How Do Monks Say Grace Before Eating?
Do Theravāda monks say anything before they eat? Do they give thanks? Who do they say thanks to? Or is it something else?
Buddhist monks generally do a reflection and chant something before eating. In fact it is said that the monks incurs debt if they doe not reflect before eating. Actually, there are 4 reflections concerning the Four Requisites:
If the monk does not reflect on these before use (for food and medicine) or at least once daily (for robes and lodging), then he incurs a debt for using the requisites without proper reflection.
So what is the reflection for food?
“Wisely reflecting, I use this almsfood
Not for fun, not for pleasure, not for fattening, not for beautification,
Only for the nourishment and maintenance of this body,
For keeping it healthy,
For helping with the Holy-life,
Thinking thus, “I shall destroy old feelings (of hunger)
And not produce new feelings (of overeating).
Thus there will be freedom from physical discomfort and living at ease.”
There is one more evening chant that is done at my monastery in Sri Lanka
Dependent upon and existing through causes and merely [a combination of
various] elements are both the almsfood and the one who partakes of it; mere
elements, not a being, lifeless, void [of a self/soul]. All of this alms-food is not
loathsome [yet], but having come into contact with this putrid body becomes
It sounds a little bit lifeless doesn’t it? However, the goal of Buddhism is to see the to see the impermanent, and suffering nature of everything. We should see that there is no substance that can be called a self. We should go beyond concepts and see only the real ultimate realities. We do this to destroy the view of a self, and to remove craving. At its highest, we wish to have the natural enlightened-passionless personality that only partakes in the functional activities to keep ourselves alive, up and running. In the meantime, if that is the goal, we should point ourselves, and aim in that very same direction. If we do, The Buddha said that it is like the high mountain water that eventually flows into the great oceans.
Leaving all that “cold” stuff aside, we do have warm metta or loving-kindness energy as a central part of our teachings and practice. This is probably to keep us sane in the process of enlightenment.
We often reflect on the donors who were kind enough to support us with our meal. Surely, this would fit into your view of the traditional “giving thanks.” Usually, we wish loving-kindness (mettā) in the 4 ways to the Four Requisite Donors and the Helpers of the monastery. We also wish loving-kindness to the devas (angelic beings who look after us).
“For our Four Requisite Donors (and helpers)
May you be free from danger
May you be free from Mental Anxiety
May you be free from Physical Pain
May you be happy and well.”
If a donor is present for a monastery meal, we will often give a talk on the cause and effects of making a meal for virtuous monks. I recently spoke to a donor of the Saṅgha meal about virtue, being attracted to monks who wish to follow the rules, and how that will affect him in this very life and in the future. If he becomes a monk, he now wishes to become a monk that does not touch money. He never thought that not touching money was possible beforehand because he had never met a monk that followed the basic principle rules that we naturally associate with “monk”. Such monks who do not use money are rare among the hundreds of thousands of monks that live in Myanmar. He once tried to give me some money, but I refused it. He had never seen that before in his entire life. He wanted to know more about me. Now he is donating meals instead of money, and many meals too. The purity of the morality of the receiver can help bring greater fruits from the donation. That is why you intuitively know that giving to a sober human beggar who is disabled is better than giving to a drunk beggar or to a dog. You might not really know how to explain it, but you know. The morality by itself is important, but not as important as what one does with it.
Morality leads to concentration
Concentration leads to Wisdom
Wisdom leads to Enlightenment
When one reflects in this way while giving, it “gives” more power to the donor. It is called a donation that is rooted in Non-greed (generosity), Non-anger (loving-kindness) and Non-delusion (wisdom). The factor of wisdom should always be developed when making a donation. As the monks wish to aim and point ourselves towards the goal, you do too. When you give donations to monks, virtuous monks who wish to practice, you build associations and desires to be that way too. May you soon “eat” the fruits of your donations!
Scroll down near the end to see the reflections at this link here: https://www.ancient-buddhist-texts.net/Texts-and-Translations/Chanting-for-Meditators/00-Daily-1-Morning-Chants.htm