The Chambu Ritual

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At the 2016 North American Kagyu Monlam, Kagyu Thubten Chöling will observe the special tradition of offering chambu after the noon meal each day. The chambu offering with its accompanying chanted verses was transmitted by Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche, and has been practiced at KTC since its founding in in 1978.

The story of the chambu offering originates with Buddha Shakyamuni himself. A powerful hungry ghost named Hariti (ha-REE-tee), fed her 500 children by kidnapping and killing human children. Moved by the suffering of so many grieving parents, the Buddha hid Hariti’s youngest child under his own rice bowl.

After desperately searching for her missing child, Hariti finally appealed to the Buddha for help. The Buddha pointed out that she was suffering because she had lost only one of her own hundreds of children, and asked if she could imagine the pain of parents whose only child had been abducted and devoured. Realizing for the first time the terrible grief she had caused, Hariti vowed to refrain from her previous conduct and to protect human children. Yet she still remained anxious about how to make sure her own children would be fed. The Buddha promised her that he would offer the chambu after the noon meal to feed them—and all other hungry ghosts as well. Since the lifespan of hungry ghosts is said to be 15,000 years or more, he also promised that in the future his disciples would maintain the chambu offering tradition.

Originally, the chambu was a small torma—an offering made of flour and butter—made by squeezing a portion of torma dough inside the fist of the person making the offering. Since bread is a customary food in Western countries, at KTC a sliver of bread is used instead of a torma. When we make a chambu offering, we squeeze the sliver of bread in the left hand to make physical imprints, which, along with the chanting of profound verses, transform the chambu into mountains of food offered to Hariti and all hungry ghosts.

To expand the chambu offering even further, we visualize that all impoverished beings receive from it the nourishment required to sustain life—an especially important concern when so many people are struggling to survive the starvation, pain, and grief of harsh poverty and devastation from wars.

Through the chambu offering, we not only recognize our own good fortune, but also commit ourselves to the practice of generosity, which is essential for progress on our own path to liberating all sentient beings from suffering.