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Thread: Fasting before Rohatsu?

  1. #1

    Fasting before Rohatsu?

    I know every community seems to do things differently (and even each individual within a community may differ) so I was wondering if Treeleafers tend to observe any Rohatsu fasting? Is it something usually practiced in Soto Zen?

    If it is already mentioned somewhere on Treeleaf then just point me in the right direction.


  2. #2
    Hello George,

    I'm not aware of anywhere that says it's required, but I do fast on occasion; especially periods when I sit for a long time. For example, I am most likely going to sit through the night of the 7th into the morning of the 8th, and won't have anything but hot water on Friday. Nothing particularly ascetic, but I find that I'm more alert on am empty stomach, and when I do something like sitting all night I need to be alert to catch when sloth and torpor are starting in (hopefully before my head smacks into the wall!)

    In Gassho,

    To give up yourself without regret is the greatest charity. --RBB

  3. #3

    That is an interesting question, George.

    I do not believe that Rohatsu fasting is typical in the Soto Zen world. However, by chance and something of my own creation (see the other thread on how traditions are invented called "The Guru's Cat"), I did happen to add a bit of fasting as a suggested activity for family celebration ...

    Let me ask you in turn: Your question seems to say that you have encountered fasting practice before in a Buddhist community. Is that so?

    Gassho, Jundo

  4. #4
    Hey there George,

    I know for myself when I sit for longer periods, I do a sort of fast. I feel it is a balance ... don't over eat, or eat heavy foods ... empty, or close to empty stomach I find for me helps my zazen.


  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post

    Let me ask you in turn: Your question seems to say that you have encountered fasting practice before in a Buddhist community. Is that so?

    Gassho, Jundo
    Rules about when to eat food and when to fast always seem to be quite significant (and varied) for monastics but less important for lay practitioners. I have not always felt this strict differentiation to be helpful in a modern western society.

    I do not know whether it was specifically Chinese or Chan but I did get the impression that fasting was a bigger thing there from people I have met at the university Buddhist society. I have spoken to a couple of Buddhists in the past who did fast to varying degrees sometimes and have also found it spoken highly of by some of my Muslim friends, although just seen as a rule to be followed by others.

    I also remember reading a few articles in the past but have an awful memory for exact words, people etc. I am certain yours (above) was one of them although I have to admit I did not notice when I first read it who the author was.

    I may have to tie up a cat of my own in line with your fasting post above and maybe people will do it after I am dead too.

    Many thanks,


  6. #6
    Hi George,

    I have put the question to the grapevine of Teachers in the Soto Zen Buddhist Association in North America, and it is the consensus that fasting is not part of the general Soto Zen Tradition from Japan.

    That being said, some Chinese Chan folks and some other flavors of Buddhism in Japan (such as Pure Land) may engage in periods of "fasting" for monks and lay folks ... although it is not really "fasting" (at least in the case of the Lay folks). It seems to be a periodic honoring of the traditional Vinaya rule for monks of "not eating after the noon hour" (not so hard a schedule as it sounds, by the way, when folks are rising at dawn and going to bed with the sundown in agricultural societies). Dharma Drum (a Chan Sangha founded by Sheng Yen) has this on their webpage ...

    Moreover there are ritual fast days every month that proscribe eating after midday. In the West, this practice is not widely known, but in Asia many lay Buddhists engage in this practice. These dates are the 8, 14, 15, 23, and the last two days of each month according to the lunar calendar. According to the scriptures, if you observe these fast days, you will be reborn in the assembly of the next Buddha, Maitreya, and reach full liberation.

    More information on fasting in Chinese Chan here ...

    Also, in Japan, apparently some other sects do or have Practiced fasting, although often what is being described seems closer to the Vinaya Tradition of not taking food after noon, thus only for part of the day. For example, Honen (founder of the Japanese Pure Land school) wrote ...

    There is merit in such fasting especially on the six days of fasting appointed for each month. But in case there is some matter of great importance, or one is ill, it is not necessary to do it, but only repeat the nembutsu [chanting the name of Amida Buddha], and one will thereby get free from the transmigratory round [of rebirth] and attain Ōjō [rebirth in the Pure Land].

