Friday, 5 December 2014

Buddhism : Food for the Initiated

During the probationary period a Shramana or an initiate aspiring to become a Buddhist monk (Bhikku), was taught ten commandments or Shiksha Padas while residing in a half way house with his spiritual mentor . These mentors generally guided the person in the ways of a monk and clarified the dos and donts for the aspirant for an austere and clean living . This included specifics provided about what kind of food was permissible.

The monk was told he must only eat food received as alms. Among the 8 items permitted to  Buddhist was a begging bowl and a water strainer. Liquor was forbidden as also meals were to be imbibed only before evening and after sun rise.Ayurvedic medicine was permitted with Buddha's own medicare giver Jivaka, practicing it.

The Bhikku was permitted Ghee, butter, oil, honey and raw unrefined sugar only as medication. According to the text Milind Panho, Devdutt a senior Bhikku and a votary of strictest discipline within the Buddhist Viharas, requested the Buddha that the Buddhist monks be asked to limit their intake of food to items received from plants and trees and give up meat and fish altogether. But the Buddha ruled this out.
In Lankavatar Sutra there is a list of foods he rated as good for the body and soul saying they were also imbibed by Rishis earlier . This list includes eggs and fish. Flesh if received as alms, could be eaten but it had to be kosher in 3 ways; the killing was not seen or heard or suspected by the monk. Buddha also advised was moderation in eating.
Among liquids 8 kinds of drinks: juices of mango, Jamun, banana, grape, phlsa berry and coconut. Freshness of water was advised . Drinking pure rain water was also recommended.
Food was divided into 2 types : soft and wet , like rice, boiled grains, peas and baked cakes , and hard and chewy solid ones lik roots, stalks, leaves and fruit.
Huen Tsang's disciple Hui lui received 120 Jamun berries, 20 suparis, 20 nutmegs, a small measure of camphor and about 6 kgs of aromatic Magadh rice per day at the Nalanda monastery. In a monastery visiting guests were also served. A 7th century book i-ching says that guests were first served two pieces of ginger root with salt , followed by a meal of boiled rice, a thin extract of lentils, and some ghee. Beverages like whey, buttermilk or fermented rice gruel (kanji) accompnied the meals. Afterwards came cakes, fruit, ghee and sugar. Toothpicks, perfumed paste for cleaning hands and pure water for washing up were provided after meals.
Unlike the monks the Buddhist laity ate meals similar to non Buddhists.    


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