The Four Foods

 

Material Food

And how, Beggars, is Material Food to be regarded?

Imagine, Beggars, a loving family of three: Father, Mother, and their only child, a newly born infant, dearly beloved.

Then imagine this family has gotten itself lost in the desert, one, two, three days, their food used up, tired, thirsty and hungry...

four, five, six days...
seven days...
. . . eight days . . .
. . . nine days . . .
. . . ten days . . .
. . . and maybe even longer . . .

but whatever the case, Beggars, there comes a time sooner or later when that Mother and Father decide, tearful and broken up in heart: "Let us then use our only child, dearly beloved as food, so that we do not all perish!"

And then they slay that child of theirs, a newly born infant, dearly beloved, and cutting it up they divide it into fresh pieces and pieces to be dried, weeping and lamenting. And by eating this food with tears in their eyes and sorrow in their hearts they survive that desert and arrive safely back at their home.

Although they might live many years longer, would they ever lose consciousness of the fact that they had slain their only child, a newly born infant, dearly beloved in order to survive?

In the same way, Beggars, is Material food to be regarded by you.

"By one who understands Material Food in this way, the passions of the five senses are understood; when the passions of the five senses are understood; the fetters that bind to rebirth in this world have ceased to exist."[1]

Sense Stimulation

And how, Beggars is the food that is sense stimulation [touch, contact] to be considered?

Imagine a cow with a sore hide.

If she stands leaning against a wall the creatures living on the wall bite her; if she stands leaning against a tree, the creatures living on the tree bite her; whatever she leans against, there the creatures that live there bite her.

If she stands in the water, the creatures that live there bite her; if she stands in the open air, the creatures that live there bite her; whatever she leans against, there the creatures that live there bite her.

This is the way sense stimulation is to be considered.

He who understands the food that is contact in this way understands the three sense experiences (vedana, pleasant, unpleasant, and neither unpleasant nor pleasant sensation); when the three sense experiences are understood there is nothing more that needs to be done.

Intention

And how is the food that is intention (manosancetana= Mind One With Heart; Mrs. Rhys Davids has: "will of mind") to be considered?

Imagine a pit of smokeless charcoal, deeper than a man is tall, red hot, glowing, ablaze (generally a simile for woman), and here come some beggar who loves life, dislikes death, loves happiness, dislikes pain, and two strong men grab him one at each arm and drag him, twisting This Way and that, to that very pit of smokeless charcoal, deeper than a man is tall, red hot, glowing, ablaze.

What do you think, beggars, would that man not wish to be out of that situation, out of the grip of those two strong men, far from that place? And, How Come?

Because he would be thinking: Ho boy! I fall in with that pit of smokeless charcoal, deeper than a man is tall, red hot, glowing, ablaze, it's death or excruciating deadly pain for me, for sure! That's how come.

This is the way intention is to be considered.

When the food that is intention is understood, the three "cravings" (for sense pleasures, for life, for more life — or, as vibhava is usually translated, for the end of life, which I understand not only as a death wish, or theory that individualized life comes to an end at the death of the body, but also as the desire to get away from the unpleasant aspects of life -- aversion, or flight); when the three cravings are understood, there is nothing more that needs to be done.

Consciousness

And how is the food that is consciousness to be considered?
Imagine a criminal who is brought before the king. The guards say: "Your Highness, this is a robber, a thief, an evil-doer, a no-good, good for nuth'n, murder'n sum-gum fo shu. Let your Highness inflict upon him such punishment as he deserves."

So the king says: "Take this man and bind him hand and foot and place him in a cart and parade him around town and then take him out the south gate and there cut him a hundred times ("with a hundred knives" satti, sharp instrument, from an earlier meaning for "ability"; I find it difficult to believe that the similarity to sati would not have been deliberate).

And the guards do just that.

Then at noon the King asks: "How is that man?"

And the guards respond: "At this time he is still living, sir."

Then the king says: "Well then, cut this man another hundred times."

And the guards do that, and again at dusk the King asks: "How is that man?" and the guards respond: "At this time he is still living, sir." And again the king commands that the guards cut him again with another hundred cuts.

What do you think about that? Would that man, thus cut 300 times experience death or excruciating deadly pains as a consequence?

This is how the food that is consciousness is to be considered.

When consciousness is considered in this way, Nama/Rupa is understood and when Nama/Rupa is understood there is nothing more that needs to be done.

Where there is Lust

There are these four foods:
Material Food
Sense Stimulation
Intention
Consciousness

Where there is lust, delight, thirst for Material Food, consciousness gets itself attached; when consciousness gets itself attached, the rebound is Nama/Rupa. Where there is nama/rupa there is confounding (sankaraming -- interesting that here the order is not the usual avijja>sankaram>vinnana>nama/rupa; but apparently ~vinnana>nama/rupa>sankaram; but this is not a rigid formula as I see it, it circles around within itself as well as describes a straight line to dukkha), where there is confounding, there is renewed birth and the inevitable aging and death, grief and lamentation, pain and misery and despair.

And it is the same with the other three foods.

And the simile is given of the painter or dyer who can take different colored paints or dyes and make any shape he wishes from the basic materials.

The reverse case is next described, where there is no lust, delight, or thirst the rest is unable to follow.

And the simile is given of a house with a window through which passes a ray of light. Where does it land? On the opposite wall. If there is no wall? On the floor. If there is no floor? On the ground (the simile has ground for floor and water for ground following the fact that most houses had ground floors and that the belief at the time was that the earth rested on water and the water on "the ether".) If there is no ground? On nothing at all in the world.

The conclusion is that if consciousness is not given grounds through lust, delight and thirst for one or another of the four foods, there follows no rebound of Nama/rupa and the rest.[2]

 


 

[1]This is the meaning of The First Lesson: that by thoroughly understanding this one thing, AHARA, Food, one can reach the end of Dukkha.

[2]Let me add, for the inevitable fool that will read this and say Buddhism promotes infanticide and cannibalism: This is a Simile! Not only is infanticide and cannibalism Not being suggested, it is being suggested that we should consider all foods as being the product of some kind of slaughter of living beings, ultimately our relatives, and that we should, therefore, not eat carelessly or without regard for the source of the food.

References:

Samyutta Nikaya, Nidanavagga, Nidanasamyutta, #63: Puttama.msa, II.97
#64: Atthiraago, pp101

PTS: The Book of the Kindred Sayings II, #63: Child's flesh, pp67; and #64: There is passion, pp70

ATI: A Son's Flesh:
Where There Is Passion:

 


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