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Thread: The restrictions of eating

  1. #1

    The restrictions of eating


    How important, do you feel, are the proscriptions on eating? I had read that the Buddha's original intent on the one meal a day and before noon admonition was so that the sangha didn't place an undue burdon on the layity that was supporting them. Is this practice bennificial to us as practicianers of Shikantaza and fitting for followers of the Way, or is it something that we shouldn't focus too much on?

  2. #2

    Re: The restrictions of eating

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnsonCM

    How important, do you feel, are the proscriptions on eating? I had read that the Buddha's original intent on the one meal a day and before noon admonition was so that the sangha didn't place an undue burdon on the layity that was supporting them. Is this practice bennificial to us as practicianers of Shikantaza and fitting for followers of the Way, or is it something that we shouldn't focus too much on?
    Hmmm. Let me feed you perhaps more information than you need to digest ...

    Well, first, a little background for those unfamiliar with the subject.

    The Vinaya, the code of approximately 227+ Precepts which traditionally regulate a monk's behavior, contain many many restrictions on the eating of food. Here is an interpretation by monks in a South Asian school ...

    A monk is allowed to collect, receive and consume food between dawn and midday (taken to be 12 noon). He is not allowed to consume food outside of this time and he is not allowed to store food overnight. Plain water can be taken at any time without having to be offered. Although a monk lives on whatever is offered, vegetarianism is encouraged.
    There are many other rules in the Vinaya, such as ...

    39. There are these finer staple foods: ghee, fresh butter, oil, honey, sugar/molasses, fish, meat, milk, and curds. Should any bhikkhu who is not ill, having requested finer staple foods such as these for his own sake, then consume them, it is to be confessed. ... l#pc-part4

    I feel your interpretation of the food restrictions as, in part, limiting the economic burden of mendicant monks on the lay people supporting them is true. There are other reasons too, however. Here is an explanation by a South Asian Sangha ...

    Buddhist monks observe a strict code of conduct (vinaya) in order to discipline the body and mind. Food is regarded simply as a means of keeping the body alive so that the spiritual path may be followed. Food is not taken in order to beautify the body or because it has a pleasant taste.

    A meal in the evening may cause drowsiness and make the practice of meditation difficult. Monks discipline themselves to be satisfied with very few material things, including food. Also by eating only one meal a day, they reduce the burden on the lay community which supports them. An exception to the rule of not eating after noon is made during an illness.

    According to the vinaya rules, a monk should only eat what is offered to him and he should accept any item without showing pleasure or displeasure.The offering (dana) of food to the monks has been the tradition from the days of the Buddha.

    Any type of food (not containing alcohol), which is normally taken by lay people, is suitable for offering to monks, bearing in mind that many monks prefer to be vegetarian. The monks are prohibited to eat meat of animals specially killed for the offering, if they are aware of it. ... practices6
    When Buddhism came to the colder climates of China, especially where monks had to do more labor (South Asian monks in warmer climates did not typically engage in heavy manual labor) ... the monks clothed themselves in heavier robes and added an evening meal (not technically a "meal", because referred to as "medicine") ...


    Lit., “medicine stone”; the Zen monastic supper. In Buddhism it was originally forbidden to eat after noon. However, in China, where Zen developed, it was cold in the winter, so the monks would put heated stones against their abdomens to assuage the pangs of hunger. These stones were called "medicine stones." Later a light meal, consisting of the day’s leftovers, came to be served, and this was named after the stones used to ease hunger.

    However, even so, food is to be taken in moderation, without gluttony, as "medicine" to support our practice and lives. I think that an excellent perpective to hold and maintain. We recently read Dogen's "Instructions for the Tenzo (Temple Cook) ... ... ation.html

    and also had a little discussion about the practice of Oryoki (the formal ritual of taking meals in a monastery) ...


    and both encourage "taking what is given", accepting without thought of "good" or "bad" ... yet making the best that one can out of the ingredients one is handed. All things in moderation, with balance, avoiding excess and gluttony.

