the Sutra of the Dharani Spiritual Mantra for Saving Hungry Ghosts with Faces Ablaze
1315. The Dharma of Giving Food and Water to All Hungry Ghosts
1316. The Buddha Speaks of the Sweet Dew Sutra's Dharani Mantras
1317. The Sweet Dew Dharani Mantra
1318. The Sutra of Flaming Mouth Dharani Liturgy of A Collection of Yogic Essentials in Saving Ananda
1319. The Causes to the Beginnings of Teaching Ananda by Giving Food Through the Flaming Mouth in the Collection of Yogic Essentials
1320. The Rite of Giving Food Through the Flaming Mouth in the Collection of Yogic Essentials
1321. The Buddha Speaks of the Great Dharani Sutra of Giving Hungry Ghosts Sweet Dew Flavors
1386. The Buddha Speaks of the Sutra of Wonderful Color Dharani

Taisho Tripitaka Indian Compilation - T18 Esoteric Teachings Division I
899. The Three Types of Sidans of the Pure Dharma Body Vairocana Mind Ground Dharma Door for Realizing All Dharanis
The third mantra, spoken by Avalokitesvara, can be used to bless food for offering to preta, so that they will be reborn to Maitreya's Pure Land.

The Casket Seal Dharani, contained in the sutra T19 Esoteric Teachings Division II No.1022, can be used to send one's parents or other ancestors from even the depths of hell to Amitabha's Pure Land.
Last edited by Kaji on Sat Aug 25, 2012 8:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby Kaji » Sat Aug 25, 2012 8:53 am

Blue Garuda wrote:I'm not sure why other spirits have been ignored in defining this narrow group as worthy of special attention.

Offerings should be inclusive not exclusive. ;)

Different practitioners, given their different affinities, personalities, abilities and knowledge, may choose to help different types of beings in different ways.

Practitioners in our human world have been to known to help sick people, poor people, victims of war, crime and natural disasters, animals, etc. They can help these beings in various ways, through curing diseases, comforting them, offering food, clothing, shelter, education, etc. I help other people around me that need my help. Preta are another group of beings that need my help, and I have a way to help them, so I help them. It is as simple as that. It only takes me around 15 minutes every evening and the material cost is merely seven grains of rice and a bit of water.
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby Blue Garuda » Sat Aug 25, 2012 10:01 am

Kaji wrote:
Blue Garuda wrote:I'm not sure why other spirits have been ignored in defining this narrow group as worthy of special attention.

Offerings should be inclusive not exclusive. ;)

Different practitioners, given their different affinities, personalities, abilities and knowledge, may choose to help different types of beings in different ways.

Practitioners in our human world have been to known to help sick people, poor people, victims of war, crime and natural disasters, animals, etc. They can help these beings in various ways, through curing diseases, comforting them, offering food, clothing, shelter, education, etc. I help other people around me that need my help. Preta are another group of beings that need my help, and I have a way to help them, so I help them. It is as simple as that. It only takes me around 15 minutes every evening and the material cost is merely seven grains of rice and a bit of water.



It would take exactly the same 15 minutes to include all others in the spirit realm, though. That was my point - you are excluding others who may benefit rather than including them at no cost to yourself. I just think 'hungry ghosts' are for some reason the focus of practices which could be far more inclusive.

It's not like feeding 2 stray cats instead of one - we can nourish all spirits with the same offering, so it is not the same as the other examples you gave at all.

There is a limit to which we can help the world's starving or our neighbours, but no limit to the number of spirits included in a practice, so why restrict it?

Just my heretical view on preta practices. ;)
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby Kaji » Sat Aug 25, 2012 10:13 am

Blue Garuda wrote:It would take exactly the same 15 minutes to include all others in the spirit realm, though. That was my point - you are excluding others who may benefit rather than including them at no cost to yourself. I just think 'hungry ghosts' are for some reason the focus of practices which could be far more inclusive.

It's not like feeding 2 stray cats instead of one - we can nourish all spirits with the same offering, so it is not the same as the other examples you gave at all.

There is a limit to which we can help the world's starving or our neighbours, but no limit to the number of spirits included in a practice, so why restrict it?

Just my heretical view on preta practices. ;)

After the 15-minute preta-dana ritual, I normally share the good karma with all beings in the Dharma realm anyway.

