UNDERCONSUMPTION IN BUDDHISM

Delivered at Gold Mountain Temple, 1731 15th Street, San Francisco, by the Venerable Abbot, Tripitaka Master Hua, on September 22, 1976.

Translated by Bhiksuni Heng Hsien

In the midst of the modern, scientific age. Buddhism still retains the ancient formal dining procedures, and for good reasons. The ancient methods, it is said, enable you in eating to completely know the flavor of what you eat. However, knowing the flavor of what you eat is still the concern of an ordinary, average person. If you can reach the point of not knowing the flavor of what you eat, then you:

Every day eat rice, but don't eat a single grain;

Put on clothes each day, but don't wear a single thread,

Then you can eat without eating, and so it is said:

The superior man thinks of the Way,

And does not think of food,

Especially inasmuch as eating food is just to cure our stomach's sickness of hunger. In curing that sickness, one should not pay any attention to whether the food is good to eat or not. Furthermore, one should eat in a restrained and dignified manner, to avoid indigestion. Many people have adopted the Buddhist practice of eating only one meal a day at noon. In so doing you should not become greedy, figuring that since you eat just once a day you should eat more, which is a mistake. In eating only once a day, you should eat less, not more, than you would eating three times a day.

I recall that when I was a lay person, I ate only one meal a day. Why was that? I saw that when the Japanese invaded China, they made all the Chinese people do hard labor. When one does hard labor, one should eat one's fill; but they didn't. They went out to work without their fill of food, and the clothes they wore did not keep them warm. Not having enough to eat or warm enough clothes to wear is very difficult for human beings, yet on top of that they had to go out and work at hard labor, and it is not known how many people died of starvation, exposure and exhaustion due to that. I kept wondering how I could help those people, but was unable to come up with a method. You could say I might have gone out and fought with the Japanese but, in the first place, I didn't have the means and, in the second place, I didnít have the men. As it is said:

Words alone conviction carry not.

A solitary tree does not a forest make.

So there I was with no way to go out and confront the Japanese, and totally unable to save the Chinese rule. Then I hit upon a stupid method. What was that? It was that I would eat less food and wear fewer clothes. To eat less, since I was eating three meals a day, I would eliminate two meals, and just eat once a day. While I was eating three times a day, at each meal I was able to consume five average bowls of food; but when I started eating one meal a day, I just ate three bowls of food and was full. That was enough. That is why I tell you not to eat more because you eat only once a day, figuring to make up for the other two meals. You can't do that. When you eat once a day, you should eat less, in order to avoid ruining your stomach. That is what is known as:

Eating and drinking less,

To avoid ghostly visitations.

When people eat a lot, it strengthens their desire; and when one's desire is strong, demons run rampant. However, if you decrease your intake of food and drink, if you eat less, you will not have as many eerie things happen to you.

It was due to my wish to stand in for those people who did not have food to eat by going without two meals that I ate just once a day; and it was because I wanted to take upon myself the suffering endured by those people who had no clothes to wear that I made the vow not to wear quilted cotton clothing in the winter. The items economized thereby, the two meals a day and the quilted cotton clothing, I would give to people who had no food to eat or clothes to wear; but I paid no attention to whether or not the people without food or clothes would directly receive and benefit from them. Whether they did or not, I would still have economized the two meals a day and the quilted cotton cloth. At the very least, as it is said:

Commodities would not perish.

If commodities did not perish, then they would always be available.

You should not, then, consider the retention of the formal style of eating in the monastic dining-hall a stupid remnant of the past, for if you use that method, you will not get sick. Therefore the Five Contemplations which Buddhist disciples make as they eat state:

1. Consider the amount of work involved to bring the food to where it is eaten.

2. Consider whether or not one's virtuous conduct is sufficient to permit one to accept the offering.

3. Guard the mind from transgressions, of which greed is the principal cause.

4. Properly taken, the food is like medicine, to keep the body from wasting away.

5. This food is accepted only in order to accomplish the Way.

Those five kinds of contemplations are regularly made, on the one hand as part of oneís cultivation of the Way, and on the other to enable one to accept donations of food-offerings without the possibility of any major wrongdoing. Every person has committed minor offenses. There are no people who have not made mistakes. As it is said:

      People are not Sages.

      Who can avoid mistakes?

As I regularly tell people, I may be the one person in the whole world most lax about following the rules. However, if I want to become someone who follows the rules most strictly, no one can object to my wanting to follow the rules. Thatís my philosophy, and I pay no attention to whether you want to adopt it as your own or not. Iím just describing it for you. If you feel its:

      The right way, then proceed along it;

      The wrong way, then turn back.

Furthermore, if you disagree with anything I have said, let me know and we can investigate it together.