Food restriction

From Dhamma Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Food restriction

an article by Shravasti Dhammika

While the Buddha ignored Brahmanical (i.e. Hindu) food prescriptions, he did require his monks and nuns to avoid two types of food; garlic and related vegetables, and the flesh of certain species of wild animals. From the earliest times, Indians have believed that garlic and onions provoke unruly desires and have shunned their use. The Manusmṛti, the most authoritative Hindu law book, goes as far as to say that a brahman will lose his caste if he eats garlic (Ms.5,19). It seems the Buddha took this popular taboo into account and forbade monks and nuns from eating garlic too, but tried to give a rational reason for the prohibition. According to the Vinaya, the rules for monastics, the reason for the ban was because a monk who had eaten garlic and then attended one of the Buddha’s talks, offended the audience with his breath. When told of this, the Buddha instructed his monks to avoid garlic as a courtesy to others. Significantly, he allowed garlic to be taken for medical reasons. (Vin.II,140)

Rational reasons were likewise given for the prohibition on certain types of meat. Eating elephant or horse flesh for example, might bring unwelcome attention from monarchs who regarded such animals as symbols of royalty. Dogs and snakes were widely considered loathsome and eating them would attract social disapproval. Lions, hyenas and other large carnivores were believed to be able to smell the flesh of their kind on someone who had eaten it and would attack them. The evidence given for this last reason was that some hunters had offered lion meat to a forest-living monk who ate it and was subsequently mauled by a lion. (Vin.I,219-20)

The Buddha ate whatever food was he was given when alms gathering or invited to someone’s home for a meal. There is only one example of him declining to eat something offered to him. Once, a brahman who had just finished conducting a Vedic sacrifice. offered the Buddha some of the special cakes (pūraḷāsa) used during such rituals. Such cakes were made of wheat or barley flour, consecrated with special mantras and then symbolically offered to the gods. The Buddha refused to accept the cakes saying that no awakened person would eat such food, the only time he ever refused to accept food offered to him (Sn.480). It would appear that he did not want to be associated in any way with Vedic rituals. In western countries where multiculturalism is now the norm, religious food restrictions have created situations having economic implications. Increasingly, school canteens, hospitals, aged care homes, prisons, military bases, etc., have to have separate serving facilities, cooking utensils and in some cases separate kitchens to cater to all these needs. Buddhism’s rejection of the concept of ritually pure and impure food means that all such arrangements are not necessary. even a Buddhist who practices vegetarianism and who is a patient in a hospital only requires that no meat be put on his or her plate.