Mindful Eating the “Five Contemplations”
If we are talking about health, being vegan or vegetarian may be enough; but if we are talking about a meditation diet,
we have much more to consider.
As a fully ordained bhikkhu for over ten years and living in a monastery, it was easy to be mindful while eating. The
monks and nuns in our monastery ate once a day, there was no talking allowed in the dining hall, and the food was
vegetarian and vegan (optional, buffet style).
When I left the monastery, I had not realized how attached to food I was. In our monastery, we didn’t see food unless
we were in a place where we could eat it and it was time to eat. But, now, out and about in ordinary life, my eyes were
drawn here and there by a collage of tempting dishes and snacks.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I better get a grip on myself, the snack attraction was particularly overwhelming,
and if I didn’t stop following it would be at the expense of having a good appetite at mealtime. So, I eliminated all
snacking, one hundred percent. That was a big help towards “Eating to live.”
The next step for me was getting accustomed to what my meals should consist. Because I could not choose what I ate
at the monastery beyond what was placed on the buffet table, which sometimes would be as little as three to five
dishes. I had to come up with a plan for the staggering array of foods before me.
My mind and appetite were running wild with the selection and I wanted everything. In the monastery, I ate from a
single bowl, but now I would generally sit down with three plates of food which had fruit, grains, peanut butter, onions,
olives, kale, seeds, wonton, yogurt, faux meat, and so forth. When I prepared my own meals, it seemed the whole
grocery store was in there. And when I went out to eat, generally it was three dishes from the menu. I had waiters
telling me, “I have never seen anyone eat like that before,” or, “I never believed you would eat it all,” or, “we made
bets in back whether you would finish what you ordered.” One thing I can say, whoever bet against me lost.
It took a few belly aches and weeks of overeating before I declared the party over. Although I was no longer a
monastic, I decided to adopt once again a practice that I had learned (as a monastic) aimed to reduce greed and
encourage mindfulness. It is a practice outlined by the Buddha over twenty-five hundred years ago and still practiced
by monastics and lay followers to this day. It is the “Five Contemplation.”
“The five Contemplations” are aimed towards helping us appreciate our food more, be focused while eating (which will
indirectly help our meditation,) generate true thankfulness, and make us mindful of our spiritual aspirations.
The “Five Contemplations” are as follows:
One: Consider the work to produce the food. This consideration includes everything from farmers, merchants,
transporters, cooks, and even printers (who print labels, and so forth) packagers, and others.
Two: Consider if you are worthy of the food. This contemplation asks us to examine and review our efforts to be a
good human being while eating and how successful we have been.
Three: Guard the mind against greed. Greed is having our thoughts on other foods while the mouthful we are working
on has yet to be swallowed. The dinner is not over, and our mind is on dessert!
Four: Consider the food as medicine. Consider the medicinal value of the food, and that the food is taken as
medicine, not entertainment.
This is one of the most potent contemplations because it shines the spotlight on the importance of the nutritional
value of our food, as opposed to whether it is tasty or not. Medicinal value should trump taste in a Buddhist diet.
Five: Consider the food is for accomplishing the Bodhisattva Way. Consider the food as fuel to achieve altruistic
ambitions. Our diet, as mentioned above, is not that we may look great, feel great, but that we may do great things.
Our motivation to be fit, we should remind ourselves, is to benefit others, the raison d'être of all “spirituality.”
I find in these contemplations a way to fully appreciate the value of my food, increase my ability to focus at any time,
reduce my attachment to taste (which is often at the expense of nutrition) and concentrate on my altruistic aims.
Admittedly, these contemplations are not suitable when enjoying a meal with others (unless you are a monastic), but
when alone, going through these reflections while eating is a perfect form of meditation that will support our ability to
be centered throughout the day, and be less prone to stress and distraction.
Removing the mind from the taste of the food, and performing the Five Contemplation, is quite a sacrifice to make as
we will find out if we try them. These contemplations are not mere musings, but actual verbalizations, so we must be
attentive and not allow our mind to wander.
These contemplations may be tedious, but the results are quick to show up, and short of the yogi diet, they may the
best way to support mindful and nutritious eating.