Offering. Photograph: Lee Caligiuri

Buddhism originated in India in the fifth century BCE and spread to many lands. Buddha, born around 563 BCE, spent most of his 80 years traveling throughout north India preaching the way to salvation by reaching Nirvana and the cessation of rebirths.

Buddhism is divided into several branches or traditions. The Mahayana tradition, based on Sanskrit texts, spread into China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. The Buddhism of Tibet, Nepal, and Mongolia is also known as Vajrayana.

Theravada Buddhism, “the way of the elders”, is the form of Buddhism found in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. Buddhism has also spread to Europe, Australia, and North America.

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Buddhism & food

There are no set dietary laws in Buddhism and Buddhist dietary practice varies enormously between traditions, but all schools of Buddhism have rituals involving food – offering food, receiving food, eating food.

Food is received with gratitude and reverence. But it is considered important not to be greedy about food.

Offering food is one of the oldest Buddhist rituals. The first monks begged for their food and in countries such as Thailand, monks still rely on alms for most of their food. Giving alms is not seen as charity but as a spiritual connection between laypeople and monasteries.

Monks are expected to show moderation and self-control in eating, as well as in other aspects of life. Most Theravada monks eat only once or twice a day, in the early morning and just before noon, for example.

Meat and fish are not eaten by many people in the Theravada and Mahayana schools of Buddhism. Some believers in both Theravada and Mahayana are vegans, and some do not eat onion, garlic or leek, referring to these as the ‘five pungent spices’.

Fasting is usually practised as a means of freeing the mind. Buddhist monks eat no solid food after noon any day and fast completely on days of new and full moon each month.

Ceremonial food offerings are a common practice in Buddhism.

Buddhist food chants

First, let us reflect on our own work and the effort of those who brought us this food.
Second, let us be aware of the quality of our deeds as we receive this meal.
Third, what is most essential is the practice of mindfulness, which helps us to transcend greed, anger and delusion.
Fourth, we appreciate this food which sustains the good health of our body and mind.
Fifth, in order to continue our practice for all beings we accept this offering
–  The Five Reflections, from the Zen tradition

A Theravada food chant

Wisely reflecting, I use this food not for fun, not for pleasure, not for fattening, not for beautification, but only for the maintenance and nourishment of this body, for keeping it healthy, for helping with the Spiritual Life;
Thinking thus, I will allay hunger without overeating, so that I may continue to live blamelessly and at ease.

A Buddhist blessing for food

This food is the gift of the whole universe,
Each morsel is a sacrifice of life,
May I be worthy to receive it.
May the energy in this food,
Give me the strength,
To transform my unwholesome qualities
into wholesome ones.

I am grateful for this food,
May I realise the Path of Awakening,
For the sake of all beings.
Namo Amida Buddha.

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