Theravada Monk Week

I’m currently teaching Buddhism to a group of educated, but distinctly non-Buddhist young men. Last week we talked about Buddhist food rituals and I told them that many Theravada monks fast after noon. For boys (and their teacher) who enjoy their food, this seems like an impossible practice.

It also had them asking “why? — what’s so beneficial about not eating past lunch?” One witters on about self-control blah-de-blah, but I’ve decided that it would be better to try it for a week and see. The experiment is somewhat (completely?) artificial because I’m neither a Buddhist nor a monk and so the spiritual element is likely to be missing, but having floated the idea at dinner today, I’m now committed to it. You see, my youngest son told me I couldn’t do it — “dad, you’re too greedy” — and my wife is dubious that I will be able to eschew the 9pm Marmite-on-toast. Gauntlet, dropped.


  1. This is do-able because I eat a hearty lunch at school every day. Must endeavour to have a good breakfast. I’ve decided that I’ll need to drink, though.

    I’m worried about supper. For me, supper (9pm) is like Pippin’s second breakfast. It cannot be missed.

  2. Reagan Republican says:

    I’ve lost 8 pounds in the last month by pretty much only having a small glass of low-sugar Pomegranate juice and a Diet Coke for breakfast. Diet Coke is a serviceable substitute for pretty much any form of junk food.

    Fasting is one of my least favorite parts of being a Mormon. I find that we all cheat on Fast Sunday one way or another. My former boss was a convert who was zealous about fasting and would ask me on Saturday nights what time I was going to start my fast. I found out that he still drank water during his fast.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Jana Riess did a Muslim-style fast for a month for her forthcoming book Flunking Sainthood.

    Good luck, Ronan!

  4. So you’re starting this Thanksgiving week?

  5. #4: Ronan doesn’t do Thanksgiving___his side lost.

  6. Cynthia L. says:

    Drinking water during your fast time seems like a must, Ronan. But I don’t think it would be a good idea to do any kind of juice or sugary beverage. There was a link in the BCC sidebar a while back about those faddish all-juice diets, and one doctor said you may as well be on a Toblerone diet. Not healthy to get a jolt of quick-absorbing sugar, *especially* on an empty stomach.

    Good luck!

  7. The essence of this practice isn’t actually self-control per se, but it started with a much more pragmatic basis. From their beginning, Buddhist monks did NOT prepare food but truly lived essentially without purse or script. They rely on alms of the villagers around them for food. The villagers get karma and good-will, much like we feel when we support a missionary or give to the Church.

    So that the monks didn’t spend the whole day wandering around getting food, Buddha set things up so they would make morning rounds for alms and then didn’t eat after noon. If there was a day where no one gave them any food, then they just didn’t eat that day.

    So, that’s where the no eating after noon came from.

  8. I’ve fasted Ramadan twice in the past decade, including no liquids. It’s a bear at first, but halfway through the month or so I caught a second wind and felt I could have kept it going when it ended. Weight loss didn’t occur the first year. Second time it happened but only by later in the month.

    I applied Mormon spirituality to the Muslim ritual form, so I like to think I got a pretty full experience. The missing element for me though was the communal experience of Ramadan, which obviously needs to include both a group of folks doing the same and a shared holiday spirit. While Muslim friends and relatives on facebook and email help a bit to bring that feeling, it isn’t the same as being part of a Muslim community. Christmas alone in a non-Christian country would be a good comparison, even if you put up the tree for yourself.

  9. My son and I saw a group of Buddhist monks (male and female) in Pensacola, FL at the Marble Slab Creamery. They were laughing and chattering and enjoying ice cream. I felt so glad to know that living as a renunciate doesn’t involve renouncing ice cream!

    Let us know how the fast goes. I love fasting, but definitely must drink water. I’m a diabetic, though, so my experience of fasting is likely different from most everyone else’s. My blood sugar stays high throughout the fast and I don’t really feel all that hungry.

