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Pali Canon - Bhaddali Sutta

by Sangharakshita

... what He does. They've not misbehaved in any way as far as we know. And He also
goes on to give a reason but that's another matter. But it's... therefore it's important to
understand first of all what is meant by this partaking of food at one session. It means without
interrupting the meal by getting up from your seat on those occasions when you are invited to
the house of the laity , So that's the first point.
Subhuti: So on what grounds is He...
S: (interrupting) Well, have we got that clear first? That is clear -what it actually consists in
that you don't rise, you don't in the course of a meal get up from your seat. You'd obviously be
sitting on the ground in those days. [5] You don't get up from your seat and either wander
about and do something else and then return to your seat and then finish off the meal. You do
not interrupt the meal in that sort of way. You eat it without moving from that seat. This is
called ekasana (bhojana), that kind of eating, that kind of food. So that is clear to begin with
what it actually consists in. All right then, the Buddha says: "Partaking of my food at one
session, I, monks, am aware of good health, and of being without illness, and of buoyancy,
and strength, and living in comfort". So apparently the Buddha regards it as a good thing to
eat in this way. So one might ask, well, is it conducive to good health, and to being without
illness, and of buoyancy and strength, and living in comfort? The Buddha seems to be taking
this quite seriously. So what sort of situation might he have in mind? Would it conduce to
ones bad health, and being with illness, etc, etc, if one was to do the sort of thing that the rule
seems intended to prevent? So what sort of civil situation did the Buddha have in mind, or
what possible alternative?
Subhuti: Something that immediately springs to mind - I'm not quite sure to what extent it
might apply to bhikkhus but if you are rushing around and you eat while you're doing that you
can't digest properly.
S: There is that, yes. It could be just out of restlessness to interrupt the meal. In theory you
may be served with several courses and you just get a bit restless waiting on the next course
to come on, you get up and wander around and then you come back. Is it, I mean is it not, I
mean one does hear this when one is younger - you shouldn't sort of get up and walk about
when you're supposed to be eating, or in between different courses. It's supposed to be not
very good for you. I don't know what foundation there is for that.
Sthirananda: A sort of mindfulness of sustenance, something that is quite important for one to
function, and if one hasn't got one's mind on that then it is actually not sustenance and is
something that's taken for granted.
S: Well it would suggest, I mean, if you interrupt your meal to get up and do something else,
it would suggest a certain amount of distraction, distractedness. Well you do, don't you, find
that there are people who do this, always jumping up in between, sometimes with a piece of
bread in their hand, and then they do something else and then they come back. Do you see
what I mean?
Prasannasiddhi: So do you think it could be referring to just a whole kind of attitude to have
towards one's meals in terms of...
S: Could be, could be.
Prasannasiddhi: You know, being mindful about the whole meal, how much you need for the
meal, and setting it all out, then sitting down to eat it.
S: Well no, not necessarily, because you don't know what you are going to be given, because
the context is that of an invitation. But what the Buddha seems to be trying to prevent is the
interruption of the meal.
Subhuti: He is very definitely talking about health as well, isn't he?
S: Yes. Yes.
Subhuti: He stresses that. It seems to be on quite practical grounds.
S: Perhaps one should see the original Indian context, bear that in mind. Someone might get
up in the course of a meal and have a little wander around, or something like that. I think even
nowadays in India it is not regarded as polite to do that. Nor is it in the West, is it? What are
the reasons that you might not partake of one's food at one session? Why would ... that would
cause one to get up, interrupt the meal and then come back to it?
Alaya: It might be people coming to see you.
S: Don't forget this is the context: you are invited to eat at someone's house. After all. You are
a monk and are being treated with a certain amount of respect no doubt. It could be ... I mean
... one could consider ... what business have you got to be ... to get up and wander around in
somebody's house where you have been invited for a meal? What would that suggest if you
