Section Six Wearing the Precept Sash and Eating One Meal a Day
the Master said:
I'm prepared to die, if you want, but I refuse to give up the practice of wearing the precept sash. I'm prepared to die, if you want, but I refuse to give up the practice of eating only one meal a day at noon. Those who have that kind of strong samadhi-power--that kind of faith--rightfully belong at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
Everyone knows that "wearing the precept sash and eating one meal a day" are things that the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is especially well-known for. The Master specifically announced that anyone who left home with him had to venerate the Buddha's regulations: "eating one meal a day at noon and always wearing the precept sash." And so no matter how much the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas came under criticism by those outside--even slander that the City was doing new and strange things to show off, the Master would never, ever change his policy because of that. Regarding the barrage of slander, the Master merely said: "This is not some rule I made up. This is the Buddha's regulation. We want to venerate the Buddha's regulations." But the Master was expedient with the relatively older left-home people and allowed them to take three meals a day. This rule remained right up to the final instructions given by the Master just before his Nirvana--it never changed. The Master himself said: Even before I left the home-life, while I was still a layperson, I ate one meal a day. And from the time I left home to now--all those many years--I have eaten one meal a day. If people who want to leave home with me can eat one meal a day, then I will accept them. If they cannot eat one meal a day, I will not accept them. This is a fixed requirement for anyone who leaves home with me. In spite of any pressures whatsoever regarding the times and circumstances, this cannot be changed.
Why does the Master look upon "one meal" as so important? It's because "when you are full and warm, you think of sex." The more one eats, the more sexual desire one has. This is discussed (roll 22 of the Long Agama Sutra's "Chapter on Record of the World: Basic Conditions of the World") in the record of how, when the blessings of the gods in the Light-Sound Heaven ended and they descended to the human realm, they began to eat rice. Their bodies became coarse and ugly and took on the appearances of male and female. Looking at each other caused sexual desire to arise and they went off to covered places to engage in impure conduct." And so there's a Chinese idiom that says: "Food and drink bring about male and female." These verify the idea that the amount of sexual desire has a direct relationship to the amount of food. And if it's a matter of "eating at the wrong time," then it's a matter of breaking precepts.
Some people look at it this way: this is not the time of the Buddha and we are not in India now; what is more, Chinese people are not Indian, and so, since the precepts were created for the times and the locations, then they are precepts only applicable to the people of India and are not appropriate for the people of China. Actually that is incorrect because, in Buddhism, the precepts are one of the three non-outflow studies of precepts, samadhi, and wisdom, all of which were explained by Shakyamuni Buddha himself. If "precepts" are not appropriate to the people of China, then does that mean that "samadhi and wisdom" are also not appropriate to the people of China? Ridiculous!
Not eating at the wrong times is a practice that left-home people should keep and is the first requisite for those who shave their heads and leave home. "
Further, the lay people's Eight Vegetarian-Seclusion Precepts also include "the precept of not eating at the wrong time." And so it's a question of whether the precepts are strictly upheld or not. Except when one is sick, there's no other rationalization acceptable.
What is more, in the In All Places Sutra five kinds of blessings and virtue derived from not eating after noon are listed: "1. Little sexual desire; 2. Little sleep; 3. A concentrated mind; 4. No problems with abdominal gas; 5. Physical tranquillity and no diseases. From this we can see that not eating after noon can generate blessings. Also in the Large Vibhasha Shastra it is thought that: not eating after noon lessens the amount of sleep, eliminates the problems of storing food overnight, makes it easier for the mind to enter samadhi, and because of those benefits, the instruction to eat before noon was given. In The Sutra of the Questions of the Long-nailed Brahman it says: "The fact that the Thus Come One's forty teeth are clean, white, and straight comes from his strict avoidance of eating at the wrong time when he upheld that precept in previous lives."
To be continued