Practicing with Unwanted Food

Once the Blessed One had renounced the home life and taken up the wandering life of a mendicant monk, he set out for Rājagaha. There he met King Bimbisāra, who apparently offered him power and wealth. On some accounts, King Bimbisāra even offered him his entire kingdom. The Blessed One declined and continued on with his striving. But not without a little unwanted food.

Before the encounter with King Bimbisāra took place, the Blessed One went on an alms round. After collecting a number of scraps of food, he knew, “This will be enough to sustain my body.” Seated next to Mount Pandava, the Blessed One began to eat his meal.

The food did not sit well with the Blessed One. His stomach turned and he was about to throw-up. Having grown up with the luxuries of a well off home life, the Blessed One was not prepared for the unappealing leftovers placed in his bowl. It was then that he admonished himself thus:

Siddhattha, you were born into a family where food and drink could easily be obtained, into a state of life in which [you] could eat fragrant three-year-old rice with various [foods of] the finest taste, and when you saw a person dressed in rags you thought: ‘At some time will I too be like that man and eat by begging food? Will I have such an opportunity?’ And then you renounced the world. What is this you are doing now?

As he thus admonished himself, his trembling stopped, and he ate all the food.

I could go on and on about my unwanted, unappetizing, and unexpected foods.  Some of these are family related, some work related, some literally having to do with food!

But the one that continually arises for me on a daily basis is sitting meditation. When my alarm goes off in the morning, my first thoughts are usually about sleeping longer and my first feelings are usually sluggishness and drowsiness. I definitely don’t spring at the food that awaits me! Some days, I turn down the food. Others, I dress it up with a cold shower, or a step outside, or a cup of black tea. And on some days, I take what arises as it is.

What unwanted, unappetizing, or unexpected food have you been given lately? And what did you do with it? Did you put it aside, looking for something wanted, appetizing, or expected? Did you dress it up? Or did you eat it as it is?

May we strive to be with all that arises, all that is present, and all that passes away with gratitude, compassion, equanimity, and joy! Thank you for reading!

(Note: The story about the Buddha related here can be found in the Nidānakathā. My presentation is a paraphrase of Nakamura’s recounting of this story as well as other information regarding the Buddha’s meeting with King Bimbisāra, all of which can be found in Gotama Buddha: A Biography Based on the Most Reliable Texts, Volume I, pages 120 – 125.)

One thought on “Practicing with Unwanted Food”

  1. It’s not always easy to perceive what will nourish us.

    And even if we can get a belly full of nourishment, what will we do with that energy?

    Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say, “You eat good food all your life. Then you die.”

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