    I think our bodies are trained to secrete insulin at times of day when we regularly eat. This makes us have cravings for food. After a few days of not eating at an accustomed time, probably feeling grumpy and tired during those times, our bodies will learn the new normal, and probably not give us much trouble about it. Good luck!

  10. You’ll be able to do this — good luck!

  11. Thanks for the advice and encouragement.

    As for Thanksgiving – eh? The pilgrims were my side, weren’t they?

  12. the pilgrims were indeed British in British controlled lands…

  13. Indeed. They claimed the land for the crown. The messy bit with the Independence came 150 years later in the wake of the French and Indian War. . . . financing costly overseas wars can have such nasty unintended consequences.

  14. my youngest son told me I couldn’t do it — “dad, you’re too greedy”

    Sounds like a candidate for a week-long dessert fast!

  15. RJH___You were conned__Monks only do the fast so they don’t have to buy dinners on dates.
    I don’t think the Pilgrams cared for the British. I believe they ruled themselves under the Mayflower Compact(?) But you can have them__we don’t use them for any of our sports teams any way.
    It’s kinda like my Notre Dame friends who want to be the ‘Fighting Irish’, when Notre Dame is in France. Shoudn’t they be the ‘Fighting French’?

  16. You can do it! The hearty lunch would worry me, though. I think it’s easier to do a fast if I haven’t had a lot to eat before hand.

    I think I need to do a Buddhist fast. How many of your students are actually doing this with you?

  17. meems,
    I think I’d get into trouble if I turned my students into Buddhist ascetics. Hearty lunch was a healthy one, so I’m hoping I’ll be OK.

  18. RJH, you’ll never be able to do this. Give up now. And I’m with Peter LLC. I say, ten days without dessert! (The first part is reverse psychology – you seem susceptible <grin>.)

  19. were it me…I’d be eating lots of vegetables and protein for breakfast (omelets?)

    If you drink plenty of water in the morning you should be fine…it’s a good time of year for fasting…not too hot and not too cold, so your body doesn’t have to work as hard.

  20. What would Jesus do? Have a big Last Supper.

  21. Nathan E. Rasmussen says:

    #2: “I find that we all cheat on Fast Sunday one way or another.”

    Ah, but who is there to cheat?

    Only ourselves — only ourselves.

    There have been Fast Sundays where I cheated myself out of the blessings of the Fast by one means or another. There have been Fast Sundays where I adjusted my meal schedule or when I drank water. In general these have not been the same Sundays.

    If Fast Sunday is “a day for a man to afflict his soul … to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes” (Isa 58:5), a day dedicated to suffering, or if it is a day of standardized spirituality and of judging our fellows’ performance thereof (cf v. 4!), then rightly indeed it should be your least favorite thing, ’cause that’s awful. Conversely, if it is a day to personally seek the Lord and solicit His help, to reorient ourselves to His ways, and to “draw out [our] soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul,” (v. 10) it can be a delight — and this notwithstanding sundry derogations from the officially prescribed form of the fast.

    I have drunk water during the official period of fasting, either because of heavy physical activity the evening before, or because of an intense tropical climate, and have still received the blessings of fasting that I needed. For that matter, I have known people who could not fast at all for medical reasons, but still observed the day in their hearts and minds to great advantage. I have also performed technically flawless fasts perfunctorily, without turning my attention to the purposes of fasting as I should have, and come away impoverished in soul. Which of these is cheating?

    The temple recommend interview has never in my memory asked for an accounting of how many hours actually transpired between my meals, or whether I made up the lost calories later, or if the humidity was really low enough to justify my drinking the *entire half-teaspoon* of Sacrament water. It hasn’t even asked for the ratio between my fast offerings and the cost of two meals, to determine whether I’m really being “generous.” It has always, in my memory, asked whether I have faith in God. Fast Sunday is a means to that end, “to be used with judgment and skill” if I may misappropriate a phrase (DC 89:8); not a set of governmental regulations to be “cheated” on.

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