During preta-dana, if beings other than preta can come and receive my offering, sure I'd definitely welcome them and not exclude them. I just don't know if that actually works. I know that it works for ghosts, so I am referring to this practice as "offering food to ghosts". I do not mean it to be an exclusive practice.
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby Lotus415 » Tue Aug 28, 2012 3:39 pm

Ikkyu wrote:To me the whole concept behind preta-dana is about sacrificing oneself and one's ego for the good of all beings, and in this case those beings that suffer more than humans. I usually stop it at that -- it's a quaint notion. But to actually believe that you can summon ghosts and direct them to other planes of existence with mantras, dharanis, etc. and "offerings" of food and water is just silly. I guess that many Buddhist texts, including the Buddha himself as he is quoted in the main canons, refer to hungry ghosts and whatnot. But you have to remember that this concept was endemic to India and the ancient Vedic peoples and is really nothing more than superstition. I think the spirit of the thing (i.e. being altruistic for the compassion of many) is more important than the literal idea of satiating ghosts. Summoning ghosts and sending them to the Pure Lands is basically the same as what the Mormons do when they baptize dead people so they can go to their version of Heaven.



Wow, feels like another forum I know of where all the westerners think they know better than ancient Buddhist practices and call everything superstition! Never really understood why so-called followers like to consistently mock and ridicule ancient Buddhist practices, even those taught by Shakyamuni himself. As a westerner myself, this is what really has pushed me away from wanting to associate with many "temples" which cater to westerners, where it seems it's more about "feeling good" and quite cliquey, and feeling "right" and "more educated" than thousands of years of Asian Buddhism!

Ikkyu, you may want to refresh yourself with the TOS, of which has been recently added:

"an addition to section #2 of the Terms of Service:


- This is not a "comparative religion site", it is a site to learn and discuss the Buddha's teachings without animosity.
- In support of this:

* Badmouthing of other spiritual paths is not allowed."
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby Ikkyu » Wed Aug 29, 2012 6:30 pm

Kaji wrote:
Ikkyu wrote:To me the whole concept behind preta-dana is about sacrificing oneself and one's ego for the good of all beings, and in this case those beings that suffer more than humans. I usually stop it at that -- it's a quaint notion. But to actually believe that you can summon ghosts and direct them to other planes of existence with mantras, dharanis, etc. and "offerings" of food and water is just silly. I guess that many Buddhist texts, including the Buddha himself as he is quoted in the main canons, refer to hungry ghosts and whatnot. But you have to remember that this concept was endemic to India and the ancient Vedic peoples and is really nothing more than superstition. I think the spirit of the thing (i.e. being altruistic for the compassion of many) is more important than the literal idea of satiating ghosts. Summoning ghosts and sending them to the Pure Lands is basically the same as what the Mormons do when they baptize dead people so they can go to their version of Heaven.

You may want to refer to a number of sutra for the Buddha's teaching. I list below a few examples; there are many more relevant ones.

Taisho Tripitaka Indian Compilation - T21 Esoteric Teachings Division IV (List available at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Portal_ta ... _sutras.29)
1191. The Sutra of Manjushuri's Fundamental Liturgy in the Great Means Expansive Bodhisattvas' Treasury (vol 10)
1313. The Buddha Speaks of the Sutra of the Dharani of Saving Hungry Ghosts from Flaming Mouths
1314. The Buddha Speaks of the Sutra of the Dharani Spiritual Mantra for Saving Hungry Ghosts with Faces Ablaze
1315. The Dharma of Giving Food and Water to All Hungry Ghosts
1316. The Buddha Speaks of the Sweet Dew Sutra's Dharani Mantras
1317. The Sweet Dew Dharani Mantra
1318. The Sutra of Flaming Mouth Dharani Liturgy of A Collection of Yogic Essentials in Saving Ananda
1319. The Causes to the Beginnings of Teaching Ananda by Giving Food Through the Flaming Mouth in the Collection of Yogic Essentials
1320. The Rite of Giving Food Through the Flaming Mouth in the Collection of Yogic Essentials
1321. The Buddha Speaks of the Great Dharani Sutra of Giving Hungry Ghosts Sweet Dew Flavors
1386. The Buddha Speaks of the Sutra of Wonderful Color Dharani

Taisho Tripitaka Indian Compilation - T18 Esoteric Teachings Division I
899. The Three Types of Sidans of the Pure Dharma Body Vairocana Mind Ground Dharma Door for Realizing All Dharanis
The third mantra, spoken by Avalokitesvara, can be used to bless food for offering to preta, so that they will be reborn to Maitreya's Pure Land.

