Let's talk about eating today. I believe a lot of you will find this interesting. Everyone has to eat. The most basic instincts of human beings are the desires for food and sex. We like to eat and we fancy beautiful forms. These are our innate tendencies. Have you ever noticed that the first thing newborn babies want is milk; they will cry until they are given milk. They cry when hungry and stop crying when fed; this is their instinctive reaction.
However, when we eat, we should know what we ought to eat. I am going to share with you a secret that I have never passed on to anyone before. I am reluctant to talk about it because Westerners do not understand this— and not only Westerners; Asians may not understand this either.
What am I going to talk about? The five flavors, namely: sour, sweet, bitter, spicy, and salty. They represent the five elements: sour represents wood, bitter represents fire, spicy represents metal, salty represents water, and sweetness represents earth.
One should not eat too much sour food in the spring. Why? Spring corresponds to wood, and wood thrives in the spring, because spring is the time when all living things grow. Sour is associated with wood, and it is not ideal to eat sour food in the spring; a little is fine, but not too much. Eating too much sour food in spring is like pouring oil on the flames and making the fire stronger. Is there something wrong with being strong? Going overboard is as bad as not doing enough; excess and deficiency are the same.
The other day, Guo Bao commented that our food lacks vitamins. I, however, feel that the vitamin content is too high—more than what I need. Isn't it strange? He said there aren't any vitamins and I think there is too much.
Summer represents fire; it's hot in summer, and when it's hot, we should not eat too much. Why is bitter associated with fire? All the food that we eat and drink becomes bitter when burned. Bitter means acrid.
Sour corresponds to the liver. Eating a lot of sour food in the spring hurts the liver and affects the eyesight, causing one not to see clearly. Fire is very strong in summer. The summer heat shows the nature of fire. Some people may claim, "It's hot in summer, but the month of June is the coolest time in Australia." That has to do with the weather of a particular geographical area; we're not talking about ordinary weather. We should not eat too much bitter food in summer, although it's all right to eat a little.
Autumn represents metal. One should not eat too much spicy food in the autumn as this can hurt the lungs.
One should not eat too much salty food in winter, because it is not good for the kidneys.
You should know the principle of balancing the five flavors; it is the best way to lead a healthy life. It is far better and more effective than taking vitamins. Regardless of what you eat, don't eat too much; excessive eating is not beneficial and is actually harmful.
When do we eat sweet food? Food that is sweet [i.e. starches] can be eaten anytime, because sweetness represents earth, and earth prospers throughout the four seasons. That means you can eat sweet food throughout spring, summer, autumn and winter. Sweet food is not harmful to the body, but there's no benefit into eating too much of it either.
What foods are associated with earth? Rice and bread are all considered sweet. We always eat bread or rice, because our body needs them. This is the Sutra of Eating and Drinking.
You won't hear the Sutra of Eating and Drinking anywhere else; because the Buddha did not speak it. The Buddha told us not to eat after noon and to eat one meal a day with proper etiquette. Every one of us needs to know this. No matter what you eat, if you do not eat too much, you will seldom become sick. You will then enjoy good health, which is a blessing in life.