Are Ancestral Food Offerings Made To Gods Or Ghosts?

Question: When the non-religious pray to their long departed ancestors (祖先), when offering food, do they think of them more as gods (神), (hungry) ghosts ([饿]鬼) or some other kinds of beings?

Answer: It is hard to tell, unless they are asked one by one. They might be generally unsure or confused, so much so that they do not know they are confused, to see the contradictions and inadequacies in their beliefs and practices. (They might also just be ‘making peace’ by ‘doing something’ customarily accepted by many.)

If the deceased are imagined to be gods, human food is surely not very appealing or needed, (unless it is offered more to express respect and remembrance). That said, even the gods are not yet enlightened, yet to be liberated from the cycle of birth and death.

If are they imagined to be ghosts waiting for the very occasional food, they should realise that they should help them more substantially, in the spiritual sense, by offering more sincere guidance (开示) and support-chanting (助念), to attain transcendental deliverance (超度) to Pure Land (净土).

If they are imagined to be reborn as hell-beings (地狱众生), the food cannot be gotten. If they are imagined to be animals (畜生), unless they are present, the food cannot be gotten too.

Even if not present to receive the guidance and support-chanting, the meritorious virtues (功德) personally created from these practices can still be dedicated (回向) to alleviate their suffering and expedite a better rebirth. Hopefully, in their next lives, they will have more karmic affinity (因缘) to learn and practise the Buddha’s teachings (佛法), to progress towards enlightenment.

Related Article:

What To Chant When Dying, After Death, During And After Wakes

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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