Shariputra went into the city to make his alms rounds and having obtained his food sat down against a wall to eat. At this time, a Brahmacarini named "Pure Eyes" (Shucimukhi) came along and, seeing Shariputra, asked him, "Shramana, are you eating?"
He replied, "Yes, I'm eating."
Pure Eyes asked, "Do you shramanas eat with your attention directed downwards?"
He replied, "No, Sister."
"Do you eat with your attention directed upwards?"
"With your attention directed to the [four] directions?"
"With your attention directed to the four midpoints?"
Pure Eyes said, "There are four approaches to gaining one's sustenance. I asked you about them and you said 'no' in every case. I don't understand. You ought to explain."
Shariputra said, "There are those who, having left the home life, blend herbs, sow grains, plant trees, or engage in other such forms of impure means of sustaining one's life. These methods are referred to as eating with one's attention directed downwards.
"There are those who, having left the home life, carry out observations of the stars, the constellations, the sun, the moon, the wind, the rain, thunder and lightning, and thunderbolts, carrying on this impure means of sustaining one's life. These methods are referred to as eating with one's attention directed upwards.
"There are those who have left the home life who manipulate and flatter the noble and powerful, who deliver messages for them in all four directions, or who employ clever words and covetousness, these impure means of sustaining one's life. These methods are referred to as eating with one's attention directed in all directions.
"There are those who, having left the home life, study all manner of incantational techniques, or who practice divination and calculation of auspiciousness and inauspiciousness and all manner of impure means such as these for sustaining their lives. These methods are referred to as eating with one's attention focused on the midpoints. Sister, I do not fall into any of these four types of impure means of sustaining one's life. I employ the pure alms round to sustain this life."
At this time, when Pure Eyes had heard the explanation of the dharma of pure eating, she was delighted and developed faith and understanding. Shariputra, because he had spoken Dharma for her, gained the way of the Srotaapana.
Reaching an accurate Buddhist understanding of this idea may require a cultural and conceptual leap for some. Many of us are hard pressed not to wince and look askance at apparently able-bodied people who prefer alms to the wage-earner's nine-to-five, cash-on-the-barrelhead mode of existence. A few clues which may be helpful:
a) The Buddha stated repeatedly and in no uncertain terms that because of the great power of the karmic law of cause-and-effect, the layperson who willingly and happily provides assistance to the renunciate monastic (not to be confused with non-celibate lay priests) gains an incredible reward of merit whereby blessings and bliss ensue in this and future lives. This being the case, the earnestly rigorous and renunciate monastic constitutes what is referred to as a "field of blessings" whose availability to accept such assistance is a particularly potent resource to the layperson desirous of accumulating merit for future worldly and spiritual benefit;
b) Involvement in the exigencies of pursuing a livelihood in the normal sense of the term was forbidden for monastics by the Buddha. It was heldto be a great abyss which jeopardizes the monastic's ability to retain fulltimefocus on the Path;
c) Were the monastic to dilute his spiritual cultivation with involvementin a "livelihood," his potency as a "field of merit" would diminish commen-surately while his clarity, perspective and effectiveness as a source of spiri-tual guidance to the laity would be seriously compromised;
d) closer examination of orthodox monastic life reveals that it constitutes the most extremely challenging and unremittingly demanding of jobs.When one drops the rather mean and narrow criteria of the fiscal yardstickit becomes much more difficult to maintain the opinion that the monasticlife doesn't constitute real and honest work.
English translation © 1996 Dharmamitra.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of Kalavinka.