Part Four: The Food Chapter
Many of the rules in this chapter classify food into two groups:
//bhojana// (consumables) and //khadiniya// (chewables). Scholars
usually translate the two as "softer food" and "harder food,"
although the hardness and softness of a particular food have little
to do with the category it belongs to. A translation closer to the
essence of each category would be "staple food" and "non-staple
food." The distinction between the two is important, for it is
often the deciding factor between what is and is not an offense.
Note, however, that the term //staple// here covers only what was
considered staple in the time of the Buddha. Bread, pasta, and
potatoes, which are staples in the West, were not always staples in
India at that time, and so do not always fit into this category.
Staple foods are consistently defined as five sorts of foods,
although the precise definitions of the first two are a matter of
1) //Cooked grains//. The Vibhanga defines this as seven types of
cooked grain, but there is disagreement on the identity of some of
the seven. They are //sali// (BD translates this as rice; the
Thais, wheat); //vihi// (BD again has rice, and the Thais agree);
//yava// (BD has barley; the Thais, glutinous rice); //godhuma// (BD
has wheat; the Thais, tares); kangu// (both BD and the Thais
identify this as millet or sorghum); //varaka// (BD doesn't identify
this beyond saying that it is a bean; the Thais are probably right
in identifying it as Job's tears); and //kudrusaka// (the Commentary
states that this term covers all forms of grain that come from grass
-- rye would be an example in the West). Whatever the precise
definitions of these terms, though, we could argue from the Great
Standards that any grain cooked as a staple -- including corn
(maize) and oats -- would fit into this category.
2) //Kummasa//. The Commentary says that this is a staple
confection made out of //yava//, but doesn't describe it in any
detail aside from saying that if the //kummasa// is made out of any
of the other grains or mung beans, it doesn't count as a staple
food. References to //kummasa// in the Canon show that it was a
very common staple that could form a rudimentary meal in and of
itself and would spoil if left overnight.
3) //Sattu//. Any of the seven types of grain dried or roasted
and pounded into meal.
4) //Fish//. The flesh of any animal living in the sea.
5) //Meat//. The flesh of any biped or quadriped, except for that
which is unallowable. The following types of meat are un-allowable:
the flesh of human beings, elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, lions,
tigers, leopards, bears, and hyenas (panthers). Human beings,
horses, and elephants were regarded as too noble to be used as food.
The other types of meat were forbidden either on grounds that they
were repulsive ("People were offended and annoyed and spread it
about, 'How can these Sakyan contemplatives eat dog meat? Dogs are
loathsome, disgusting'") or dangerous (bhikkhus, smelling of lion's
flesh, went into the jungle; the lions there were offended and
annoyed and attacked them).
To eat human flesh entails a thullaccaya; to eat any of the other
unallowable types, a dukkata (Mv.VI.23.9-15). If a bhikkhu is
uncertain as to the identity of any meat presented to him, he incurs
a dukkata if he doesn't ask the donor what it is (Mv.VI.23.9).
Fish or meat, even if of an allowable kind, is unallowable if raw.
Thus bhikkhus may not eat steak tartare, sashami, oysters on the
half-shell, etc. (Raw flesh and blood are allowed at Mv.VI.10.2
only when one is possessed by non-human beings (!)) Furthermore,
even cooked fish or meat of an allowable kind is unallowable if the
bhikkhu sees, hears, or suspects that the animal was killed
specifically for the purpose of feeding bhikkhus (Mv.VI.31.14).
Non-staple foods are defined according to context:
a) in Pacittiyas 35-38: every edible outside of staple foods,
juice drinks, the five tonics, and medicines (see below).
b) in Pacittiya 40: every edible outside of staple foods, water,
c) in Pacittiya 41 (also the Bhikkhunis' Pacittiyas 44 & 54):
every edible outside of staple foods, the five tonics, juice
drinks, medicine, and conjey.
The Commentary to Pacittiya 37 lists the following items as
non-staple foods: flour and confections made of flour (cakes, bread
and pasta made without eggs would be classed here); also, roots,
tubers (this would include potatoes), lotus roots, sprouts, stems,
bark, leaves, flowers, fruits, nuts, seed-meal, seeds, and resins
that are made into food. Any of these items made into medicines,
though, would not be classed as a non-staple food.
The Commentary also makes reference to the fact that some
societies use roots, tubers, confections made out of flour, etc., as
staple foods, but it nowhere suggests that the definition of staple
food be altered to fit the society in which one is living. Thus in
the West we are left with a somewhat zig-zag line separating what
are and are not staple foods for the purposes of the rules: Meal
pounded from grain is a staple; flour ground from grain is not.
Bread made with oat meal, corn meal, wheat germ, etc., would thus be
a staple; bread made without any grain meal or eggs (see below)
would not. The same holds true for pastries, noodles, and pasta.
This means that it would be possible for a donor to provide
bhikkhus with a full, strictly vegetarian meal that would include
absolutely no staple foods. The wise policy in such a case, though,
would be to treat the meal as if it did contain staple foods with
reference to the rules (Pacittiya 33 & 35) that aim at saving face
for the donor.
Conjey, the watery rice porridge or gruel commonly drunk before
almsround in the time of the Buddha, is classed differently
according to context. If it is so thick that it cannot be drunk and
must be eaten with a spoon, it is regarded as a staple food
(Mv.VI.25.7; Pacittiya 33). "Drinking conjey" is classed as a
non-staple food under Pacittiyas 35-38 & 40, whereas it is
considered as neither a staple nor a non-staple food under Pacittiya
41. The Commentary notes, though, that if drinking conjey has bits
of meat or fish "larger than lettuce seeds" floating in it, it is a
Milk and curds are classed as "finer staple foods" under Pacittiya
39. In other contexts they fit under the definition of non-staple
All other dairy products -- except for fresh butter and ghee when
used as tonics (see NP 23) -- are non-staple foods.
Eggs are not mentioned in the Vibhanga or Khandhakas. Presumably
they come under meat. If so, raw eggs are unallowable; and bread,
pastries, noodles, and pasta made with eggs are a staple food.
In addition to staple and non-staple foods, the Vibhanga to the
rules in this chapter mentions three other classes of edibles:
juice drinks, the five tonics, and medicines.
Juice drinks include the freshly squeezed juice of sugar cane,
lotus root, all fruits except grain, all leaves except cooked
vegetables, and all flowers except liquorice (Mv.VI.35.6).
According to the Commentary, the juice must be strained, and may be
warmed by sunlight but not heated over a fire. (What category
boiled juice would fit under, the Commentary does not say. The
Vinaya Mukha maintains that it would fit under sugar in the five
In discussing the Great Standards, the Commentary says that grain
is a "great fruit," and thus the juice of any one of nine large
fruits -- palmyra fruit, coconut, jackfruit, breadfruit, bottle
gourd, white gourd, muskmelon, watermelon, and squash -- would fall
under the same class as the juice of grain: i.e., as a non-staple
food and not a juice drink. From this judgment, many Communities
infer that the juice of //any// large fruit, such as pineapple or
grapefruit, would also be classed as a non-staple food.
The Commentary notes further that if a bhikkhu himself makes a
juice drink from fruit, etc., he has received, it counts as a
non-staple food and must be consumed before noon.
The five tonics are discussed in detail under NP 23.
Medicines. According to the Mahavagga (VI.3.1-8), any items in
the six following categories that, by themselves, are not used as
staple or non-staple food are medicines: roots, astringent
decoctions, leaves, fruits, resins, and salts. For example, under
fruits: Oranges and apples are not medicines, but pepper, nutmeg,
and cardamom are. Most modern medicines would fit under the
category of salts. Using the Great Standards, we can say that any
edible that is used as a medicine but does not fit under the
categories of staple or non-staple food, juice drinks, or the five
tonics, would fit here.
Keeping and consuming. Each of the four basic classes of edibles
-- food, juice drinks, the five tonics, and medicines -- has its
"life span," the period during which it may be kept and consumed.
Food may be kept and consumed until noon of the day it is received;
juice drinks, until dawn of the following day; the five tonics,
until dawn of the seventh day after they are received; and
medicines, throughout one's life.
Edibles made from ingredients that have different life spans --
e.g., salted beef, honeyed cough syrup, sugared orange juice -- have
the same life span as the ingredient with the shortest life span.
Thus salted beef is treated as beef, honeyed cough syrup as honey,
and sugared orange juice as orange juice (Mv.VI.40.3).
Tonics and medicines, such as sugar and salt, received today may
be eaten mixed with food or juice drinks received today, but not
with food or juice drinks received on a later day. Medicine, such
as salt, tea, or cocoa, received at any time may be eaten mixed with
any of the five tonics on any day of the tonic's life span
* * *
31.A bhikkhu who is not ill may eat one meal at a public
alms center. Should he eat more than that, it is to be
"Now at that time a certain guild had prepared food at a
public alms center not far from Savatthi. Some group-of-six
bhikkhus, dressing in the morning, taking their bowls and
robes, entered Savatthi for alms but, after not getting any
almsfood, went to the public alms center. The people there
said, 'At last the reverend ones have come,' and
respectfully waited on them. Then on the second day and the
third day, the group-of-six bhikkhus, dressing in the
morning, taking their bowls and robes, entered Savatthi for
alms but, after not getting any almsfood went to the public
alms center and ate. The thought occurred to them, 'Why
should we bother going back to the monastery? Tomorrow
we'll have to come right back here.'
"So staying on and on right there, they ate the food of the
public alms center. The members of other sects fled the
place. People were offended and annoyed and spread it
about: 'How can these Sakyan contemplatives stay on and on,
eating the food of the public alms center? The food at the
alms center isn't meant just for them; it's meant for
A //public alms center// is a place where all comers are offered as
much food as they want, free of charge. Soup kitchens and shelters
for the homeless, if they are run in this way, would fit under this
rule. A //meal// is defined as one that includes any of the five
staple foods. //Not ill// in this rule is defined as being able to
leave the alms center.
