There are many feast days within the Tibetan Buddhist calendar. Each month contains special practise days that might require a feast if you’re a committed practitioner.
At The Hermitage of the Awakened Heart, the Buddhist retreat centre and centre of practise for the AHS, there are several observed feast days, in particular every full moon and at the end of retreats.
For committed students of the AHS, we observe the full moon feast practise at home or get together with others, where offerings of food and drink are made and we discuss our Dharma practise with other sangha members.
A Tibetan Buddhist feast offering is a celebratory ritual. It’s an offering to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of all the pleasure of the senses, that’s then transformed into a blessing for ourselves.
Feasts don’t have to be huge occasions with lots of food either. It’s all about the intention. I can be a normal meal, or a cup of tea and a biscuit, if that’s all you have to hand.
Lama Shenpen teaches us that through the feast we’re bridging the connections of our world and the worlds of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. We can remember that it’s about enjoyment and joy, which is what we really are: that pure joy is the true nature of our being, the truth that we find in our heart – our Bodhichitta.
Feasts strengthen and honour our connections. Lama Shenpen teaches us that even preparing for a feast is important as we’re bringing the conditions for a feast together, aligning with the connections as we make the arrangements. “We’re doing these things to create and enter a mandala of joy,” Lama explains.
The basic feast ritual involves reciting a severn branch prayer and blessing the food by reciting ‘Om Ah Hum’ seven times. It can also be an even shorter ritual if necessary, using a shorter seven branch prayer and/or reciting the sangha’s usual meal offering prayer.
A longer Feast at a Sangha event at The Hermitage also involves reciting prayers, invoking the Buddha and Guru Rinpoche by reading lines of sutra, prayers and reciting mantras, and taking turns to read several verses from Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara, which is used for the much longer seven branch prayer. There’s also usually entertainment afterwards and the whole thing can last hours!
At larger feasts with more food, a plate is prepared for the Buddhas, and a plate for non-human beings, plus all leftovers that are blessed and taken outside for animals, birds and non-human beings.
For my first proper feast practise on yesterday’s full super moon, I asked my husband to be part of it and we had the feast with tea, vegan cream cheese and crackers and some chocolate, in front of a small shrine in the bedroom. I’d cleared a new space and covered it with a tablecloth to make a special area for it, that also had room for some plates.
I saved some crackers for non-humans from my feast, which I’ll take down to my allotment for the birds etc tomorrow.
I was initially going to do a shortened version of the feast, but I really love the verses of the Bodhicharyavatara, so stuck to the longer version used at sangha events. I’ll most likely use the shortened practise next time to try and create a slightly easier, new habit of doing it, so that it will be meaningful but will also fit into my daily life. I really like that it can be flexible and doesn’t have to be a ritual with loads of food and people that lasts for hours, so it’s possible for it to become a regular part of your life.
I really enjoyed my first feast practice! It felt special, to mindfully make the preparations for it, tidying the space, preparing the few food items. By keeping mindful of the purposes of the feast which includes to making the offerings that are then transformed into their essence, to connect to the power and presence of the Buddhas – I really felt a sense of the specialness of that, which I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t have studied the teaching on it beforehand.
To learn what I’m doing a feast for and why, has really helped me to connect to and appreciate the meaningful aspects of it and has given me much more to contemplate on: the profound possibilities and truths it hints at, through the practise.