A Zen Buddhist Community in Shelburne, Vermont

Hungry Ghost Ceremony

27 oct 2024

A Ceremony for the Liberation of Hungry Ghosts will be held on Sunday, October 29, at 10:00 a.m. During this observance, we offer food and drink 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.

Making Offerings


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.

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. If you are attending the ceremony in person, you will be able to write the name of the person or people you are remembering on special funeral paper when you are here.

If you are attending via Zoom, please enter the name(s) on the form that will pop-up on your screen when you click the button below. (You may have to double click.) Roshi will release the names during the ceremony.

Altars for Relatives/Ancestors

Ancestor Altars

This year we will once again be able to have a space to honor our ancestors during the Hungry Ghost ceremony, bringing the ceremony closer to the Day of the Dead celebration that takes place around this time of year. If you've been to the Hungry Ghost ceremony, you know that there are many Day of the Dead items used to brighten the Center. Now, we will also have a traditionally decorated area for photos of loved ones who have passed—grandparents, parents, or anyone you loved and wish to remember. Please bring photos to the Center on the Saturday workday preceding the ceremony. You can also bring offerings for that area, which would traditionally be food that your loved ones enjoyed.

Personal Ghosts and Food Offering

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. If you are attending the ceremony in person, there will be a chance to make your own personal ghost before we start. If you are attending via Zoom, let us know you would like to release a ghost (don't we all have something we'd like to let go of?) and one of the house residents will make and release one on your behalf.

Please bring a canned or dry vegetarian food offering for each member of your party. Everyone will give this gift to the hungry ghosts during the ceremony. Afterwards it is taken to a food shelf.

At our 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. Those who have been fully vaccinated and boosted are welcome to attend in person. Friends and relatives who are not Sangha members are also invited (again, only those who have been fully vaccinated and boosted). Participate in street clothes or wear a costume if you wish.

Registration Required

Members, trial members, and family are welcome to attend in person. Please register below on the pop-up form that will appear when you click the button.

Those who cannot attend in person are welcome to participate via Zoom. You must register to receive the ceremony link.