The Casket Seal Dharani, contained in the sutra T19 Esoteric Teachings Division II No.1022, can be used to send one's parents or other ancestors from even the depths of hell to Amitabha's Pure Land.


So because it was written in "holy texts" it must be true? Yet, as Bodhidharma famously said, there is nothing holy -- only emptiness. I think it's more about the spirit of the thing than the thing itself. Science cannot prove to us the existence of these beings so why bother believing in them? Is preta dana really a fundamental aspect of Buddhist soteriology: no. It's vestigial cultural practices of ancestor worship and supplication to supernatural beings.
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby Kaji » Thu Aug 30, 2012 1:13 am

Ikkyu wrote:So because it was written in "holy texts" it must be true? Yet, as Bodhidharma famously said, there is nothing holy -- only emptiness. I think it's more about the spirit of the thing than the thing itself. Science cannot prove to us the existence of these beings so why bother believing in them? Is preta dana really a fundamental aspect of Buddhist soteriology: no. It's vestigial cultural practices of ancestor worship and supplication to supernatural beings.

It looks like you are dealing with two hypotheses here: 1. "Is preta-dana valid?" and 2. "Are the Buddha's teachings as written in sutra valid?". Why not find out for yourself? Test the hypotheses diligently and scientifically. Do your research. Ask a multitude of people, especially Buddhist practitioners of different schools and including those that do not use the Internet. Think about the reason behind the Buddha's teaching. Empirically see if preta-dana works. Experience any effects it has on you.

In the Kālāma Sutta, the Buddha taught people to exercise sound logical reasoning - I suggest you read about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalama_Sutta

May I point out that Bodhidharma's teaching is not at a level that can be readily grasped and understood and felt by most human Buddhists. One cannot and should not take verses from the Zen school literally and use them as excuses to do things as you like. This is especially important when you encounter verses such as "not think of good nor think of evil..."; you cannot use that as a basis to stop doing good deeds.

Science? To take a scientific approach is to do what I suggested in my first paragraph above.

If you have an urge to comment on preta-dana (or anything in Buddhism or life in general, for that matter), you may want to understand it first. That way you won't be acting superstitiously and avoid being wrong (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/superstition superstition, noun - A belief, not based on human reason or scientific knowledge, that future events may be influenced by one's behaviour in some magical or mystical way.)

Wishing you the best!
Kaji
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby Ikkyu » Sat Oct 20, 2012 7:34 am

Kaji wrote:
Ikkyu wrote:So because it was written in "holy texts" it must be true? Yet, as Bodhidharma famously said, there is nothing holy -- only emptiness. I think it's more about the spirit of the thing than the thing itself. Science cannot prove to us the existence of these beings so why bother believing in them? Is preta dana really a fundamental aspect of Buddhist soteriology: no. It's vestigial cultural practices of ancestor worship and supplication to supernatural beings.

It looks like you are dealing with two hypotheses here: 1. "Is preta-dana valid?" and 2. "Are the Buddha's teachings as written in sutra valid?". Why not find out for yourself? Test the hypotheses diligently and scientifically. Do your research. Ask a multitude of people, especially Buddhist practitioners of different schools and including those that do not use the Internet. Think about the reason behind the Buddha's teaching. Empirically see if preta-dana works. Experience any effects it has on you.

In the Kālāma Sutta, the Buddha taught people to exercise sound logical reasoning - I suggest you read about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalama_Sutta

May I point out that Bodhidharma's teaching is not at a level that can be readily grasped and understood and felt by most human Buddhists. One cannot and should not take verses from the Zen school literally and use them as excuses to do things as you like. This is especially important when you encounter verses such as "not think of good nor think of evil..."; you cannot use that as a basis to stop doing good deeds.

Science? To take a scientific approach is to do what I suggested in my first paragraph above.

If you have an urge to comment on preta-dana (or anything in Buddhism or life in general, for that matter), you may want to understand it first. That way you won't be acting superstitiously and avoid being wrong (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/superstition superstition, noun - A belief, not based on human reason or scientific knowledge, that future events may be influenced by one's behaviour in some magical or mystical way.)

Wishing you the best!
Kaji


I'm not acting superstitiously. I'm not the one buttering up to imagined or postulated invisible beings that I can't prove with empirical evidence. I'm sorry, but when someone who believes that they can be a ghost's therapist tells me that I'M BEING SUPERSTITIOUS I feel like I'm going to keel over from sheer astonishment. I get that maybe you feel like you can justify yourself because "whoah man, it's like, and yeah, mystical and yeah" but I'll remain a skeptic, thank you very much.

