Friday, July 29, 2011

The Buddhist Precepts III

The sixth of the eight Precepts and ten Precepts is Vikala bhojana vermani sikkhapadam samadhiami, I take the precept not to eat at the wrong time. 'Wrong time' (vikala) has long been interpreted to mean after noon or midday, although I know of no place in the suttas where this is specifically stated. The overall purpose of this rule is clear enough – to encourage moderation in eating (Sn.707) and to keep drowsiness due to a full stomach at bay. But the part about not eating after midday is less clear. The origin story in the Vinaya explaining this rule is unconvincing and obviously a later invention. According to this story, a monk was standing at someone's door late at night. As the woman of the house approached the door a sudden flash of lightening illuminated him, frightening the woman half to death, and to prevent this from happening again the Buddha instituted the rule. The only justification the Buddha gives for this rule is that it is good for the health and he does not mention what the 'wrong time' is other than to say the 'evening' or 'night' (ratti). He said, 'I do not eat in the evening and thus I am free from illness and affliction and enjoy health, strength and ease' (M.I,473). But I can see no reason why eating only in the morning should be any more or less healthy than eating only in the afternoon.
I suspect that the rule has its origins in two things. That eating before noon was already a well-established convention amongst wandering ascetics and the Buddha simply asked his monks and nuns to follow this convention. And the reason why this convention evolved in the first place was probably because, then as now, Indian peasant women cooked all the day's food early in the morning and the main meal of the day was in the morning. In other words, the most convenient time to go for alms gathering (pindapata) was in the morning. Noon was probably used as the cut-off point for eating because it could be known exactly. It's also pretty certain that monks and nuns only eat one meal a day because, not doing hard physical labour, they did not need that much food. So it is important to understand that noon is not some magical time, after which consuming food becomes a serious moral failing. It is just a convenient, and at that time a practical, way of dividing the day.


Seten said...

I believe that the rule about eating only after sunrise and before noon is based on Ayurveda and is in fact a health recommendation rather than a form of abstinence. This is supported by the fact that the Buddha lived during the golden age of Ayurveda. The vital energy, referred to as agni, associated specifically with the digestive process, is considered to be at its height during the waxing of the solar energy. Since I took the eight Mahayana precepts I have been following this rule, and my health has greatly improved, including the loss of almost 20 pounds. This rule returns the body to its natural, healthy state.

Richard Harrold said...

Bhante, I have an off-topic question. Sexual abuse of minors by Thai monks has now been revealed in the US recently at a temple in suburban Chicago. I live in Chicago. As a lay person, how do I respond to and pressure the appropriate ecumenical and administrative organizations to take appropriate action rather than what they are doing, which is ignoring the issue, remaining silent, and just sending monks away just like the Catholics did with their priests. In the Chicago case, the Temple elders assert that because intercourse was not proved, the incident did not violate the code. Whose Vinaya are they reading? I am confused. Here's a link to the Chicago Tribune story about this

Thank you.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Richard,
I have long been an advocate of the idea that ultimately, to move ahead, Western Buddhists will have to gently and politely ‘part company’ from traditional Asian Buddhism. The values, assumptions and attitudes of the two are just too different. Recently a friend in Germany contacted me concerning unpleasant in-fighting in a particular ethnic temple to which he and a lot of other local Germans go to. He found that whereas he and the other Germans wanted to discuss the matter, talk through it, the ethnic Buddhists vehemently denied that there was a problem and wouldn’t discuss it. The problem itself was also an ‘ethnic’ one, arising from linguistic and regional differences within the Asian Buddhist community. We Westerners have enough problems of our own, getting involved in ethnic Buddhists’ wastes energy, leads to resentment and changes nothing. Let’s walk our own path.

yuri said...

Dear Shravasti Dhammika, westernising or easternising Buddhism is not the point, I feel. Western mentality can create new traps. Buddha's teaching is universal, and it should be cleansed of all regionalism, traditionalism and modernism as well. No other way to develop pure vision, I think.

fred said...

Perhaps going to sleep at night with undigested food in the stomach is bad for the health. This would be prevented by stopping eating after noon.