The origin story seems to indicate that this rule is directed
against staying on and eating day after day in the alms center. The
Commentary, though, maintains that it forbids eating in the center
two days running, without making any mention of whether the bhikkhu
stays on at the center or not. To eat one day in a center belonging
to one family (or group) and the next day in a center belonging to
another group, it says, entails no penalty.
Non-offenses. According to the Vibhanga, there is no offense in
taking a meal on the second day --
if it does not include any of the five staple foods;
if one is invited by the proprietors;
if one is ill;
if the food is specifically intended for bhikkhus (%); or
if the center determines the amount of food the recipients may
take, rather than allowing them to take as much as they want (%).
The reason for this last allowance is that if the owners of the
center were unhappy with having a bhikkhu eat there, they could
give him very little or nothing at all.
Also, there is no offense in taking a second meal when "coming or
going," which in the context of the origin story seems to mean that
one may take a second meal if one simply leaves the center and then
comes back. The Commentary, though, interprets this phrase as
meaning "coming or going on a journey," and even here it says a meal
should not be taken from the center two days running unless there
are dangers, such as floods or robbers, that prevent one from
continuing on one's way.
Summary: Eating food obtained from the same public alms
center two days running, unless one is too ill to leave the
center, is a pacittiya offense.
* * *
32.A group meal, except on the proper occasions, is to be
confessed. Here the proper occasions are these: a time of
illness, a time of giving cloth, a time of making robes, a
time of going on a journey, a time of embarking on a boat,
an extraordinary occasion, a time when the meal is supplied
by contemplatives. These are the proper occasions here.
This is a rule dating from Devadatta's efforts to create a schism in
"Now at that time Devadatta, his gain and honor lost, ate
his meals having asked and asked for them among households
with his friends. (Here the Commentary elaborates:
'Thinking, "Don't let my group fall apart," he provided for
his friends by eating his meals among householders together
with his friends, having asked for them thus: "You give food
to one bhikkhu. You give food to two."') People were
offended and annoyed and spread it about: 'How can these
Sakyan contemplatives eat their meals having asked and asked
for them among households? Who isn't fond of well-prepared
things? Who doesn't like sweet things?'"
Group meals. The Vibhanga defines a //group meal// as one
consisting of any of the five types of staple foods to which four or
more bhikkhus are invited. The Parivara (VI.2) adds that this rule
covers any group meal that the donor offers at his/her own
initiative, as well as any that results from a bhikkhu's requesting
In the early days of the Buddha's career, donors who wished to
invite bhikkhus to their homes for a meal would invite an entire
Community. Later, as Communities grew in size and there were times
of scarcity in which donors were unable to invite entire Communities
(Cv.VI.21.1), the Buddha allowed:
1) //designated meals//, at which a certain number of bhikkhus
were to be served. The donors would ask the Community official
in charge of meal distribution (//bhattuddesaka//) to designate
so-and-so many bhikkhus "from the Community" to receive their
meals. Bhikkhus would be sent on a rotating basis to these meals
as they occurred.
2) //invitational meals//, to which specific bhikkhus were
3) //lot meals//, for which the bhikkhus receiving the meals were
to be chosen by lot; and
4) //periodic meals//, i.e., meals offered at regular intervals,
such as every day or every uposatha day, to which bhikkhus were
to be sent on a rotating basis, as with designated meals. The
bhattuddesaka was to supervise the drawing of lots and keep track
of the various rotating schedules. (The explanations of these
various types of meal come partly from the Commentary. For a
fuller explanation, see Appendix III.)
The no-offense clauses to this rule state that in addition to the
exceptions mentioned in the rule, which we will discuss below, this
rule does not apply to lot meals or periodic meals. The Commentary
concludes from this -- and on the surface it seems reasonable enough
-- that the rule thus applies to meals to which the entire Community
is invited and to invitational meals. (Buddhaghosa reports that
there was disagreement among Vinaya authorities as to whether or not
it applies to designated meals -- more on this point below.)
The Commentary's conclusion, though, creates a problem when lay
people want to invite Communities of more than three bhikkhus to
their homes for a meal. Perhaps this problem is what induced the
Commentary to interpret the Vibhanga's definition of group meal as
meaning one in which the invitations specifically mention the word
"meal," "food," or the type of meal or food to be served. ("Come to
my house for breakfast tomorrow." "I know you don't often get a
chance to eat Indian food, so I'm inviting you all over for
chappatties and curry.") This interpretation has led to the custom
of phrasing invitations to eat "in the morning" or to eat "before
noon," so that groups of four or more bhikkhus may be invited
without breaking this rule.
The Buddha's purposes for establishing this rule, though, are
listed at Cv.VII.3.13 as follows: "For the restraint of evil-minded
individuals, for the comfort of well-behaved bhikkhus, so that those
with evil desires will not split the Community by (forming) a
faction, and out of compassion for householders."
The Commentary's definition of //group meal// accomplishes none of
the purposes: The custom of phrasing invitations to avoid the word
"food" or "meal" does nothing to restrain evil-minded individuals,
etc., and it actually creates trouble for lay people who do not know
the custom, a point well-illustrated by the Commentary itself in an
entertaining section on how to deal with a person whose invitation
contains the word "meal." After getting the run-around from the
bhattuddesaka -- who apparently was not allowed to tell him in any
straightforward way how to phrase his invitation and so gave him a
long series of hints -- the poor man returns to his friends and
makes a cryptic statement that the A/Sub-commentary translates as:
"There are a lot of words that have to be spoken in this business of
making an invitation. What's the use of them all?"
Two other arguments against the Commentary's interpretation are:
1) The Vibhanga's definition of //invited// in this rule is
repeated word-for-word under Pacittiyas 33 & 46. If the factor
of mentioning "food" or "meal," etc., is necessary for there to
be an offense under this rule, it would have to be necessary
under those rules as well, a proposal that makes no sense in
their context, and that no one has ever suggested.
2) In the origin stories of two of the reformulations of the rule,
bhikkhus refuse invitations on the grounds that they would break
the rule against a group meal, and yet the invitations make no
mention of "food" or "meal."
An alternative interpretation. To find an alternative to the
Commentary's explanation, we have to go back to the origin stories
leading to the reformulations of the rule, where we find an
interesting point: The invitations rejected by scrupulous bhikkhus
on the grounds that they would break the rule all deal with
"invitational" meals. In one of them, a naked ascetic invites a
group of bhikkhus to an invitational meal and is rejected on the
grounds that it would constitute a group meal. He then goes to the
Buddha and -- after complaining that he should not be subjected to
such treatment -- rephrases the invitation, this time inviting the
entire Community. This suggests that he felt an invitation of this
sort would not constitute a group meal.
His reasoning has its grounds in the Vinaya itself: Throughout
the Vibhanga and Khandhakas, the word "group" is used to refer to
any set of bhikkhus not forming a complete Community and yet acting
as an independent unit. This may be why the category of Community
meal was not mentioned in the no-offense clauses: The arrangers of
the Vibhanga may have felt that no mention was necessary, in that
the term "group" meal automatically excluded Community meals.
Similar considerations suggest that designated meals may also be
exempted from this rule even though they are not mentioned in the
no-offense clauses. Invitations to such meals were customarily
worded as requests for so-and-so many bhikkhus "from the Community,"
and thus -- as a type of Community meal -- they would by definition
not be invitations to a "group" meal.
Since invitations to lot meals and periodic meals did not
customarily make reference to the Community, the Vibhanga arrangers
did have to make mention of those types of meals in order to exempt
We are left with a rule that applies exclusively to invitations to
specific groups -- not Communities -- of four or more bhikkhus
regardless of whether or not the invitation mentions the word "food"
The rule in this form has the virtue of fulfilling the express
purposes mentioned for it in the Cullavagga: It would prevent
evil-minded bhikkhus and lay people from trying to exert influence
over specific groups in the Community by arranging meals especially
for them; and in the same way, it would prevent people with evil
desires from creating a split in the Community. (Since the smallest
faction that can create a split in the Community is four bhikkhus,
the maximum number allowed at a group meal is three.)
The rule in this form would also contribute to the comfort of
well-behaved bhikkhus in that invitations to meals would not be
pre-empted by factions; and it would protect householders from being
prey to the maneuverings of bhikkhus who would try to arrange for
such meals as part of their strategy to create and maintain such
factions. (Anyone who has lived in a traditional Buddhist country
knows only too well the influence of sweet-talking bhikkhus over
unsuspecting or low-minded lay people. This sort of thing neither
started nor ended with Devadatta.)
Since Community meals and designated meals would not form an
opening for such machinations, there would be no reason to limit
them to groups of three if lay people want to invite groups larger
Thus the point at issue is not whether the invitation makes
mention of food or meals, but whether it specifies the individual
bhikkhus to be invited. If it specifies more than three individual
bhikkhus -- either naming them outright or saying such things as
"Ven. X and four of his friends," or "The five of you," etc. -- the
meal would count as a group meal.
Effort. To accept an invitation to a group meal entails a
dukkata; and to eat it, regardless of whether one realizes that it
is a group meal, a pacittiya. Whether or not the bhikkhus actually
eat together is not an issue. If they receive their food at the
same invitation to a group meal but then split up and eat it
separately, they still incur the full penalty.
Non-offenses. The Vibhanga defines the //proper occasions//
mentioned the rule -- during which bhikkhus may eat a group meal
without committing an offense -- as follows:
//A time of giving cloth// is the "robe season."
//A time of making robes// is any time the bhikkhus are making
//A time of journeying// is any time the bhikkhus are about to go,
are going, or have just returned from a journey of at least half
a league (about five miles, or eight kilometers).
//A time of embarking on a boat// is any time the bhikkhus are
about to embark, are embarking, or are disembarking from a boat.
No minimum distance for the boat journey is specified.
//A time of illness// is, in its minimal terms, a time when the
bhikkhus' feet are split (and they cannot go for alms).
//An extraordinary occasion// is one in which there are so many
bhikkhus in proportion to the donors giving alms that three
bhikkhus going for alms can obtain enough food to support
themselves, but not enough to support a fourth.