were a monk? In the middle of the meal you just got up and were walking around and that
sort of thing.
Subhuti: You got distracted.
S: A bit distracted. Why should you not be just sitting down, patiently, waiting for the next
course, eating quietly? Why should you get up and maybe go and walk about outside and then
come back? It all does suggest a certain amount of mental restlessness and distraction, doesn't
it? The fact that you should want to interrupt the meal in that way at all.
Alaya: Would the courses ... I mean is it traditionally ... are they brought in quite slowly if
you are a guest?
S: Indians usually take their time over their meals especially if there is a guest. The idea is
that you are there for quite a while. They like to think that you are going to spend some time
there, you are not going to hurry away afterwards, you are not keen to be off as quickly as you
can. No doubt the monks were not supposed to linger in the houses of the laity, on the other
hand they were supposed to please them and satisfy them and maybe have some discussion
with them after the meal. I mean there are people as I said who seem to find it quite difficult
to remain seated through a whole meal. They get up on one pretext or another. Have you ever
noticed this? Get something, or bring something or go and tell somebody something?
Prasannasiddhi: Do you think that is what ... do you think it is that sort of attitude that is
being (unclear)?
S: Well it's difficult to think of anything else.
Prasannasiddhi: Perhaps it could be related to this business about how the Indians did take a
long time over their meals, and perhaps the Buddha's sort of urging the monks to be more
kind of on the ball, more mindful, just think about what they are supposed to be doing with
their time, rather than sort of spending, you know, a lot of time over their meals and sort of
wasting time.
S: It doesn't actually say that.
Subhuti: There are quite a lot of the vinaya rules which seem to regulate relations between the
bhikkhus as it were and the laity, presumably because the contact of the bhikkhu with the
laity was a dangerous, a danger point in a sense.
S: Mmm, yes, also a very frequent thing, yes.
Subhuti; So if the monk is to maintain his sort of wholeheartedness in his sort of full-time life
he's got to be really extra careful when he's ...
S: On those sort of occasions yes, that is true, yes,
Prasannasiddhi: So why then should Bhaddali have misgivings and scruples?
S We've not come on to that but I was just thinking of something there is quite a lot said in
the Vinaya Pitaka about food and... (Pause)
Kovida; This is ... it isn't the vinaya is it?
S: No, it isn't.
Kovida; So do you think he's actually laying down a rule about that or just making a
S: He seems to be laying down a rule, This comes after (the vinaya?) (Long Pause) Yes, the
introduction of the Vinaya Pitaka makes the point that the (partitia), that is to say this
particular class of offence on meals and eating would provide material for an extensive essay.
Then early on the rules on eating were important for monks, for taking nothing but food given
in alms involved a threefold maintenance of a correct attitude towards the laity, towards
members of other sects and towards fellow monks. The same applied to robes. (Long Pause)
There's something I was looking for. I couldn't ...
Subhuti; There's a reference to the (Bikala bhojanam) rule, I don't know whether that's what
you were looking for.
S: Yes. but I couldn't trace it in the ...
Subhuti; Vinaya.
S: We don't have a complete Vinaya Pitaka, unfortunately,
Subhuti; It's Vinaya, 4 - 85.
S: Mmmmm. Where does it say that?
Subhuti; It's in the foot-note. Footnote 4.
S: Could you get those for me? (Long Pause) I've got it here - 4,85, but it isn't the original
(unclear)? 4,85. This refers to the group of seventeen monks eating a meal at the wrong time.
The Buddha asks them and they admit they ate a meal at the wrong time. Then it says,
'Whatever monk eats of or partakes of solid food or soft food at the wrong time, there is an
offence of expiation.' There's a note to (bikali) 'see old commentary'. Then it says 'See the
vivid description attributed to (Udayin) at Milinda - 1,4,48 of his feelings at the [8]
successive injunctions for monks to give up day and evening meals, and his ultimate
conviction of the Lords wisdom in stopping alms-giving in the dark of the night. 'Compare
also Milinda 1:24 ... and Milinda 1:4:37 where Bhaddali confessed that he had not been able
to keep to the regimen of one meal a day.' But I think the translator has missed the point - it's
not one meal a day, it's one ... it's ...

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