    Of course, the "rules" are more relaxed for lay people and outside a monastery, but still, a generally good path to follow (One I could follow more, as I retain my sweet tooth and too Western diet ... which shows around my middle and the rest of me. This is surely an area where I need to practice what I preach more).

    While I cannot comment from a medical standpoint, and I believe it should only be done under a doctor's supervision if there is any question of health effects whatsoever (especially for a longer term fast), we have had some discussion of fasting. Of course, fasting is an old and honored spiritual practice in all traditions. While I will not comment on a long term fast, I think it reminds us of our attachments and how not be be glutinous, gratitude to this life for sustaining us, if we fast for at least one day a year ... I try to do so.


    Let me mention in passing that the typical traditional diet in a Zen monastery is not necessarily what I would call "healthy" and nutritionally balanced. Hign in sodium, low in fruit and many vitamins, LOTS of polished rice ... with all that sitting,, one tends to get a bit bound up. Even now at Eiheiji and such places, monks have to watch out for beriberi (!! ... from lack of B vitamin in poished rice) and such. The Zen vegetarian diet is traditional ... not necessarily scientifically balanced like modern veganism. Here is a magazine article (find the top of page 42 by searching "Eihei-ji") that is very positive on the topic, but which quotes a Tenzo (head cook) at Eiheiji that the monks do not need nutrition ... they can live on gratitude ... ... ji&f=false

    And, finally, the whole can of worms (not for eating) of "vegetarianism".. Big subject, very impassioned. The Buddha himself and early Sangha seen not to have been strict vegetarians (one could eat meat, for example, if not aware that the animal was specifically killed to feed the monk). We have had a few threads on that ...



    Gassho, Jundo

  3. #3

    Re: The restrictions of eating

    That's kind of how I was thinking, that it was more of an admonishment not to over indulge, but Master Dogen said that to follow the way was to emulate the actions of the Buddhas and Patriarchs, so I'm thankful for the clarification.



  4. #4

    Re: The restrictions of eating

    I'd like to add to this discussion by mentioning my own disastrous results when trying to eat a vegetarian diet unsuited to my body type - inspired by my (then) newfound discovery of the Zen path.

    We mustn't be dogmatic, but we ought not make up our own rules either. Eat in a way that sustains your body!

    Getting hung up on dietary and sexual proscriptions is often a surefire way to a very neurotic and attached practice that often hurts more than it helps. I find it significant that Siddhartha specifically did not forbid meat, and I suspect that it was because he did not want to promote dietary dogmatism.

  5. #5

    Re: The restrictions of eating

    Gautam Buddha also did some time as an aesthetic and there is the story about him not being able to pull himself from a river in which he was bathing because of the damage done to his body from his practices. It seemed to me that the original idea behind it was to eat what was healthy for the body to use as energy to continue practicing the Way, and not succumbing to gluttony. I just wanted to make sure that my interpretation wasn't way off base. :shock:

  6. #6

    Re: The restrictions of eating

    The Buddha didn't say this, but he could have: "When living as a mendicant, take consideration to never eat better than the poor people from whom you are begging."

    In a land filled with charlatans and frauds, eating sparingly certainly is an effective way to distinguish yourself from them.

    The thing about gluttony was probably a sales job for the monks to get them to find an internal reason for the restrictions. The sorts of extreme gluttony found in the West today probably would have been difficult to attain by a large group of begging monks in Sidd's time. Modern knowledge regarding health should also not be taken lightly, nor should Siddhartha's views on eating take precedence in such practical health matters in light of recent understanding of proper diet.


    Chet (currently munching a cheeseburger in Roanoke.)

  7. #7

    Re: The restrictions of eating

    These days in the evening I just have one small bowl of food ... and it is feeling like a very good thing to do. It's a compromise on the monk-ish approach.

    (By the way I've been lacto-vegetarian since 1970, and the only reason I've ever had to regret it is at business meetings in Asia.)

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