//A meal supplied by contemplatives// is one provided by a person
who has taken on the state of religious wanderer. This the
Commentary explains as meaning not only those ordained in other
sects, but also one's own co-religionists (bhikkhus and
samaneras) as well. This interpretation, though, would
completely negate the effect of the rule. The word the Vibhanga
uses for religious wanderer (//paribbajaka//) refers throughout
the Canon to members of other sects and never to Buddhist
bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, samaneras, etc. We may safely assume that
it carries the same range of meaning here. This exemption, as
its origin story makes clear, was formulated to promote good
relations between bhikkhus and members of other sects.
Aside from the proper occasions, there is no offense --
if groups of three or less eat a meal to which they have been
if the meal to which a group of four or more is invited does not
include any of the five kinds of staple food; or
if bhikkhus, having walked separately for alms, eat assembled as a
No mention is made of whether or not bhikkhus can go for alms in
groups of four or more, as is the custom at present in the rural
areas of many Buddhist countries. From the various stories of
bhikkhus and bhikkhunis on almsround that appear in the Canon, it
seems that the custom was for them to go individually. Pacittiya 42
mentions bhikkhus going for alms as a pair, but the Vibhanga notes
that they might receive less food that way than when going
individually. Apparently, going as a group would not have made much
sense in their cultural context.
As mentioned above, the Vibhanga also states that there is no
offense for groups of any number eating periodic meals or lot meals;
and as we have already stated, our interpretation would explicitly
extend this exemption to cover Community and designated meals as
Summary: Eating a meal to which four or more individual
bhikkhus have been specifically invited -- except on special
occasions -- is a pacittiya offense.
* * *
33. An out-of-turn meal, except on the proper occasions, is
to be confessed. Here the proper occasions are these: a
time of illness, a time of giving cloth (the robe season), a
time of making robes. These are the proper occasions here.
"Now at that time a succession of meals of sumptuous foods
had been arranged in Vesali. The thought occurred to a
certain poor laborer: 'The way these people respectfully
present meals isn't a bad thing at all. What if I were to
present a meal?' So he went to Kirapatika and said,
'Master, I want to prepare a meal for the Community of
bhikkhus with the Buddha at its head. Please give me my
wage.' Now Kirapatika had faith and confidence in the
Buddha, so he gave the laborer more than his wage.
"Then the laborer went to the Blessed One, paid respect, sat
down to one side, and said, 'May the Lord together with the
Community of bhikkhus consent to a meal with me tomorrow.'
"'You should be warned, friend, that the Community of
bhikkhus is large.'
"'Let it be large, Lord. I have prepared plenty of jujube
fruits. The beverages will be full of jujube mixture.'
"So the Blessed One consented by remaining silent....The
bhikkhus heard, '...The beverages will be full of jujube
mixture,' so right before the time of the meal, they went
for alms and ate. People heard, 'They say that the poor
laborer has invited the Community of bhikkhus with the
Buddha at its head,' so they took a great deal of staple and
non-staple foods to the laborer....(When the time came for
the meal) the Blessed One went to the poor laborer's house
and sat on the appointed seat together with the Community of
bhikkhus. Then the poor laborer served the bhikkhus in the
dining area. The bhikkhus said, 'Just a little, friend.
Give just a little.'
"'Don't take so little, thinking that I'm just a poor
laborer. I have prepared plenty of staple and non-staple
food. Take as much as you want.'
"'That's not the reason why we are taking so little, friend.
Simply that we went for alms and ate just before the time
for the meal: //That's// why we are taking so little.'
"The poor laborer was offended and annoyed and spread it
about: 'How can these reverend ones eat elsewhere when they
were invited by me? Am I not capable of giving them as much
as they want?'"
Object. The term //out-of-turn meal// covers two sorts of
situations: A bhikkhu has been invited to a meal consisting of any
of the five staple foods but then either (1) goes elsewhere and eats
another meal consisting of any of the five staple foods at the same
time as the meal to which he was originally invited; or (2) eats a
staple food right before going to the meal, as in the origin story.
Effort. The Vibhanga states that there is a dukkata for accepting
-- with the thought of eating it -- food that will constitute an
out-of-turn meal, and a pacittiya for every mouthful one eats.
Whether or not one perceives it as an out-of-turn meal, the offense
is the same.
Proper times. The special occasions when one may accept and eat
an out-of-turn meal are defined as follows:
//A time of illness// is when one is unable to eat enough at one
sitting and so has to eat two or more times in a morning.
//The times of giving cloth// and //making robes// are defined as
in the preceding rule. The reason for exempting them is that in
the days of the Buddha, cloth and thread were hard to come by,
and donors who wanted to offer them usually did so in conjunction
with a meal. If these exemptions were not made, a bhikkhu making
a robe, having already been invited to one meal, could not go to
another meal beforehand to receive the cloth or thread offered
There is reason to believe that these three exemptions apply to
out-of-turn meals of the type mentioned in the origin story: i.e.,
a bhikkhu is allowed in these cases to go to another meal before
attending the meal to which he was originally invited.
Sharing invitations. As for the sort of out-of-turn meal where a
bhikkhu invited to one meal goes to another meal instead, the Buddha
in a story ancillary to this rule gives permission to share
invitations: If a bhikkhu has received an invitation, he may give
it to another bhikkhu or novice by saying, "I give my expectation of
a meal to so-and-so." He is then allowed to eat elsewhere.
The Commentary regards the act of sharing as a mere formality:
One may even make the statement outside of the other bhikkhu's
presence without his knowing anything about it. This, though, is
very unlikely to satisfy the original donor. The wise policy in
this case would be to make the statement in the presence of the
other bhikkhu -- "I give my expectation of a meal to you" -- making
reasonably sure that he is willing and able to go.
The Vinaya Mukha adds, though, that if the donors of the meal have
specifically invited one to a meal -- i.e., one is going to an
invitational meal rather than a designated meal (see Pacittiya 32)
-- it would be bad manners to share the invitation without making an
agreement with the donors first.
Non-offenses. In addition to mentioning the "proper times"
during which one may eat an out-of-turn meal, the no-offense clauses
state that there is no penalty for a bhikkhu who, on receiving an
invitation, states, "I will go for alms." This statement the
Commentary explains as a refusal, and interprets the allowance as
meaning that if a bhikkhu refuses an invitation, he is still allowed
to eat another meal at the time for which the invitation was made.
If the Vibhanga arrangers did mean this statement to be a refusal,
though, it is probably for the sake of those bhikkhus who hold to
the //dhutanga// vow of going for alms and not accepting
invitations. If a bhikkhu who does not hold to such a vow refuses
an invitation for a time for which he has no prior commitment, it is
considered very bad manners. And if he were to later accept an
invitation for a meal served at the same time as the meal he earlier
refused, it would be extremely bad manners.
An alternative explanation for the statement, "I will go for
alms," is that there is no offense if the bhikkhu lets the donor
know beforehand that he will go for alms before the meal: He can
have his alms meal first and then go to receive the meal offered by
the donor. This would make room for the custom common in village
monasteries throughout Theravadin countries, where invitations are
usually for the late-morning meal, and bhikkhus are expected to have
an early-morning alms meal before that. (If this interpretation
does not hold, most village bhikkhus would then probably claim a
perpetual "time of illness" as their exemption from this rule.)
Meals that do not include any of the five staple foods are also
exempted from this rule. Thus if one is invited to a meal and takes
a snack of milk, drinking conjey, fruit, etc., beforehand, this
would not constitute an offense -- although to be in keeping with
the spirit of the rule, one should not take so much as to spoil
one's appetite for the meal.
There is no offense if, when invited to more than one meal on the
same day, one goes to them in the order in which one received the
invitations (but see Pacittiya 35); if one puts the food from the
various invitations together in one's bowl and eats them at the same
time; or, if invited by an entire village, one goes to eat anywhere
in the village.
The Commentary, in discussing this point, mentions a situation
that often occurs where there are very few bhikkhus in proportion to
the number of donors: A bhikkhu has been invited to a meal, but
before he leaves the monastery to go to the meal, another group of
donors arrives with food to place in his bowl; or after he arrives
at the home of the original donor, another group of donors arrives
with still more food. According to the Commentary he may accept the
food of these various donors as long as he is careful -- when he
finally gets around to eating -- to take his first mouthful from the
food offered by the original donor.
Meals offered on a periodic basis and those for which bhikkhus are
chosen by lot do not count as out-of-turn meals under this rule.
The Canon offers no explanation for these last two exemptions, but
the Commentary to Cullavagga VI shows that the custom was for many
families to prepare such meals on the same day. This exemption
would thus seem to provide for the situation where there are fewer
bhikkhus than there are families preparing these meals: One bhikkhu
would be allowed to accept more than one meal so that no family's
meal would go without a recipient.
A passage in the Mahavagga (VI.25.7) implies that if the donor of
the meal provides a pre-meal snack of thick conjey -- or by
extension any other staple food -- there would be no offense in
eating it. And the Commentary notes that if the donor gives
explicit permission to eat another meal before the one he/she is
providing, there would be no offense in doing so.
Summary: Eating a meal before going to another meal to
which one was invited, or accepting an invitation to one
meal and eating elsewhere instead, is a pacittiya offense
except when one is ill or at the time of giving cloth or
* * *
34. In case a bhikkhu arriving at a family residence is
presented with cakes or cooked grain-meal, he may accept two
or three bowlfuls if he so desires. If he should accept
more than that, it is to be confessed. Having accepted the
two-or-three bowlfuls and having taken them from there, he
is to share them among the bhikkhus. This is the proper
The purpose of this rule is to prevent bhikkhus from abusing a
donor's generosity and good faith.
The origin story deals with two separate cases. In the first, a
woman named Kana is about to return to her husband's house after
visiting her parents. Her mother, thinking, "How can one go
empty-handed?" bakes some cakes. A bhikkhu comes, and the mother --
being a faithful lay follower -- presents him with the cakes and
then bakes some more to replace them. The bhikkhu, meanwhile, has
informed another bhikkhu that cakes are baking at Kana's house, so
the second bhikkhu goes and receives the second batch of cakes.
