Sunday, August 12, 2012

Twelve Bowls of Rice

At the Sunday puja at Buddhist Library today, Bhante Dhammaratana spoke of renunciation in lay life. He elaborated that renunciation is not all about giving up lay life and donning the monastic robes. Renunciation in a more significant sense is the abandonment of harmful practices and eradication of craving.

In his humorous manner, Bhante told the story of King Pasenadi and his overeating habits to illustrate his point.

King Pasenadi of Kosala was a very devout and loyal supporter of the Buddha. He often visited the Buddha for his teachings when the Blessed One was residing in Jetavana Monastery in Savatthi, the capital of Kosala.

King Kosala was an ardent pleasure-seeker, particularly where food and drink were concerned. Well known for his huge belly, he developed a close friendship with the Buddha. Once after a huge meal, panting and visibly discomforted, he visited the Buddha.

Buddha asked the king the contents of his meal and the king sheepishly admitted that he had twelve bowls of rice in addition to a multitude of other savoury dishes, which was his usual intake.

Observing the king's situation, Buddha smiled and spoke a verse that praised eating in right measure, and he stated that one who knew the right measure of food would get rid of physical discomfort and enjoy a long and healthy life. The Buddha then advised the king to cut down to eleven bowls of rice initially. After the king was used to eleven bowls, then he could reduce to ten and so on.

Buddha's compassion was evident from not asking King Pasenadi to go cold turkey and stop at one bowl of rice immediately. Having understood that change takes time, Buddha taught King Pasenadi to reduce his craving gradually so as not to discomfit the mercurial king and run the risk of him giving up altogether.

Heeding Buddha's advice, King Pasenadi gradually worked his way down to three bowls of rice! Having lost some weight, he now presented a trimmer and fitter form in front of the Buddha. He also became more energetic and healthy as a result of his moderate diet.

This story again illustrates Buddha's teaching on the Middle Path. The enjoyment of sensual pleasures in our lives through our eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body is not wrong in itself. However, when we stray from the moderate path and become ensnared and addicted to those pleasures, many problems will ensue. Therefore, the key phrase here is "right measure": right measure is what keeps one within the zone of physical comfort and health, mental well-being and social acceptance.

Before he attained enlightenment, Buddha as the bodhisattva then experienced two contrasting types of diets: ambrosial delights in the palace and one grain of rice per day as an ascetic. Having discovered that both diets were not satisfactory, he discovered the Middle Path and proceeded to demonstrate an exemplary life based on the view of not falling into extremes.

Is there any sensual pleasure you are particularly fond of and might be in danger of taking it to the extreme?

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