And I would test this theory scientifically if there were a way to do so. The scientific method applies to invisible beings how? I mean I guess I could try doing a "preta-dana ritual" thingamajig myself but I get a strong feeling that absolutely nothing would happen. Even if there are ghosts I don't see why they would care about being offered a water bowl, a couple well-wishes or incense or a candle. Would a human being care about being offered incense or food? Well food, maybe, since humans have mouths to eat food with. A lot of people have suggested that "ghosts" are residual electro-magnetic energy from a human body left over in an area after it dies and measurable by fine-tuned sensors. I don't think the ghost cares either way about a smoking stick of nice-smelling stuff. In fact if I were a ghost and someone assumed I'd be enlightened or enjoy their mantras and candles and stuff I'd find it sort of offensive that a living person would try to get my attention or treat me in such a trivial way, as if to appease a dog with a dog treat. I'd rather have a conversation or just do my ghostly stuff. I think if I was a "preta" per se I'd be too tortured by my own karmic fruits to even really give a damn about somebody's nice wishes that i go to a Pure Land, mantras and vague rituals. I'd be going through something close to mental hell -- perhaps comparable to an iso treatment at a prison or, like, a heroin withdrawal -- so why would I care? Plus, as according to the Buddha, I should be my own refuge and raft. Why do I, as a hungry ghost, need someone else to step in on my behalf. Let me enlighten myself. Under what pretense do you not think I'm good enough? Just because I'm a ghost? Sheesh.
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby Konchog1 » Sat Oct 20, 2012 11:07 pm

Whenever I clear away the water bowls on my alter at night, I pour the water outside doing this:

The very simplest method is the practice of the Pretamukha-agnijvalayasharakara-nama-dharani:

Early in the day, but also at any other time: into a pure vessel which is completely clean without any remnents of any food at all, place water, and holding this in one's right hand recite the following dharani seven times:

Namah sarvatathagata avalokite om sambhara sambhara hum

Then recite the names of these Buddhas:

Homage to the Tathagata Precious Mother [imagine all the pretas avaricial actions of many lifetimes are destroyed and they accumulate all merits]

Homage to the Tathagata Sublime Form [Imagine all the pretas physical sufferings are conquered and they acheive perfect forms and characteristics]

Homage to the Tathagata Endlessly Abundant Body [Imagine all the pretas thirst is given up and satisfied, and they are satisified with sufficient food]

Homage to the Tathagata Free from Fear [Imagine all the pretas are free from all fears]

At the end of reciting these names, snap one's fingers three times, and pour the vessel's contents out onto clean ground.

Having done this, one will have pacified the realms of the pretas, and satisfied them, and so on.

This instruction on how to do the practice is extracted from the root text found in volume Wam of the bstan 'gyur.

This practice is very powerful in removing provocations by non-human beings, is an extremely rapid way of reaching the end of the perfection of generosity, and so on. It requires no initiation of any kind.

Also one may omit the recitation of the names of the Buddhas.
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby dakini_boi » Sun Oct 21, 2012 5:46 am

Ikkyu wrote:To me the whole concept behind preta-dana is about sacrificing oneself and one's ego for the good of all beings, and in this case those beings that suffer more than humans. I usually stop it at that -- it's a quaint notion. But to actually believe that you can summon ghosts and direct them to other planes of existence with mantras, dharanis, etc. and "offerings" of food and water is just silly. I guess that many Buddhist texts, including the Buddha himself as he is quoted in the main canons, refer to hungry ghosts and whatnot. But you have to remember that this concept was endemic to India and the ancient Vedic peoples and is really nothing more than superstition. I think the spirit of the thing (i.e. being altruistic for the compassion of many) is more important than the literal idea of satiating ghosts. Summoning ghosts and sending them to the Pure Lands is basically the same as what the Mormons do when they baptize dead people so they can go to their version of Heaven.