This process keeps up until Kana's husband tires of waiting for her
and takes another woman for his wife. The Commentary notes,
reasonably enough, that Kana developed a long-term grudge against
Buddhism as a result of this incident.
In the second case, a man is preparing provisions for a journey by
caravan. A similar series of events takes place, and he eventually
ends up tagging along behind the caravan and getting robbed. People
become offended and annoyed as usual, and spread it about, "How can
these Sakyan contemplatives accept food without knowing moderation?"
Object. In the context of this rule, the Vibhanga defines
//cakes// so as to cover anything prepared as a present, and
//cooked grain-meal// (//sattu//) so as to cover anything prepared
as provisions for a journey. The word //journey// here refers to
journeys that the donors are planning to take themselves. This rule
thus does not cover gifts of food that donors have prepared to give
to a bhikkhu for a journey //he// is planning to take.
The Vinaya Mukha, using the Great Standards, infers from the
Vibhanga's definitions for cakes and cooked grain-meal that any food
prepared in large quantities for sale or for a party, banquet, or
reception, etc., should be covered by this rule as well.
Protocol. If the bhikkhu is presented with such things -- i.e.,
invited to take as much as he likes -- he may take no more than two
or three bowlfuls. To take more than that would entail a pacittiya.
Returning from there, he should tell every bhikkhu he sees, "I
accepted two or three bowlfuls over there. Don't you accept
anything there." He incurs a dukkata if, seeing a bhikkhu, he does
not tell him, while there is a dukkata for the other bhikkhu if,
having been told, he accepts anything at the place in question.
According to the Commentary, if the first bhikkhu accepts two
bowlfuls, he should tell the second bhikkhu to accept no more than
one, and all other bhikkhus he meets that they should not accept
anything. If he accepts only one bowlful, he should follow a
similar process so that, all-in-all, the bhikkhus accept a total of
no more than three.
The Commentary states further that a bhikkhu receiving two or
three bowlfuls may keep one bowlful and do as he likes with it, but
must share the remainder among an entire Community, i.e., not just
among his friends. A bhikkhu receiving only one bowlful may do with
it as he likes .
Non-offenses. The Vibhanga states that there is no offense in
taking more than three bowlfuls of items not intended as presents or
provisions, of items left over from preparing presents or
provisions, or of provisions remaining when plans for a journey have
been abandoned. As explained above, the Vinaya Mukha would include
items prepared for sale or for parties, etc., under the word
The Vibhanga also says that there is no penalty in accepting more
than three bowlfuls from relatives or from those who have offered an
invitation. Here the Commentary states that if such people give
more than three bowlfuls outright, one may accept them without
penalty, but if they tell one to take as much as one likes from
items prepared as presents or provisions, the proper thing to do is
to take only two or three bowlfuls.
Also, there is no offense in having more than three bowlfuls of
provisions purchased with one's own resources.
Finally, the Vibhanga says that there is no offense in taking
extra for the sake of another. Neither the Commentary nor
Sub-commentary discusses this point, but the only way it can make
sense in the context of this rule is if it refers to cases where the
bhikkhu takes extra for the sake of another not on his own
initiative, but because the donor asks him to.
Summary: Accepting more than three bowlfuls of food that
the donors prepared for their own use as presents or as
provisions for a journey is a pacittiya offense.
* * *
35.Should any bhikkhu, having eaten and turned down an offer
(of further food), chew or consume staple or non-staple food
that is not left over, it is to be confessed.
"Now at that time a certain Brahmin, having invited
bhikkhus, gave them a meal. The bhikkhus, having eaten and
turned down an offer of further food, went to their
relatives' families. Some ate there, some left having
"Then the Brahmin said to his neighbors, 'Masters, the
bhikkhus have been satisfied by me. Come and I will satisfy
you as well.'
"They said, 'Master, how will you satisfy us? Even those
you invited came to our homes. Some ate there, some left
having received alms.'
"So the Brahmin was offended and annoyed and spread it
about, 'How can their reverences, having eaten in my home,
eat elsewhere? Am I not capable of giving as much as they
When a donor invited bhikkhus for a meal, the custom in the time of
the Buddha was for him/her to offer food to the bhikkhus repeatedly
while they ate, and to stop only when the supplies of food were
exhausted or the bhikkhus refused any further offers. (This custom
is still widespread in Sri Lanka and Burma.) Thus it was often a
matter of pride among donors that their supplies were not easily
exhausted and that they could continue offering food until the
bhikkhus were completely satisfied and could eat no more. Now where
there is pride, there is bound to be wounded pride: A donor could
easily feel insulted if bhikkhus refused further offers of food,
finished their meal, and then went to eat someplace else.
As the origin story shows, this rule is designed to protect
generous donors from being insulted by the bhikkhus in this way. It
is also designed to protect bhikkhus from being forced to go hungry
by stingy or impoverished donors. If the donor stops offering food
before the bhikkhus have refused further offers -- or if what he/she
offers is not substantial food at all (see the discussion under
Pacittiya 8 for an historic case of this sort) -- the bhikkhus,
after finishing their meal, are free to accept food elsewhere that
morning if they are still hungry.
Having eaten (//bhuttavi//), according to the Vibhanga, means
having eaten any of the five staple foods, "even as much as a blade
of grass." On the surface, this could mean one of two things:
having taken one's first bite of a meal, or having finished a meal
-- even the smallest possible one. The Commentary adopts the first
interpretation, but in doing so creates two problems:
1) If having eaten means having taken one's first bite of a meal,
then the word serves no purpose in the rule, because the first
factor of "having turned down an offer of further food" is "the
bhikkhu is eating," and as the Commentary itself notes, if one is
eating then one has already taken one's first bite of the meal.
It concludes that the word "having eaten," both in the rule and
in the Vibhanga, is completely superfluous.
2) A more practical problem coming from the Commentary's
interpretation is that if one turns down an offer of extra food
when one already has more than enough food in one's bowl but has
yet to finish one's meal, one cannot continue eating. The
Commentary tries to get around this predicament by introducing an
additional factor: As long as one does not move from the spot on
which one is sitting, one may continue eating. This, though,
creates further problems: Suppose a bhikkhu has turned down an
offer of further food but has yet to finish his meal. If there
is then some compelling reason for him to move from the spot on
which he is sitting -- for example, the donor spills a pot of hot
soup, or ants come crawling into his robes -- then he cannot
finish his meal even if the donor begs him to continue eating.
The Sub-commentary gets around the first problem by interpreting
"having eaten" as "having finished a meal," which fits better with
the origin story and with the linguistic usage of the Vibhanga
itself. (There is a separate term, //asana//, for one who is in
process of eating a meal without yet having finished it.) The
author of the Sub-commentary doesn't realize, though, that in
adopting this interpretation he is also eliminating the need for the
Commentary's extra factor concerning moving from one's spot. If the
factor is unnecessary, and there is no basis for it in the Canon,
there would seem to be no reason to adopt it. Thus the Commentary's
factor, and not the wording of the rule, is what is superfluous. So
we can say that "having eaten" means having finished one's meal, and
that the question of having moved from one's spot doesn't enter into
As the Commentary itself notes when discussing the term //asana//,
the point where one finishes eating is determined in one of two
a) There is no food left in one's bowl, hand, or mouth; or
b) one has decided that one has had enough for that particular
Thus, as long as the bhikkhu has not yet finished the donor's
meal, he is free to refuse, accept, and eat food as he likes. In
other words, if he refuses an offer of further food, he may continue
eating what is left in his bowl. If he initially refuses an offer
of further food but then gives in and accepts it after being
pressured by the donor, he may eat what he accepts without penalty.
Or if he feels, for example, that he has enough vegetables but would
like more rice, he may refuse an offer of vegetables yet accept and
eat an offer of rice that follows it.
But once he no longer has any food in his bowl, hand or mouth
and/or has decided that he has had enough for that particular meal,
he fulfills the factor of "having eaten" under this rule. If he
refused an offer of further food before finishing the meal, he may
not for the remainder of the day eat any staple or non-staple foods
that are not leftovers.
Turning down an offer for further food. The Vibhanga defines this
as an act with five factors:
1) The bhikkhu is eating.
2) There is further staple food.
3) The donor is standing within //hatthapasa// (1.25 meters) of
4) He/she offers the food.
5) The bhikkhu turns it down.
The Commentary adds that if the bhikkhu has finished eating before
the further food is offered, factor (1) is not fulfilled, so if he
turns down the food he does not fall under the terms of this rule.
Similarly, if the food in factor (2) is not a staple food -- e.g.,
if it is fruit, chocolates, or cheese -- or if it is staple food of
a sort unallowable for a bhikkhu to eat -- e.g., it has been offered
as a result of a bhikkhu's claiming a superior human state or
corrupting a family (see Sanghadisesa 13), or it is made of human
flesh or snake meat, etc. -- the factor is not fulfilled. Since
none of the texts specify that the donor under factor (3) must be
unordained, a bhikkhu offering food to a fellow bhikkhu would
apparently fulfill this factor as well. Thus this rule would apply
not only to meals offered by lay donors, but also to food handed out
by bhikkhus and samaneras in a monastery.
Factor (5) is fulfilled by any refusal made by word or gesture.
Staple & non-staple food. Staple food, here, follows the standard
definition. Non-staple food, in the context of this rule, refers to
all edibles except for the five staple foods, juice drinks, the five
tonics, medicines, and water.
Leftover food is of two sorts: left over from a sick bhikkhu's
meal, and formally "made" leftover by a bhikkhu who is not sick. In
the latter case, the formal act has seven factors:
1) The food is allowable.
2) Bhikkhu X has formally received it.
3) He offers it to Bhikkhu Y.
4) He remains within hatthapasa of Bhikkhu Y.
5) Bhikkhu Y has finished his meal.