    In Buddhism, the Middle Way emphasizing Moderation, we generally look upon the Buddha's time of fasting and other austerities as going to extremes, a path he came to reject. That is what Buddha Statues such as the following represent.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 12-02-2012 at 03:45 AM.

  7. #7
    Is it just me or does the face on that staute look like Abraham Lincoln?

  8. #8
    I think it looks more like one of the vampires ...


  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    I have put the question to the grapevine of Teachers ...
    Thanks Jundo (et al), the answers have been very helpful.



  10. #10
    Hi all,

    I have found this to be an interesting thread because I know very little of fasting. As long as I can remember I have gotten severe headaches if I do not eat (or only eat "light" foods like salad or broth) at regular intervals. This has caused me to be a bit overwheight all my life as eating a little extra seems to make the headaches stop, either completely after they start or from happening at all. I have asked several doctors about this and suprisingly none have given me any ideas as to why, which I find odd since there are a few different ones out there (low blood sugar, dehydration, etc.). So, I must confess that I tend to eat a good amount of protein during the rohatsu retreat. I could deal with hunger, but sharp headaches I find difficult to tolerate.

    Anyone else experience this? And, yes, I have considered the possibility that it's all in my head!


  11. #11
    Hi Dosho,
    Well as you can tell from my post I am not that experienced with fasting but I have experienced similar headaches due to lack of food when mountaineering, almost certainly from hypoglycemia, and do find that if I do not eat regularly (e.g. skip lunch) I can get headaches as well as being a bit irritable and losing full clarity of thought - apparently some people are more prone to low sugar issues. It was partly due to this that I asked about fasting.
    While it can probably be helpful (in my experience) to push towards the extremes at times I would certainly be very careful about any health issues so keep on eating protein if it keeps the headaches away.

  12. #12
    Yes, fasting should be done in moderation and with proper preparation and doctor's approval. This is especially the case for people with any potential health issues, and is not for everyone.

    Gassho, J

  13. #13

    This question got me looking through Shobogenzo, and in the fascicle Gyoji, Dogen wholeheartedly praises Mahākassapa's unceasing observance of the Dhutanga practices, as well as Barishiba's observance of the "not lying down" practice. Understanding that the main jab of the fascicle is to inspire ceaseless, unwavering practice, I think it's very telling that Dogen held up these two as examples. Before coming to Treeleaf I practiced a couple fairly regularly (eating one meal a day, not lying down, and the Pali-specific practice of eating the meal out of a single bowl), and at the time it was very good for my practice.

    Given that the ascetic practice seems to not be particularly observed anymore, would either of our teachers be kind enough to weigh in?

    In Gassho,

    To give up yourself without regret is the greatest charity. --RBB

  14. #14
    Hi Saijun,

    Because of the differences in climate, and the transition from monk's earning their food as mendicants in South Asia to monastic life of North Asia, the practice in China, Japan and other places in the cold north began to be wearing more layers of warm clothing, and taking an evening meal (although calling it "medicine", and not a "meal", in order to bend the rules). That was true in Dogen's monastery too. Even in India, the monks would generally rise before the sun, and sleep early, so that "noon" is a bit later in their day then we might think. The monks in China and Japan would have times to rest and recline during the day, even if not technically called "lying down". The Oryoki set we use has several small bowls, although only one of them is the "Buddha Bowl" (the largest one, on the left) ... thus, again, technically complying with the rules.

    Dogen, in his talks, was often the "football coach" trying to inspire and motivate the moral of his team of complaining monks, sitting in on a cold winters' day in the boondocks of Echizen and sometimes wondering why and if they would not be better leaving. (Life, by the way, in the old monasteries was not necessarily as hard as one might think ... at least when compared with the world of war, plaque and hunger outside the monastery gates in 13th Century Japan or China. )

    Anyway, I digress ... Here is more on that topic if interested ...

    In a world without cars, color television, ipods ... it was not like people "gave up all that" to enter the monastery, for nobody had them to start with!

    A monastery promised room and board, good companionship, stable food, health care and dentistry (as it existed at the time, anyway), some social position, basic education, not to mention a stimulating intellectual and spiritual environment.
    I do not believe that it was ever a standard Soto Practice to fast, now or in the past. However, some may have done so at certain periods as a spiritual Practice. It is fine, just as we undertake many things in life, but should be done with proper care and medical supervision.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 12-05-2012 at 04:02 AM.

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