How Do Zen Buddhist Monks Eat?

Buddhist monks are often known for their asceticism and their withdrawal from the outer world and their focus on their inner world. But everybody needs to eat - even Buddhist monks on their way to moksha.
How Do Zen Buddhist Monks Eat?

How do Buddhist monks eat? This is a question that in today’s fast-paced world, more and more people are probably asking themselves – or just the internet. There may be several reasons why this is the case, but one surely is that many long for the calm, balanced, happy life that these monks live. And one of the foundations of life is nothing but food: that’s why so many are looking for the secret in it. 

If you are one of those who like to go to the best yoga studios in Budapest , meditate regularly and take various other steps towards a conscious life, you will surely be interested in what and how Buddhist monks eat. Read on and find out about their habits!


What Do Buddhist Monks Eat?

Before we get into how Buddhist monks eat, let’s take a look at what they eat at a meal. In his book The Art of Simple Life, Shunmyo Masuno writes that the diet of practicing Zen monks is based on shojin. The dining style of Japanese Buddhist monks is called shoji, which became popular all over the world, due to the spread of zen Buddhism in the 13th century.  The essence of this way of eating is that it doesn’t contain any meat, fish or other animal products – so it fits perfectly into vegan and vegetarian diets.

Now you might think that this is a very boring way of eating, but that is not true at all! The monks follow the “rule of five” when cooking, which means that five colors (green, yellow, red, black and white) and five flavors (sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami) appear in each dish. This kind of perfect harmony of colors and tastes in the body also creates a balance – which, let’s face it, many of us crave. But now let’s look at the specifics!


Breakfast Lunch Dinner

Zen Buddhist monks strive for minimalism in their meals as well as in all areas of life. The first meal is breakfast, which is shoshoku. It usually consists of rice and pickles. Lunch, called tenshin, is also rice or soup, also with pickled vegetables. Dinner at yakuseki is also simple, but it’s the most hearty dish, usually with vegetables, rice and soup.

Suzuki Daiszecu Teitaró also writes in his book Introduction to Zen Buddhism that Indian Zen monks should not eat in the evening. Yet, due to the needs created by the climatic peculiarities, they cannot miss dinner, which is called a medicine to “reassure their conscience”.


how do buddhist monks eat


How Do Buddhist Monks Eat?

In his book, Teitaró writes that when the gong signalling the meal is heard, the monks one by one withdraw from the zendo, the meditation hall. In the dining area, they hold in their hands their bowls (four or five pieces that can be fitted together) and their chopsticks, which they use when the master of the ceremony shakes his bell. At this point, however, they do not start eating right away.

The Heart Sutra is recited first, and then the five meditations can come. According to Masuno’s book, these five thoughts should be reflected on:

  1. They give thanks to those who, because of their efforts, may have food before them, they pay tribute to them.
  2. They think about their actions, their deeds – to make it more effective, they always eat in silence.
  3. Slowly and consciously tasting the food.
  4. As mentioned above, food is considered a medicine, as something that keeps the body and soul alive and healthy.
  5. Giving thanks for the food.

To really feel this gratitude they take conscious a break between their bites, once the meal has begun.

After the five steps, the serving monks bring out the food, but even then the meal does not begin. This is when the monks think of the spirits of the dead, and of all other beings who live in other worlds. To this end, seven grains of rice are taken out of the bowl and offered to them. Then begins the silent meal, during which they do not communicate verbally at all, only signalling to each other with hand gestures if, for example, they ask for another serving.


Improve Your Own Life by Following the Monks’ Example

Now that you see how Buddhist monks eat, the question may arise how you can apply this in your daily life. One of the clearest forms is following a vegetarian or vegan diet. Consuming simple dishes with lots of colorful vegetables is also good advice if you want to follow a healthier lifestyle.

This may be strange in the 21st century, but it can make a big difference in your life if you too switch to a conscious quiet meal. Don’t watch TV, don’t talk to your colleagues or family, you just immerse yourself in your thoughts and focus on the taste of your meal. You can also do a lot for your health by not eating in a hurry, but calmly, chewing every bite properly. That doesn’t seem too difficult, does it? The point is to start your practice somewhere and experience its beneficial effects. From there, it all goes by itself!


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