6) Bhikkhu Y has not yet gotten up from the seat where he has
finished his meal and refused further food; and
7) he says, "I have had enough of all this."
The Commentary notes that any bhikkhu except Bhikkhu Y may eat the
food formally made left over in this way.
Effort. If a bhikkhu who, having eaten and turned down an offer
for further food, is presented with staple or non-staple that is not
left over -- e.g., a snack of milk or ice cream -- he incurs a
dukkata if he accepts it with the thought of eating it, and a
pacittiya for every mouthful he eats.
Perception is not a factor here. Whether or not the bhikkhu
realizes that the food is not left over is irrelevant to the
offense. This point is what led to the following rule.
Non-offenses. There is no offense --
if a bhikkhu accepts the food and takes it for the sake of
if he accepts and eats left-over food, or
if, having a reason, he later in the day accepts and consumes
juice drinks, any of the five tonics, or medicine. According to
the Commentary, "having a reason" means, in the case of juice
drinks, being thirsty; and in the case of the tonics and
medicine, suffering from an illness that they are meant to
assuage. (As we have noted under NP 23, these illnesses include
hunger and fatigue as well as medical disorders.) In other
words, a bhikkhu under the circumstances covered by this rule may
not take these items as food. The Vibhanga says that if he
accepts them with the idea of taking them as food, he incurs a
dukkata; while the Commentary imposes a further dukkata for every
mouthful he eats.
According to the Mahavagga (VI.14, VI.9.2, VI.20.4; V.32), this
rule is relaxed during times of famine so that a bhikkhu who has
eaten and turned down an offer for further food may later in the day
consume food that is not left over:
if it was accepted before he went to his meal,
if it is brought back from a place where a meal has been offered,
if it has been taken from a wilderness area or a pond. The texts
offer no explanation for this last stipulation. Perhaps, during
famines, these were places where most people would be foraging
Summary: Eating staple or non-staple food that is not
left-over, after having earlier in the day finished a meal
during which one turned down an offer to eat further staple
food, is a pacittiya offense.
* * *
36.Should any bhikkhu, knowingly and wishing to find fault,
present staple or non-staple food to a bhikkhu who has eaten
and turned down an offer (for further food), saying, "Here,
bhikkhu, chew or consume this" -- when it has been eaten, it
is to be confessed.
"Now at that time two bhikkhus were traveling through the
Kosalan districts on their way to Savatthi. One of them
indulged in bad habits; the second one said, 'Don't do that,
my friend. It isn't proper.' The first one developed a
grudge. Eventually, they arrived at Savatthi.
"Now at that time one of the guilds in Savatthi gave a meal
to the Community. The second bhikkhu finished his meal,
having turned down an offer for further food. The bhikkhu
with the grudge, having gone to his relatives and bringing
back alms food, went to where the second bhikkhu was staying
and on arrival said, 'Here, friend, have some of this.'
"'No thanks, my friend. I'm full.'
"'Really, this is delicious alms food. Have some.'
"So the second bhikkhu, being pressured by the first, ate
some of it. Then the bhikkhu with the grudge said to him,
'You think //I'm// the one to be reprimanded when //you//
eat food that isn't left over, after finishing your meal and
turning down an offer for further food?'
"'Shouldn't you have told me?'
"'Shouldn't you have asked?'"
This rule covers cases in which one bhikkhu, knowingly and wishing
to find fault, offers food to another bhikkhu in order to trick him
into committing an offense under the preceding rule. The full
offense here requires a full set of five factors:
1) //Object//: staple or non-staple food.
2) //Effort//: One gives the food to a bhikkhu who has turned
down an offer of further food, as under the previous rule.
3) //Perception//: One knows that he has turned down an offer of
4) //Intention//: One wishes to find fault with him.
5) //Result//: He accepts the food and eats from it.
Only three of these factors -- object, intention, and result --
require further explanation.
Object. //Staple food//, here, follows the standard definition.
//Non-staple food//, in the context of this rule, refers to all
edibles except for the five staple foods, juice drinks, the five
tonics, medicines, and water. Whether or not the food is actually
left over is not a factor in determining the offense here. The
important point lies in the perception: As long as one assumes the
food to be not left over, one is subject to a penalty if the other
bhikkhu accepts it. If one assumes the food to be left over, one's
actions would not fit under this rule.
Intention. //Wishing to find fault//, according to the Vibhanga,
means planning to accuse, criticize or shame the bhikkhu after one
has succeeded in tricking him into breaking the preceding rule.
Result. Bhikkhu X, in giving food to Bhikkhu Y "knowingly and
wishing to find fault," incurs a dukkata when Y accepts the food
with the thought of eating it, and a pacittiya when Y has stopped
eating from it. If X then accuses or shames Y, he is to be treated
under Pacittiya 2 as well. As for Y, the Commentary notes, he
doesn't escape the penalty under the preceding rule even though he
has been tricked into the offense. In other words, both bhikkhus in
the origin story were right: The bhikkhu with a grudge should have
told the second bhikkhu, while the second bhikkhu should have asked.
Non-offenses. There is no offense --
if one gives the other bhikkhu left-over food,
if the other bhikkhu takes the food for the sake of another, or
if one gives him juice drinks, any of the five tonics, medicines,
None of the texts make any mention of a bhikkhu trying to trick
another bhikkhu into committing an offense under any rule other than
Pacittiya 35; and apparently, a bhikkhu who tricks a fellow bhikkhu
into committing an offense under Pacittiya 35 with no desire to
blame or shame him, but simply for the perverse satisfaction of
seeing him commit the offense, would incur no penalty under this or
any other rule. There is no escaping the fact, though, that such
actions carry their own inherent penalty in terms of one's spiritual
maturity. This is one of those cases where we have to look past the
particulars of the rule to the general principle underlying it:
that one should not deliberately trick another person into breaking
a rule or vow that he or she has pledged to uphold.
Summary: Deliberately tricking another bhikkhu into breaking
the preceding rule, in hopes of finding fault with him, is a
* * *
37.Should any bhikkhu chew or consume staple or non-staple
food at the wrong time, it is to be confessed.
Object. //Staple food// here follows the standard definition given
in the preface to this chapter. //Non-staple food// refers to all
edibles except for the five staple foods, juice drinks, the five
tonics, medicines, and water.
The wrong time. The Vibhanga defines the //wrong time// as from
after noon until dawn of the following day. (See Appendix I for a
discussion of how dawn is defined.) Noon is reckoned as the moment
the sun reaches its zenith, rather than by the clock -- in other
words, by local rather than standard or daylight-savings time.
Thus, for example, a bhikkhu who is offered food while traveling in
an airplane should check the position of the sun in order to
determine whether or not he may accept and eat it. Some have argued
that one may eat after noon if one has begun one's meal before noon,
but the Commentary says explicitly that this is not the case.
Effort. The verbs //chew// and //consume// in the Pali of this
rule are the verbs normally paired, respectively, with non-staple
and staple foods. They both mean "to eat," but the question arises
as to whether eating means going down the throat or entering the
mouth. This becomes an issue, for instance, when a bhikkhu has a
piece of food stuck in his teeth from his morning meal and swallows
it after noon.
The Commentary generally defines eating as going down the throat,
but a passage from the Cullavagga (V.25) suggests otherwise. In it,
the Buddha allows a ruminator who brings up food to his mouth at the
"wrong time" to swallow it, and ends with the statement: "But food
that has been bought out from the mouth should not be taken back in.
Whoever should take it in is to be dealt with according to the rule
(i.e., this rule and the following one)." This suggests, then, that
eating is technically defined as "taking into the mouth."
Offenses. A bhikkhu who, intending to eat it, accepts staple or
non-staple food at the wrong time incurs a dukkata. If he eats
staple or non-staple food at the wrong time -- regardless of whether
he accepted it at the right or wrong time -- he incurs a pacittiya
for every mouthful he eats. As for juice drinks, the five tonics,
and medicine, there is a dukkata for accepting them to be used as
food at the wrong time, and another dukkata for eating them as food
at the wrong time.
Perception is not a factor here. Thus, a bhikkhu who eats food in
the wrong time unknowingly -- e.g., assuming that noon has not
passed when it actually has, or that the food belongs to one of the
other classes of edibles when it actually doesn't -- commits an
offense all the same.
No exception is granted to an ill bhikkhu, because there are a
number of edibles an ill bhikkhu may consume at the wrong time
without involving an offense: juice drinks, the five tonics, and
medicines. Also, there is an allowance in the Mahavagga (I.14.7)
for a bhikkhu who has taken a purgative to take strained meat broth,
strained rice broth, or strained green gram (mung bean) broth at any
time of the day. Using the Great Standards, we may say that a
bhikkhu who has a similar illness or worse may take these broths at
any time; and some have argued that other bean broths -- such as
soybean milk -- would fit under the category of green gram broth as
well. However, unlike the case with the five tonics, mere hunger
or fatigue would not seem to count as sufficient reasons for taking
any of these substances in the "wrong time."
A substance termed //lonasoviraka// (or //lonasociraka//) is
allowed (Mv.VI.16.3) in the wrong time as a medicine for ill
bhikkhus and, when mixed with water, as a beverage for bhikkhus who
are not ill. No one makes it anymore, but the recipe for it in the
Commentary to Parajika 3 bears some resemblance to the recipe for
//miso// (fermented soybean paste). Some have argued, using the
Great Standards, that the special allowance for this substance
should extend to miso as well, but this is a controversial point.
As far as I have been able to ascertain, miso is not used to cure
diseases in adults even in China, which would be the place to look
for its use as a medicine. However, even if the allowance does
apply to miso, taking miso broth as food in the wrong time would
entail a dukkata.
Non-offenses. There is no offense if, having a reason, one
consumes juice drinks, any of the five tonics, medicine, or water
after noon or before dawn.
Summary: Eating staple or non-staple food in the period
after noon until the next dawn is a pacittiya offense.
* * *
38.Should any bhikkhu chew or consume stored-up staple or
non-staple food, it is to be confessed.
