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Food and a Contemplative Life

June 11, 2004

By the contemplative recluse monk Sotapanna Jhanananda (Jeffrey S, Brooks)

(copyright 2004 all rights reserved)

While I am familiar with the Theravadan and vinaya rules on eating once a day and not afternoon, you might be surprised to hear that many Theravadan monks actually go to great lengths to "bend" the vinaya to suit themselves.  For instance, they are not enjoined to avoid medicine.  As ridiculous as it may sound, they consider chocolate a medicine, so bhikkhus often eat chocolate in the evening.  This may explain how some bhikkhus have become obese from eating once a day, they maybe eating five pounds of chocolate every night as a “medicine.”

I recently served two Theravadan monks, and they each drank about a liter of soymilk in the evening, because drinking is not against the vinaya.  While I saw nothing wrong with drinking a liter of soymilk in the evening I wanted to suggest a smoothy as an acceptable and healthier alternative for their evening meal, I did not know these monks well.

I believe when and what one eats is really a personal matter.  One cannot make a hard and fast rule that applies to all beings.  So, each contemplative must find what suits them.  This body is hypoglycemic.  It simply cannot eat a large meal only once a day and remain healthy.  So, I feed it several small meals each day.  I have "fasted" for months on drinking smoothies every 2 or 3 hours.  It was a very cleansing diet.

The historic Buddha ate only one meal a day, however he meditated immediately after that meal, and it seems his most significant meditations occurred after that meal.  Mohammed, found meditating at noon, and fasting until dusk, then eating in the evening, suited him.  Jesus seems to have preferred eating breakfast.  This body seems to need to eat something light every 2 hours and avoiding eating anything heavy after lunch; and waiting to meditate 2 hours after a meal, and meditating at 4:00 AM and 9 PM.  So, take your pick find what suits your body and mind then stick to it.

I recently spent a few days living with some hardcore raw vegetarians.  After eating their diet for only 2 days I started to have lucid dreams of vomiting green.  Their diet does not work for me.  They would say that I am "impure" and that is why I had trouble with their diet.  Thirty years ago I was raw vegetarian for 3 years and I lost 65 pounds.  When I came off the diet I was 115 pounds.  I am 5'8," that means I was very skinny. 

About 5 years ago I helped distribute the ashes of a teacher of mine who was so obsessed with purification that he destroyed his liver through excessive cleansing programs.  Sometimes, purification is an obsession.  I have been mostly vegan for 30 years, at what point does one accept one is "pure" enough?

None of the enlightened beings of the past that I can think of were raw vegetarians, or pure food addicts.  Type of food is a personal choice and often a cultural advantage.  Raw vegetarianism is a product of the industrial revolution and contemporary transportation system that can deliver to almost every city a wide range of fresh foods, which were not accessible only a few decades ago.  Raw vegetarianism also often requires technology, like refrigerators, blenders and juicers to observe.  Even those cultures that live in tropical regions, where there is a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables none of them have ever came to a belief that raw vegetarianism was a wise diet plan.

The Buddha begged for his food, and he probably ate whatever he was given.  We know he ate meat, because his last meal was pork.  In fact vegetarianism is a product of agriculture.  Prior to the invention of agriculture there was generally not enough fruits and vegetables available year round to observe a healthy vegetarian diet.  This is why most hunter-gatherer cultures ate almost everything and anything they could find.

Jesus was a Jew living in the Levant, so he no doubt ate sheep, goat and fish, etc.  Mohammed lived not far from where Jesus lived, so he probably had a similar diet to Jesus.  This body lives in the early 21st century USA.  It prefers a vegan diet.  It seems to do best without meat, dairy and eggs.  It seems to do best on some whole grain, wheat, corn, rye, rice and other grains with legumes, nuts and seeds, and occasional fresh fruit and vegetables.  It does not seem to like an exclusively raw vegetarian diet.  The way I care for this body does not limit my access to absorption. I believe that is all that matters

May you become enlightened in this very lifetime,

Sotapanna Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Brooks)

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