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Hungry Ghost Ceremony

Ceremony of Aid for All Hungry Ghosts

Famine Relief Ceremony at the Toronto Zen Centre
31 oct 2021 Zoom Registration
  • VZC via ZoomLocation
  • 10:30 AM - 11:45 AMTime

On Sunday, October 31, 2021, we will join the Vermont Zen Center in a Ceremony of Aid for All Hungry Ghosts. The ceremony begins later than usual—at 10:30 a.m.—and all are invited.

During this observance, food and drink is offered 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.


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. Since the ceremony will be conducted virtually, attendees are encouraged to make a donation to their local food band.

Remembrance Ceremony

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 Graef 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, although we hope there will be time to do so.

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 the Vermont Zen 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—no robes for this ceremony!