This is one of the few rules where the original instigator was an
arahant: Ven. Belatthasisa, Ven. Ananda's preceptor and formerly
the head of the 1,000 ascetics who attained Awakening on hearing the
Fire Sermon. The origin story here reports that he made a practice
of keeping left-over rice from his alms-round, drying it, and then
moistening it to eat on a later day. As a result, he only rarely
had to go out for alms. Even though he was doing this out of
frugality rather than greed, the Buddha still rebuked him. The
story doesn't give the precise reasons for the rebuke. Perhaps it
was because he saw that such behavior would open the way for
bhikkhus to avoid going on almsround, thus depriving themselves of
the excellent opportunity that alms-going provides for reflecting on
their dependency on others and on the human condition in general;
and depriving the laity of the benefits that come from daily contact
with the bhikkhus and the opportunity to practice generosity of the
most basic sort every day. Although frugality may be a virtue,
there are times when other considerations supercede it.
At any rate, the Buddha showed great foresight in formulating this
rule. Over the centuries, whenever bhikkhus have lived in
Communities where vast stores of food were kept -- such as the great
Buddhist universities in India -- bhikkhus have tended to grow lax
in their practice, and a gulf of misunderstanding and suspicion has
come to separate them from the laity.
Object. //Staple food// here, as usual, follows the standard
definition given in the preface to this chapter. //Non-staple
food// here includes all edibles except for the five staples, juice
drinks, the five tonics, medicine, and water.
//Stored-up// means formally accepted by a bhikkhu (see Pacittiya
40, below) on one day and eaten on the next or a later day. The
boundary between one day and the next is dawn.
According to the Commentary, though, if a bhikkhu accepts food
today but then gives it to an unordained person, having abandoned
possession of it in his mind, and then the person happens to present
it again to that bhikkhu or to another bhikkhu on a following day,
it does not count as stored-up under this rule. If, however, the
bhikkhu does not abandon possession of the food in his mind, and the
unordained person presents it again the following day, it still
counts as stored-up even if the bhikkhu did not say with word or
gesture that the food was to be kept and presented to him again.
Since this factor is difficult to determine with absolute
certainty in cases where food is left over after being presented to
a number of bhikkhus -- there is hardly any way of being sure that
they have all renounced possession of the leftovers -- many
Communities ignore the Commentary's allowance and do not permit
their members to accept any food at all that they formally received
on a previous day.
The story of the Second Council (Cv.XII.2.8) shows that this rule
also forbids storing such medicines as salt (or pepper, vinegar,
etc.) to add to any bland food one might receive on a later day.
(See the discussion preceding Pacittiya 30 for more details on this
Effort. The Vibhanga says that there is a dukkata "if one accepts
it, thinking, 'I will eat it'" -- the Commentary interprets this as
taking or accepting, with the purpose of eating, food that has been
stored up -- and a pacittiya for every mouthful one eats.
Perception is not a factor here. Thus, a bhikkhu who eats
stored-up food commits an offense regardless of whether or not he
perceives it as stored-up. This means --
1) If Bhikkhu X receives the food on one day and, without
renouncing possession of it, lets someone else put it away, and
Bhikkhu Y eats it on a later day, Y commits an offense all the
same, regardless of whether or not he knows that the food was
2) One should be careful that there are no traces of any edible
received yesterday on a utensil from which one will eat food
today. The duties a student should perform for his preceptor
(//upajjhaya-vatta//) (Mv.I.25.9) show that the custom in the
Buddha's time was to rinse out one's bowl before going for alms.
The Commentary suggests a method for making sure that one's bowl
is clean: Run a finger along the inside of the bowl while it is
dry. If there is enough food residue or dust in the bowl for the
finger to make a mark in it, clean the bowl again before use.
Derived offenses. If a bhikkhu accepts or takes, for the sake of
food, juice drinks, any of the five tonics, or medicine that has
been stored overnight, there is a dukkata in the taking, and another
dukkata for every mouthful he eats. The Commentary, though, asserts
that when a bhikkhu takes, not for food but simply to assuage his
thirst, a juice drink stored overnight, he incurs a pacittiya for
every swallow he drinks.
It seems strange that drinking the juice simply as juice would
entail a stronger penalty than taking it as food, and as there is no
basis anywhere in the Canon for the Commentary's assertion, there
seems to be no reason to adopt it. Mv.VI.40.3 states clearly that
juice drinks, taken for any reason, are allowable at any time on the
day they are accepted, but not after the dawn of the following day.
No specific penalty is given for taking them on the following day,
but we can infer from the Vibhanga to this rule that the penalty
would be a dukkata.
Non-offenses. There is no offense in the mere act of storing
food. A bhikkhu going on a journey with an unordained person may
thus carry the latter's food -- while the latter carries the
bhikkhu's food -- without committing an offense.
There is also no offense in telling an unordained person to store
food that has not been formally received. For example, if donors
simply leave food at a bhikkhu's residence without formally
presenting it, the bhikkhu may tell a novice or lay person to take
it and put it away for a later day. If the food is then presented
to the bhikkhu on a later day, he may eat it that day without
However, food may be stored in a monastery only in a building
formally agreed on for the purpose (Mv.VI.33.2). Since bhikkhus may
not use such a building as a dwelling place (Mv.VI.33.4), a bhikkhu
who has food stored in his dwelling would incur a dukkata. He may,
however, store medicines or the five tonics in his dwelling without
If a bhikkhu accepts, sets aside, and then eats any of the four
kinds of edibles all within their permitted time periods -- e.g., he
receives bread in the morning, sets it aside, and then eats it
before that noon; or receives honey today, sets it aside, and takes
it as a tonic tomorrow -- there is no offense.
This rule makes no exceptions for a bhikkhu who is ill, although
the rule as a whole is suspended when there is scarcity and famine,
and reinstated when the scarcity and famine have passed.
Summary: Eating food that a bhikkhu -- oneself or another --
formally received on a previous day is a pacittiya offense.
* * *
39.There are these finer staple foods, i.e., ghee, fresh
butter, oil, honey, sugar/molasses, fish, meat, milk, and
curds. Should any bhikkhu who is not ill, having asked for
finer staple foods such as these for his own sake, then eat
them, it is to be confessed.
The Vibhanga defines //finer staple foods// as any of the nine foods
mentioned in the rule, either on their own or mixed with other
foods. Thus milk and milk-mixed-with-cereal would both be finer
staple foods. The ancient commentators, though, must have objected
to including some of these items under the category of staple food
(//bhojana//), so we have the Commentary defining "finer staple
foods" as any of the substances mentioned in the rule mixed with any
one of the seven types of grain. Thus, it would say, milk with
cereal would be a finer food, but milk on its own would not.
As we have seen, though, the Vibhanga defines its terms to fit
with the situation covered by each particular rule and is not always
consistent from one rule to another. Thus, since the Vibhanga is
not at fault for being inconsistent here, there is no reason to
follow the Commentary in deviating from it. The rule means what it
says: It covers each of the foods mentioned in it, whether pure or
mixed with other ingredients.
The first five of these finer foods are discussed in detail under
NP 23. //Fish// and //meat// are discussed in the preface to this
chapter. //Milk and curds// here refers to milk and curds from
animals whose flesh is allowable. The Sub-commentary, in discussing
this point, maintains that tiger's milk, bear's milk, etc., are not
unallowable, simply that they would not come under this rule. This
is an interesting idea, but was included probably just to wake up
sleepy students in the back of the room.
According to the Commentary, any food other than these nine finer
foods is grounds for a dukkata under Sekhiya 37.
Effort. A bhikkhu who is not ill, requesting the foods for his
own use, incurs a dukkata for every request he makes, a dukkata for
accepting the food, and a pacittiya for every mouthful he eats.
//Not ill// means that one is able to fare comfortably without
these foods. None of the texts go into detail on this point, but
//ill// probably means something more than simply being hungry, for
there is a separate allowance under Sekhiya 37 for a bhikkhu who is
hungry to ask for rice and bean curry, which was the basic diet of
the day, and the Commentary extends the allowance to cover all foods
not covered by this rule. Here //ill// probably refers to any form
of fatigue, weakness, or malnutrition that comes specifically from
lacking any of the foods mentioned in the rule.
The Commentary adds that if a bhikkhu asks for one kind of finer
food but receives another kind instead, he incurs the dukkata for
asking, but no penalty for accepting and eating what he gets. It
also notes that when a bhikkhu asks a lay person for any of the
finer foods, and the lay person makes a donation of money to the
bhikkhu's steward to buy that food, then once the food is bought it
comes under this rule all the same.
Non-offenses. There is no offense:
in asking for food -- any kind of food -- when one is ill, and
then eating it, even if one has recovered in the meantime;
in eating food that has been requested for the sake of an ill
bhikkhu and is left over after his meal;
in asking from relatives;
in asking from those who have offered an invitation to ask;
in asking for the sake of another person; or
in asking that food be bought with one's own resources.
Also, according to the Mendaka Allowance (Mv.VI.34.21), a bhikkhu
going on a journey through a wilderness area where alms food is
difficult to obtain may search for provisions of husked rice, kidney
beans, green gram (mung beans), salt, sugar, oil, and ghee for the
journey. The Commentary says, though, that he should first wait for
spontaneous offerings of these provisions from people who learn of
his plans for the journey. If these aren't forthcoming, he should
ask from his relatives or from those who have given him an
invitation to ask, or else see what he gets on his almsround. (This
last alternative apparently applies to the salt, sugar, oil, and
ghee; people ordinarily would not be giving uncooked rice, beans, or
green gram for alms.) Only when these avenues fail should he ask
from people who are unrelated to him and have not given an
invitation to ask. Furthermore, he should ask for no more than the
journey will require.
None of the texts mention any permission for the bhikkhu, after he
has searched for the provisions, to store them longer than usual or
to cook them in any way. Apparently, they expect him to arrange for
an unordained person -- or people -- to accept the provisions and be
responsible for their storage and preparation while on the road.
