I love food – all kinds of food.
I live for food. I run so I can have an extra piece of chocolate; cycle so I can have a glass of wine with dinner.
Why am I telling you this? Because I cannot begin to imagine enjoying life without the pleasures of food! And, with a tendency to hypoglycaemia and a family history of diabetes, I like my meals small and frequent.
Buddhist monks, however, eat only two meals a day. The sixth of the ten basic precepts that order monastic life is to abstain from taking “untimely” meals – with “timely” defined as between dawn and noon. So, the last meal of the day, at 11:00 am, is an important one.
On the second day of my PhotoTour with Karl Grobl in Myanmar, I was lucky enough to visit the Kyakhatwine Monastery in Bago in time for the monks’ lunch. We were strictly observers, mind you, and our guide, Mr MM gave us clear instructions ahead of time, so that we would not interfere: no speaking and no crossing in front of the monks as they walk in and out of the lunch hall. This is a teaching monastery, housing up to 1000 monks and novices at any one time, and their lives are ordered by immutable routine. Visitors are welcome – provided they stay out of the way!
Food that is not consumed one day is not meant to be saved; it either goes back to the community that gave the donation, or to the indigent people or stray dogs that might make the temple their home.
Buddhist monasteries are completely dependent on the lay community outside their walls: they do not produce or purchase their own food. Therefore they get what they are given – whether by central collection, as is the case with large teaching monasteries like this one, or by way of daily alms rounds, and monks are asked not to favour one food over another.
I would find that almost as difficult as only having two meals a day.
Food for thought, indeed, as we left the monastery to have our own, rather more sumptuous, lunch at a restaurant where we chatted, and picked what we liked.
Mmm – bliss!