Rituals around the food – offering, receiving, preparing, serving or eating differ between Buddhist schools. What remains the same is the underlying approach: gratitude, reverence and mindfulness.
Among these rituals, offering food is one of the oldest and most common. It is rooted in every spiritual tradition that lay people offer food to those on the spiritual path, either by visiting hermitages and monasteries, inviting monks to dine with them, or by offering food to monks who are on their daily itinerary to collect alms.
Although this Buddhist tradition has been changed to some extent, or even partially disappeared in Mahayana Buddhism, it is still very much alive throughout Asia: people bring food to hermits, leave it on the altars, or offer it to the passing monks. In fact, monks and nuns in many Buddhist schools still rely heavily on alms for most of their food.
But, the modern lifestyle in urban areas, especially in Western countries unfamiliar with these Buddhist rituals, takes its toll and this tradition slowly fades or is misinterpreted as a charity.
However, from the Buddhist perspective, giving alms is not considered a charity, but a spiritual connection between people who are embedded in the worldly life (laity) and people who are dedicated to the spiritual life (monastics). It is seen as an opportunity for lay people to collect good karma.
But, the act of giving and receiving is more than that. It is as a great practice to develop generosity and gratitude and understand the nature of expectations. It is practice that strengthen the acceptance of “what it is” and teaches forgiveness. In short, if practiced right way, this simple act of “giving and receiving” weakens one's Ego, develops compassion and leads to liberation.