EATING ONE MEAL A DAY AND THEN SOME
By Bhiksu Heng Shun
There I was pondering the mile-high stack of dirty bowls and dishes that I would have to clean. It was Kuan Yin Bodhisattva's birthday, and although I was glad for so many visitors, eloquent speeches, and other festivities at our monastery on this special day, I knew that after the meal my work would be cut out for me.
Anyway, I stopped false thinking about it and got to the business at hand. Alone with the dishes, I plugged away at them until finally about four o'clock I finished. "What a relief!" I sighed, and looked around the kitchen to see that everything was in order. Then. Wow! "What idiot threw this away!" Yep. There they were—about fifteen pieces of homemade bread and cake, untouched, just like new, sitting in the garbage can.
Ignoring the time of day, I immediately downed several pieces, convincing myself I was doing this to avoid the waste, but at the same time checking over my shoulder to see if anyone was around. Of course later on in the day the pieces I ate would be wasted in their own way, but that's not the point, for even before my "garbage" machine had done it's job I was remorseful.
You see, at our monastery we maintain certain beneficial ascetic practices such as sleeping in a sitting position, living in the forest under a tree, wearing only rag clothes, and the like. These practices are designed to increase our vigor and decrease our greed. Bell, up until the day I ate that cake, I had faithfully maintained the practice of eating only once a day before noon. But there were no two ways about it, I had stolen, or maybe I should say "rescued" the cake out of the garbage at 4 in the afternoon, four hours after we finished our meal! The whole thing weighed heavily on my mind, as did the cake on my stomach, but no one had seen me do it and I didn't mention it to a soul.
That evening when our teacher, the Abbot of Gold Mountain, lectured the Sutra, as he does every evening, he said, "Ascetic practices are not easy to maintain. You can't push yourself too far or you'll have trouble. If you feel hungry after noontime--so hungry that you can't bear it—it's ok, no problem, you can just go get some food out of the garbage can."
My face turned white. How did the Abbot know that I ate food out of the garbage can? I hadn't told anyone. And no one was in the kitchen when I did it. How did he know? I thought about it a little and realized, "Ah! The Abbot can read my mind!" The thought made me nervous.
The next morning I was in my room studying and the Abbot walked in. I had been at the monastery for six months and never before had the Abbot strolled into my room like this.
He looked at me and asked, "Are you nervous?"
"Yes." I replied.
"Why?" he asked.
"Because you can read my mind." I felt very embarrassed, like someone caught naked.
The Abbot then asked, "What color is your mind? What shape does it have? Is it red, blue, yellow, square or round?"
"It doesn't have any color or shape." I answered thoughtfully.
"Then what's the problem?" and with that he departed.
I reflected on this. Then I reflected some more. And some more. A couple of years have passed and I'm still reflecting on it. Since then I have become a monk and someone else does the dishes now. There have been other changes as well, but through them all I continue to reflect on the nature of my mind and its thoughts. My nervousness about the power of the penetration of other's thoughts has subsided because I have learned that on the part of one with the Bodhisattva vow, such power is merely a tool used to aid the Master in teaching and transforming his disciples—a means to help them to come to their own understanding of the mind and to see their own nature.
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