You may have a valid point - but, what is the purpose of your critique? Even if the only value of Preta-dana lies in the intention - if you cast doubt or label a sincere dharma practitioner's positive intentions as "silly," this has the potential to degrade another's merit, and is certainly a source of demerit for you. Instead, why not rejoice that someone out there is doing sincere practice with the intention to benefit others, whether silly or superstitious or not. If you find yourself unable to rejoice in such a thing, probably the more virtuous thing to do would be to refrain from comment. Just my opinion. :anjali:

p.s. FWIW, I think the Mormon practice of post-mortem baptisms is a beautiful thing. While I don't share their beliefs, I would never criticize this practice, because it certainly isn't causing any harm, and it is motivated by the intention to benefit others.
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby dakini_boi » Sun Oct 21, 2012 8:44 am

dakini_boi wrote:certainly a source of demerit for you.


dakini_boi wrote:probably the more virtuous thing to do would be to refrain from comment.


sorry I shouldn't have said this, I know you're just expressing your opinion. . . but my point is, you could be missing out on an opportunity to accumulate merit by "rejoicing" in another's virtuous activities. Silly/superstitious or not. . . as we all know, almost all our activities in samsara are silly and/or superstitious!. I know I feel better when I focus on the value of others' actions rather than pointing out flaws.
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby Ikkyu » Sun Oct 21, 2012 6:15 pm

dakini_boi wrote:
Ikkyu wrote:To me the whole concept behind preta-dana is about sacrificing oneself and one's ego for the good of all beings, and in this case those beings that suffer more than humans. I usually stop it at that -- it's a quaint notion. But to actually believe that you can summon ghosts and direct them to other planes of existence with mantras, dharanis, etc. and "offerings" of food and water is just silly. I guess that many Buddhist texts, including the Buddha himself as he is quoted in the main canons, refer to hungry ghosts and whatnot. But you have to remember that this concept was endemic to India and the ancient Vedic peoples and is really nothing more than superstition. I think the spirit of the thing (i.e. being altruistic for the compassion of many) is more important than the literal idea of satiating ghosts. Summoning ghosts and sending them to the Pure Lands is basically the same as what the Mormons do when they baptize dead people so they can go to their version of Heaven.


You may have a valid point - but, what is the purpose of your critique? Even if the only value of Preta-dana lies in the intention - if you cast doubt or label a sincere dharma practitioner's positive intentions as "silly," this has the potential to degrade another's merit, and is certainly a source of demerit for you. Instead, why not rejoice that someone out there is doing sincere practice with the intention to benefit others, whether silly or superstitious or not. If you find yourself unable to rejoice in such a thing, probably the more virtuous thing to do would be to refrain from comment. Just my opinion. :anjali:

p.s. FWIW, I think the Mormon practice of post-mortem baptisms is a beautiful thing. While I don't share their beliefs, I would never criticize this practice, because it certainly isn't causing any harm, and it is motivated by the intention to benefit others.


I suppose that it depends on one's understanding of ethics. Intention vs. the fruit of one's actions in terms of doing good. A Kantian approach, say, would emphasize the intention of a person, which makes sense. But this can't be the only way we determine what makes something "good". This is sort of a dumb example, but, say, If I have the intention to summon an apple for a starving child or pray that the child have adequate nourishment, it's all well and good -- and really it is a good thing -- that as a person I desire the good of this suffering individual. This is me developing compassion. This is a very Buddhist thing. But wouldn't it just be better if I went and got an apple for the kid myself? We talk about the suffering that accrues in other dimensions, but there is so much pain right here, in our world. I think that we would much better spend our time dealing with that. That is my first objection to doing this (Preta-dana). Secondly, to do something because we are told it is true in a sutra or text and not because we can verify it with scientific evidence in a way stifles the human potential to search for truth. This is the unique thing about evidentialism. To think that we already know it and how it works -- in this case beings from other realms -- without ample evidence is just to halt progress. Imagine if everyone believed in pretas and preta-dana. How many people would be open to the possibility that they aren't real, and thus be willing to do the math and find the evidence for the contrary? It seems trivial, but even in trying to prove or disprove something as trivial as this, this (scientific debate and testing) is the human potential for understanding reasoning and science and knowledge, and improving upon those, at work. There is something unique about empirical evidence such that, even if as a Buddhist one might deny the reality of the physical/material world, we can test and poke and prod and feel and sense this [material] world. We can make it known to us immediately. We can predict and determine patterns in this world. We can't do this for the ghost worlds. We can't apply science to something that can't be observed and tested directly. That besides, it is the burden of the person who asserts something that cannot be tested scientifically to prove it. But this hasn't been done. I'd believe in pretas and preta dana and fully support it if the Buddhist texts said, "pretas exist, and here is why and how we can know this is true." Otherwise we're relying on a myth rather than going out there and figuring out if it is real or not. The intention in preta dana is what matters to me, just like Buddhist well-wishing for all beings, supernatural or not. But as far as the actuality of beings like pretas, devas, nagas, yidams, bodhisattvas, buddhas, being outside or representing something other than the aspects of our own mind... what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

So I suppose I'm reiterating myself but in short, if there are any supernatural beings that need my compassion I would freely and openly give it to them.