Summary: Eating finer foods, after having asked for them
for one's own sake -- except when ill -- is a pacittiya
* * *
40.Should any bhikkhu take into his mouth an edible that has
not been given -- except for water and tooth-cleaning sticks
(%) -- it is to be confessed.
"Now at that time a certain bhikkhu, living entirely off of
what was thrown away, was staying in a cemetery. Not
wanting to receive gifts from people, he himself took the
offerings for the dead -- left in cemeteries, under trees,
and on thresholds -- and ate them. People were offended and
annoyed and spread it about, 'How can this bhikkhu himself
take our offerings for the dead and eat them? He's robust,
this bhikkhu. He's strong. Perhaps he feeds on human
Object. An //edible// is whatever is fit to eat, and includes all
four classes of food and medicine: staple and non-staple foods,
juice drinks, the five tonics, and medicine.
Exceptions. //Water//, according to the Commentary, includes ice,
hailstones, and snow as well. Whether such things as boiled water,
bottled water, and man-made ice should also come under this
exception is a controversial point, because such things are no
longer in their natural state and in some instances carry a price.
The texts offer no specific guidance here, so this is an area where
the wise policy is to follow the dictates of one's Community. If
one happens to belong to a Community that allows one to take these
items when they are not formally given, one should still be careful
to take them only when they are clearly intended for one's use or
the Community's use in instances where they carry a price.
//Tooth-cleaning sticks//, as used in the time of the Buddha, were
semi-edible. They were sticks of soft wood, like balsam, cut four
to eight inches long, chewed until they were reduced to fiber and
spat out. People in India still use tooth-cleaning sticks of this
sort even today.
Here again there is a controversy as to whether toothpaste comes
under this exception as well. On the one hand it fits in with the
pattern for tooth-cleaning sticks -- it is semi-edible and not
intended to be swallowed -- but on the other hand it contains
substances, such as mineral salts, that the Canon classes as
medicines (Mv.VI.8). This second consideration would seem to
override the first, since it is a question of following what is
explicitly laid out in the Canon, rather than of applying the Great
Standards. Thus the wise policy would seem to be to regard it as a
medicine that has to be formally given before it can be used, and
not as coming under this exception.
The act of giving food and other edibles, as described in the
Vibhanga, has three factors:
1) The donor (an unordained person) is standing within reach (one
hatthapasa, or 1.25 meters) of the bhikkhu.
2) He/she gives the item with the body (e.g., the hand), with
something in contact with the body (e.g., a spoon), or by means
of letting go. According to the Commentary, //letting go// means
releasing from the body or something in contact with the body --
e.g., dropping from the hand or a spoon -- and refers to such
cases as when a donor drops or tosses something into a bhikkhu's
bowl or hands without directly or indirectly making contact.
3) The bhikkhu receives the item with the body or with something
in contact with the body (e.g., his bowl, a piece of cloth).
There is a tradition in Thailand that a bhikkhu should never
receive an offering from a woman hand-to-hand. Either she must
offer it with something in contact with her body (e.g., a tray) or
the bhikkhu must accept it with something in contact with his body:
an alms bowl, a tray, a piece of cloth, etc. Apparently this
tradition arose as a means of protecting a sexually aroused bhikkhu
from committing an offense under Sanghadisesa 2, or from the
embarrassment that might arise if, say, yesterday he was not aroused
and so could take something straight from her hand, while today he
is and so can't. Many Thai eight-precept nuns, even though they
don't have any precepts corresponding to Sanghadisesa 2, follow a
reciprocal tradition of not receiving anything hand-to-hand from a
man. Neither of these traditions is mentioned in the Canon or the
commentaries, nor are they observed by Sri Lankan or Burmese
bhikkhus or nuns.
A special allowance in the Cullavagga (V.26) states that if food
accidentally falls while being offered, a bhikkhu may pick it up
himself and eat it without committing an offense.
Effort. If a bhikkhu realizes that food is not given or
improperly given, he incurs a dukkata if he takes it with the
intention of eating it. As for the bhikkhu who thinks that it is
properly given when it isn't, the Vibhanga does not say whether he
incurs a penalty in taking it with the intention of eating it or
not. The Commentary says explicitly that he doesn't. In either
case, though, the Vibhanga states that the bhikkhu incurs a
pacittiya for every mouthful he eats. Thus perception is not a
mitigating factor when determining the full offense under this rule.
Non-offenses. There is an allowance (Mv.VI.17.8-9; Mv.VI.32) that
in times of scarcity and famine a bhikkhu may pick up fallen fruit,
take it to an unordained person, place it on the ground, and have it
formally "given" without committing an offense. At times when this
allowance is not in effect, though, a bhikkhu who -- with the
intention of eating it -- picks up an edible he knows has not been
given may not later make it allowable by formally "receiving" it
from an unordained person. Whether other bhikkhus may receive it
and make use of it, though, is a controversial point discussed in
the Commentary in a treatise separate from its explanation of the
Vibhanga (see below).
In the Mahavagga (VI.14.6), the Buddha gives permission for a
bhikkhu bitten by a snake to make an antidote of urine, excrement
(burned in fire), ashes, and soil. If there is no unordained person
present who can or will make these things allowable, the bhikkhu may
take and prepare them himself, and then eat them without incurring a
penalty under this rule. The Commentary adds that if he cuts a tree
under these circumstances to burn it, or digs the earth to get soil,
he is exempt from the rules dealing with those actions as well.
//Controversial points from the Commentary//. As mentioned
above, the Commentary's discussion of this rule includes a treatise
separate from its explanation of the Vibhanga, dealing with
controversial points for which the Canon gives unclear answers or no
answers at all. Since the treatise is a compilation of the opinions
of various teachers and does not pretend to explain the meaning or
intent of the Buddha's words -- and since the Buddha warned bhikkhus
against making up their own rules (NP 15.1.2) -- the opinions
expressed in the treatise are not necessarily normative. Many
Communities do not accept them, or are selective in choosing what
they do and do not accept. Here we will give a summary of some of
the Commentary's opinions that have influenced practices found in
some, if not all, Communities of bhikkhus at present.
1. Taking into the mouth is defined as going down the throat. As
we have already noted under Pacittiya 37, though, this definition
has no justification in canonical usage. The Sub-commentary
attempts to justify the Commentary's stand here by defining "mouth"
(literally, the door of the face) as the larynx, i.e., the back door
rather than the front door to the mouth, but again this is not
supported by the Canon. Sekhiya 41 -- "I will not open the door of
my face when the mouthful has yet to be brought to it" -- shows
decisively that this term refers to the lips and not to the larynx.
"Taking into the mouth" thus means taking in through the lips.
2. Food. Pond water so muddy that it leaves a scum on the hand or
on the mouth is considered to be food, and so must be given before
it can be drunk. The same holds true with water into which so many
leaves or flowers have fallen that their taste is discernible in the
water. For some reason, though, water that has been scented with
flowers need not be given, and the same is true with water taken
from a stream or river no matter how muddy. (There is a belief
still current in India and other parts of Asia that flowing water is
inherently clean.) Although leaves and flowers technically do count
as edibles -- they are classed as non-staple foods or medicines,
depending on one's purpose in eating them -- the idea of counting
mud and scum as edibles seems to be taking the concept of edible a
little too far.
If toothwood is chewed for the sake of its juice, it must first be
given. Even if one is chewing it for the sake of cleaning the
teeth, but accidentally swallows the juice, one has committed an
offense all the same. These two opinions have no basis in the
Canon, since intention is not a factor in determining the offense
under this rule.
A long section of this treatise discusses what to do if things
that are not given get into food that has been given. It concludes
that they must either be removed from the food, or the food must be
given again. If the items "not given" are edibles, this seems
reasonable enough, but the Commentary extends the concept to include
such things as dust, dirty rain water, rust from a knife, beads of
sweat dropping from one's brow, etc. Again, this seems to be taking
the concept too far, for the Vibhanga states clearly that the rule
covers only those things generally considered as fit to eat.
3. Giving. The Commentary redefines the act of giving, expanding
its factors to five:
(a) The item is such that a man of average stature can lift it.
(b) The donor is within reach (1.25 m.) of the bhikkhu.
(c) He/she makes a gesture of offering the food.
(d) The donor is a celestial being, a human being, or a common
(e) The bhikkhu receives the item with the body or with something
in contact with the body.
//Factor (a)// was included apparently to discourage the practice,
still found in many places, of getting two or more men to present a
table of food to a bhikkhu by lifting the entire table at once. The
inclusion of this factor, though, has given rise to the assumption
that the donor must lift the food a certain distance before handing
it to the bhikkhu, but the Commentary itself shows that this
assumption is mistaken, for it states that if a small novice too
weak to lift a pot of rice simply slides it along the table or floor
onto a bhikkhu's hand, it is properly given.
//Factor (b)//: If any part of the donor's body (except for
his/her extended arm) is within 1.25 meters of any part of the
bhikkhu's body (except for his extended arm), this factor is
fulfilled. If the donor is standing beyond reach, the bhikkhu
should tell him/her to come within reach before donating the food.
If for some reason the donor does not comply with the bhikkhu's
request, the bhikkhu may still accept the food, but should then take
it to another unordained person -- without setting it down and
picking it up again in the meantime (see below) -- and have it
properly "given" before eating it.
Although the donor must be within reach, the food itself need not
be. Thus if the donor places many vessels on a mat while the
bhikkhu touches the mat with the intention of receiving them, all of
the food is considered to be properly received as long as the donor
is within reach of the bhikkhu. The same holds true if the donor
places many vessels touching one another while the bhikkhu touches
one of the vessels with the intention of receiving them all. (The
factor of the bhikkhu's intention is discussed further under factor
//Factor (c)// means that the donor cannot simply tell the bhikkhu
to take the food being given. Rather, he/she should make a physical
gesture of offering the food. In some places, this factor is
interpreted as meaning that the donor must assume a humble or
respectful manner while making the offering, and has led some to
believe, for instance, that a bhikkhu going barefoot on his alms
round should not accept food from a donor wearing shoes. This view
is not supported by the Commentary. Although some of the gestures
it cites as examples, such as tilting the head, might be interpreted
as showing respect, some of them are not respectful in terms of
Asian etiquette at all. For instance, a person riding on the
bhikkhu's shoulders picks a piece of fruit from a tree, drops it
into his hands, and it is considered properly given.
