Thursday, August 21, 1975 afternoon Ullambana
Bhikshu Heng Sure:
The fourth contemplation is that food is medicine. If you can really think that way and grasp that idea, you'll never use more than you need to cure your disease of hunger. If you think about it, it is medicine. Everything that you put in your body is medicine of one kind or another. The Master has lectured time and time again: Don't pay any attention to whether food is delicious or plain. That's not the point. The point is to eat until you're full, and then stop. People who stress the variety of flavors and the delicious quality and the perfect turning of a pot of rice or the expert seasoning of that salad dressing—that's to be attached to food, and that's to use up your blessings. People eat away their blessings. In fact, in the mind ground, where real cultivation takes place, you should pay no attention to whether food is delicious, or super-nutritious, whether it's perfectly cooked or badly cooked. You should eat what comes in front of you, and eat until you're eighty percent full—don't stuff it right up to the top. Then you'll see that food is really medicine. Now, you wouldn't take nine aspirin to cure a headache any more than you would put a gun to your head and pull the trigger. That's overkill. The same thing with food. Food is medicine, and if you see it as medicine you'll never eat too much. You'll eat just enough to cure your disease of hunger, and then you'll stop.
Now, this is not to say that you're really virtuous if you eat less than the person sitting next to you. That's not the point. Some people have a huge capacity. If they eat six bowls of rice and they're not full, they should eat until they're eighty percent full. Another person has a smaller capacity. If he ate three spoonfuls of rice and he could only hold one, then he's being greedy. It's entirely up to you. You eat your own food, just like you wear your own clothes. But you should know your own limits.
The fifth contemplation is that you should accept food only to cultivate and to accomplish the Way. The only reason that you eat at all is to keep your body going so that you can continue to do the work with vigor and accomplish the Way. Basically, the body is impure. It's got all kinds of impurities floating around inside; every hole puts out a different kind of foul stuff. When you die, this beautiful body that you've put deodorant on all these years to make it smell better, that you've brushed, combed, washed, patted, exercised, and taken care of in all these ways to keep the illusion going that it's attractive and bearable—is revealed. At death, this fallacy really comes home and you can see this body for what it is—a stinking bag of skin. Inside are bones and they come popping through; and the worms eat it and it goes right back to the ground. While this body is impure, at the same time, a human body is the perfect vehicle to cultivate the Way. If you don't eat, you're going to die. So you eat just enough to cultivate and accomplish the Way. That's the purpose of eating.
There's a verse that makes the Five Contemplations a little easier to remember. It goes like this:
This offering of the faithful is the fruit of work and care.
I reflect upon my conduct: Have I truly earned my share?
Of the poisons of the mind, the most despicable is greed.
As a medicine cures illness, I eat only what I need.
To sustain my cultivation and to realize the Way,
So I contemplate in silence on this offering today.
This first line says, "This offering of the faithful is the fruit of work and care." The whole matter of offerings is an important one in Buddhism. It's very important in that it's the first of the Six Perfections that all Bodhisattvas cultivate—the perfection of giving. It's called dana
in Sanskrit, bu shi (布施 ) in Chinese. When a person leaves the home life, he takes a vow of poverty. One of the Shramanera (novitiate) precepts is that you own nothing valuable—money and so forth. Basically, Sanghans need nothing. They need the requisites of a roof, food, and clothes, but in minimal amounts. In India, monks went begging. Because in China the weather could go to extremes and it was really hard for monks to go out daily begging—often the monasteries were way out in the wilds and there were no communities to beg from—gradually the practice of begging was discontinued in China, and the monks relied for the sustenance on the offerings of the faithful. How can a monk say, "Gee, you ought to give to me"? Well, they don't say that. The major function of a left home person is to serve. He serves by maintaining the Proper Dharma, keeping it alive in the world. That's how he serves the Triple Jewel. How does he serve the community of laypeople? He serves by becoming a field of blessings. That's an analogy. Think of a field—there's fertile soil in a field of blessings, and it can grow just about anything. Does the Sanghan cultivate his own blessings? No, the Sanghan does not consciously set out to cultivate his own blessings and say, "Boy, I'm getting a lot of blessings by reciting this mantra, by walking around and reciting the Buddha's name so many times—I'm really rolling up a big bank account of blessings." That's not the way he looks at it.
To be continued