Perhaps I am worrying too much about another person's way of practice. Forgive me. You absolutely have the right to do what you think is correct and develops compassion. I've always been one to play Devil's advocate, however.
"Nothing can be known, not even this."
-- Arcesilaus (but I'm not sure)
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby dakini_boi » Sun Oct 21, 2012 7:19 pm

Interesting. I appreciate your explanation and now I understand more where you are coming from.

Re. belief in invisible beings - one thing that Buddhism has definitely given me faith in, is the fact that my mind, as I experience it currently, is extremely limited. And that possibilities exist that I cannot even imagine. And furthermore, that my concept of a "being" is completely deluded. So therefore, the idea of invisible beings inhabiting space seems no less far-fetched than the idea that I personally have no essence as a being - which is something that, as a Buddhist, I accept through logic as well as faith - although it appears to contradict my ongoing experience of myself.
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby dakini_boi » Sun Oct 21, 2012 7:28 pm

Ikkyu wrote:
So I suppose I'm reiterating myself but in short, if there are any supernatural beings that need my compassion I would freely and openly give it to them.



That's the spirit! So why not assume they exist (even as a metaphor) and offer it. Even the idea of offering compassion to all physical beings that you know exist on the planet is a metaphorical act. Really, from a Buddhist POV, considering the beings as metaphorical or real are equally inaccurate views because they represent dualistic extremes. Including invisible beings in your cultivation of compassion just makes the act (and the effect on your mind) a bit vaster.

Ikkyu wrote:Perhaps I am worrying too much about another person's way of practice. Forgive me. You absolutely have the right to do what you think is correct and develops compassion. I've always been one to play Devil's advocate, however.


I just think it's wise to consider how your words could possibly discourage or disempower another's virtuous activities. . . although I've also been known to advocate the devil. . .
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Re: Preta-dana (Buddhist practice of offering food to ghosts)

Postby Yudron » Sun Oct 21, 2012 8:10 pm

Kaji wrote:You may want to refer to a number of sutra for the Buddha's teaching. I list below a few examples; there are many more relevant ones.

Taisho Tripitaka Indian Compilation - T21 Esoteric Teachings Division IV (List available at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Portal_ta ... _sutras.29)
1191. The Sutra of Manjushuri's Fundamental Liturgy in the Great Means Expansive Bodhisattvas' Treasury (vol 10)
1313. The Buddha Speaks of the Sutra of the Dharani of Saving Hungry Ghosts from Flaming Mouths
1314. The Buddha Speaks of the Sutra of the Dharani Spiritual Mantra for Saving Hungry Ghosts with Faces Ablaze
1315. The Dharma of Giving Food and Water to All Hungry Ghosts
1316. The Buddha Speaks of the Sweet Dew Sutra's Dharani Mantras
1317. The Sweet Dew Dharani Mantra
1318. The Sutra of Flaming Mouth Dharani Liturgy of A Collection of Yogic Essentials in Saving Ananda
1319. The Causes to the Beginnings of Teaching Ananda by Giving Food Through the Flaming Mouth in the Collection of Yogic Essentials
1320. The Rite of Giving Food Through the Flaming Mouth in the Collection of Yogic Essentials
1321. The Buddha Speaks of the Great Dharani Sutra of Giving Hungry Ghosts Sweet Dew Flavors
1386. The Buddha Speaks of the Sutra of Wonderful Color Dharani

Taisho Tripitaka Indian Compilation - T18 Esoteric Teachings Division I
899. The Three Types of Sidans of the Pure Dharma Body Vairocana Mind Ground Dharma Door for Realizing All Dharanis
The third mantra, spoken by Avalokitesvara, can be used to bless food for offering to preta, so that they will be reborn to Maitreya's Pure Land.

The Casket Seal Dharani, contained in the sutra T19 Esoteric Teachings Division II No.1022, can be used to send one's parents or other ancestors from even the depths of hell to Amitabha's Pure Land.


I really appreciate that you took the time to make specific citations. I'll look them up when I get a chance.
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