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Alms Rounds - Freedom From Worldly Burden, Or A Dietary Nightmare?


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I understand that the Buddha laid down a rule for monks & nuns not to cook or store food in order to free them from such burdens so they could concentrate on their practice of Dhamma.

I'd imagine, on the whole, that most monks would eat well due to the generosity of lay followers.

In the 21st century, are monks & nuns at risk of poor health due to diets beyond their control, particularly those who either suffer from food intolerance &/or propensity to weight gain?

Due to its affordability, palm oil, which isn't recommended due to its high saturated fat content, is widely used in Thailand and is one example of poor diet beyond ones control.

When you hear of well known monks such as Ajahn Chah suffering from stroke, one wonders if uncontrolled diet due to the randomness of alms rounds might not be the healthiest way of eating over a long period.

I was wandering what others think & have experienced regarding the opportunistic nature of Alms diets.

Edited by rockyysdt
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My SO has gotten a tad bit annoyed a couple of times when we went out to get food for the monks and I said some particular food wasn't quality enough. Some of this street food that they are given is very fat, much of it deep fried, etc. I'm not clear at all why some people expect monks to live almost as they did 2,500 years ago.

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When I was ordained the food was incredible, but I guess it would depend on where the monk was. We could choose what to eat from a wide selection, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with different meats and fish or eggs. It added up to a better diet than most people would have due to the variety. The only rule was a requirement to eat some of everything offered so the benefactor would recieve the appropriate merit (so a vegetarian diet really was out, but even that rule wasn't strictly enforced since meals weren't really supervised).

I was surprised that some monks were fat since a monk can't eat after noon (hard to imagine two back to back meals early in the day would lead to that). I've also been surprised that so many of my Thai in-laws have the same high blood-pressure issues people do in America since on the face of it their diets are much healthier. Palm oil could be part of that, and dishes like pad thai or curries can be really high in fat, but still it seems strange. Maybe diet is generally given too much credit as the primary cause for some health problems.

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Maybe diet is generally given too much credit as the primary cause for some health problems.

Hanu, while you have a right to your opinion, I don't think that's a very responsible one...since virtually all the scientific evidence would disagree with you.

I was interested in your comment about the quality of food varying depending on which temple you are at. I imagine that's correct. I was surprised yesterday when I went to BNH Hospital and walked past the Doi Tung store near Sala Daeng Skytrain station. It was a little past 11 a.m., and there is the front area of the store were about 10 monks eating their main meal. I tried not to stare, but it was difficult since it was such an unusual setting. The food looked good and plentiful. On the other hand, I live on Suk 24, and every morning there's a group of monks who pass by here...much of what they get didn't look very impressive.

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For me there is institutional stasis with regards to food and the almsround.

I have been advised that it is possible for the monks to choose from the foods that are given on almsround (as stated above), but I am not certain that one can get the best quality food by choosing. For example on almsround are the monks going to be given whole grains such as brown rice?

I have been informed that food relating to health is the second cause for monks defrocking.

I have visited Mahachula university where they cook their own food - I presume as an institution run by monks they can choose the food there but I don't know for sure, and the food there is not governed by healthy considerations such as brown rice.

We all do not agree as to what food would be constituted as healthy, for some the issue of health is also tied up with the lay precept concerning taking life and the discussion concerning vegetarianism. Whilst vegetarian can be more healthy, if vegetarian food is processed it is not healthier. My own take on healthy food is that we revert back to natural foods and not eat industrially-processed foods and the various chemicals that are added in such production. But for the sake of this thread will only be discussing the issue of such processed foods.

On the almsrounds the monks will be genuinely given such processed foods, and I contend that is damaging to their health. Even with selecting foods can monks completely avoid processed foods?

The institutional stasis dilemma is that the Buddha taught that monks should be given food on almsround, and who will disagree with what the Buddha taught? But at the time of the Buddha the damage to health that is done by processed food was not an issue, whereas clearly it is an issue in contemporary society. In view of this change in available food eaten by those donating on almsround, would it not be appropriate to consider a response to this contemporary change in food?

There is also an excellent educational opportunity here with this issue. If the monks were to say that on almsround they will only accept donations of non-processed foods, would the people donating not start to think about processed foods in their own diet?

Hope you are keeping well,

All the Best,

Bill Z

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