The question arises as to how much of a gesture is necessary for
this factor to be fulfilled. In the West, if a donor brings a tray
of food and stands in front of a bhikkhu, waiting for him to take
some of the food, the fact that he/she stands there waiting would be
considered enough of a gesture to show that the food is being given.
If the bhikkhu were to demand more of a gesture than that, the donor
would probably be offended. Since, as we have noted, the opinions
expressed in this section of the Commentary are not necessarily
normative, this is an area where one can make allowances for
cultural norms. The essence of this factor would seem to be that a
bhikkhu should not snatch food that a person happens to be carrying
past him without showing any indication that he/she wants him to
take the food.
//Factor (d)// is not discussed by the Commentary, although it is
probably inspired by such stories as that of elephants offering
lotus stalks to Ven. Moggallana, and of Sakka, the king of the
deities, presenting a gift of food to Maha Kassapa after the latter
had withdrawn from seven days of concentration. There is at least
one bhikkhu in Thailand today who has trained a pet monkey to "give"
//Factor (e)//: The effort involved in receiving the item may be
minimal indeed. In fact, the Commentary's discussion of the
Vibhanga quotes the Mahapaccari, one of the ancient Sinhalese
commentaries, as saying that attention is the measure determining
whether or not food has been received. Thus if a donor offers food
by placing it on a table, the bhikkhu may simply touch the table
with his finger, thinking, "I am receiving the food," and it is
properly given. The same holds true if he is sitting on the table
or lying on a bed and regards the act of sitting or lying there as
one of receiving whatever is placed there. However, immovable
objects -- such as a floor, the ground, or anything fixed to the
floor or ground -- may not be used as "items connected to the body"
to receive food in this way.
Food placed in a bhikkhu's hand when he is asleep or his attention
is elsewhere, e.g., in deep meditation, does not count as properly
given. He must be awake and paying enough attention to know that
the food is being given for this factor to be fulfilled. Food
placed in a bhikkhu's mouth is considered properly given if he is
awake. If he is asleep or unconscious and food is put into his
stomach via a feeding tube, he has not broken this rule for he is
not the agent putting it there, and as the Sub-commentary notes
under Sanghadisesa 1, the Vinaya does not apply to a bhikkhu when he
is not in a normal, waking state of awareness.
4. Taking food that has not been given. To take food knowing that
it has been improperly given or not given at all (here we are not
talking about cases of stealing) is no offense if the bhikkhu has no
intention of eating it. If, after he has set it down, the food is
later "given" to him, he may accept and eat it with no penalty.
Here the examples given in the Commentary include such things as
picking up fallen fruit or the remains of a lion's kill with the
thought of taking them for a novice to eat, or picking up oil or
ghee with the thought of taking it to one's parents. A common
example at present would be picking up food left lying around when
one is cleaning up the monastery. The Sub-commentary states that
this allowance does not hold if one is thinking of taking the food
for other bhikkhus to eat.
To take food with the purpose of eating it, thinking that it has
been properly given when in fact it hasn't, is also no offense. If
one then learns or realizes that it has not been properly given, one
should return it -- if possible, to its original place -- without
setting it down and picking it up again in the meantime. Once the
food is back in its original place, one may "receive" and eat it
with no penalty. If one sets it down and picks it up again before
returning it to its original place, though, then technically one
incurs a dukkata for taking food that one realizes is not properly
given, and so one may not later formally receive the food, as
mentioned above. If for some reason there is no possibility of
returning the food to its original place, one need only return it to
some other spot in the building from which it was taken and then
"receive" and eat it without committing an offense.
To take food with the purpose of eating it, knowing that it has
not been properly given, entails a dukkata, as stated in the
Vibhanga. According to the Commentary's treatise, "taking" here
also includes deliberately touching the food or the vessel
containing it with the intention of eating it. (Touching it
accidentally it carries no penalty.) If a bhikkhu deliberately
touches it in this way, he may not then properly receive it,
although other bhikkhus may. Once they have received it, the first
bhikkhu may not eat any of it.
If the first bhikkhu, instead of merely touching the food or its
vessel, actually moves it from its place, then neither he nor any of
the other bhikkhus may receive it. Thus if a donor brings a pot of
stew to the monastery, and one of the bhikkhus, curious to see what
is going to be offered that day, tilts the pot to peek inside, none
of the bhikkhus may eat the food, and the donor must either give it
to the novices and any attendants at the monastery, if there are
any, throw it to the dogs, or take it home.
Many Communities do not accept the Commentary's opinions on this
point, and with good reason: The last-mentioned penalty -- even
though the offense is a dukkata -- is stronger than that imposed by
any of the nissaggiya pacittiya rules, and penalizes perfectly
innocent people: the other bhikkhus and the donor of the food as
well. An alternate opinion, which many Communities follow, is that
if a bhikkhu takes -- with the thought of eating it -- food that he
knows has not been properly offered, he may not then formally
receive it from an unordained person, but other bhikkhus may. Once
it has been properly received, any bhikkhu -- including the first --
may eat from it.
This is an area in which none of the texts gives an authoritative
answer, and a wise policy is to adhere to the views of the Community
in which one is living, as long as they fit into the framework
provided by the Canon.
5. When food becomes "ungiven." The Commentary to Parajika 1, in
its discussion of what to do when a bhikkhu's sex changes
spontaneously (!), lists seven instances in which an edible given to
a bhikkhu becomes "ungiven" -- i.e., no bhikkhu may pick it up and
eat it until it is formally given again. The seven are --
(a) The original recipient undergoes a spontaneous sex change.
(b) He dies.
(c) He disrobes and becomes a lay person.
(d) He becomes a low person. (According to the Sub-commentary,
this means that he commits a parajika.)
(e) He gives it to an unordained person.
(f) He abandons it, having lost interest in it.
(g) The item is stolen. (The Sub-commentary, in discussing this
last point, refers solely to cases of out-and-out thievery, and
not to the mere act of touching or moving.)
Of these seven instances, the treatise we are discussing deals
with only two -- (e) and (f) -- in a series of examples, as follows:
A bhikkhu with rice in his hand offers it to a novice: The rice
remains "given" until the novice takes it.
A bhikkhu places food in a vessel and, no longer interested in it,
tells a novice to take it: The food is "ungiven" as soon as he
says this. This point, however, does not apply to food the
bhikkhu leaves in his own bowl or in any Community vessel from
which the bhikkhus are served or in which their food is prepared.
If he leaves food in such a vessel, he is not regarded as having
abandoned interest in it.
A bhikkhu sets his bowl on a stand and tells a novice to take some
rice from it. Assuming that the novice's hand is clean -- i.e.,
not "contaminated" with any food from his own bowl that might
fall into the bhikkhu's bowl -- the rice remaining in the
bhikkhu's bowl after the novice has taken his portion is still
"given." Technically speaking, the treatise says, the rice taken
by the novice still belongs to the bhikkhu until the novice puts
it in his own bowl. Thus if the novice begins to take a second
handful and, being told by the bhikkhu, "That's enough," puts the
second handful back in the bhikkhu's bowl; or if any grains of
rice from the first handful happen to fall back into the
bhikkhu's bowl while the novice is lifting it out, all the rice
in the bhikkhu's bowl is still "given."
A bhikkhu holding a stick of sugar cane tells a novice to cut off
a piece from the other end: The remaining section is still
A bhikkhu places pieces of hardened molasses on a tray and tells
other bhikkhus and novices to help themselves from the tray: If
the bhikkhus and novices simply pick up their portions and take
them, the remaining hardened molasses is still "given." If,
though, a novice picks up one piece, puts it down, picks up
another piece, puts it down, and so on, the hardened molasses
remaining on the tray becomes "ungiven."
The Sub-commentary explains this by saying that the novice picking
up the molasses is thinking, "This is mine. I'll take it," then
changes his mind, puts it down and then lays claim to another piece,
and so on. Thus, only the pieces that the novice claims and then
abandons in this way become "ungiven." The other pieces on the tray
still count as "given."
This last example, when taken out of context, has led to the
widespread view that food given to a bhikkhu becomes "ungiven" if an
unordained person touches or moves it. Viewed in context, though,
the example does not imply this at all. The bhikkhu has offered the
hardened molasses to the novice, and the novice in picking it up
simply completes the factors for case (e): "The bhikkhu gives the
item to an unordained person." The example of the novice taking
rice from a bhikkhu's bowl shows that even when a bhikkhu offers
food to an unordained person, the mere fact that the person touches
or moves the food does not necessarily make the food "ungiven."
Thus in cases where the bhikkhu is not giving away the food and
has not abandoned interest in it -- and the unordained person is not
stealing it -- there is no reason to hold that "given" food becomes
"ungiven" simply when an unordained person touches or moves it.
This is another area, though, where different Communities hold
different views, and where the wise policy is to conform to the
observances of the Community in which one is living.
These points from the Commentary's treatise may seem like a lot of
hair-splitting, but remember that the gift of food ranks with sexual
temptation as one of the largest issues in a bhikkhu's -- or
anyone's -- life. If questions of this sort hadn't arisen in
practice, no one would have bothered to compile the treatise in the
first place. Given the cursory manner in which the Vibhanga treats
this rule, and given the large "gray" areas surrounding the act of
giving -- modern anthropology started with this subject and will
probably never finish with it -- it's good to have those areas
spelled out in detail so as to minimize any disharmony that might
arise in a Community when its members find themselves in gray
Still, as we have noted several times, the guidelines in the
Commentary's treatise are not binding, and the wise policy is to
follow the standards of the Community in which one is living, as
long as they fall within the framework of the Canon.
Summary: Eating food that has not been formally given is a
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