In the Theravada, the monks, the bikkhus, are subject to strict rules of life, summarized in a work, the Patimokkha, comprising 227 fundamental rules, which were established by the Buddha in such a way as to allow practitioners to follow the path he advocated in good conditions while promoting a bond of interdependence with the laity. This system has existed for more than 2500 years. Even today, the religious therefore observe the precepts and lead a life made up of renunciation and simplicity thanks to the generosity of the local populations. The community provides them with the clothes, the alms bowl, the lodging and if necessary the medicines. Each party benefits from it: the monks can thus survive and the laity benefit from the prayers, advice, lavished by the religious. It's a win-win system.
The special case of meals
Monks who have to beg for their food are allowed to accept whatever is offered to them. What matters is not the content of the gifts, but the attitude of their spirit. It is for them to strive in this way to acquire a deep understanding of all that the Buddha taught and to develop wisdom based on experience.
Meals follow specific rules. Two punctuate a day. That of breakfast, and a second before noon. The monks then no longer have the right to eat solid food until the next morning. This notably prevents them from dozing off during evening meditation and responds to the teachings of the middle path which rejects both asceticism and abundance. Because seeking pleasure or living in opulence undoubtedly leads to a form of attachment (upâdâna), even of appropriation to the ephemeral goods of this world, which can lead to covetousness (râga), one of the three poisons (trivisa) governing this world, an attachment which, life after life, necessarily keeps us in samsâra, the incessant cycle of births and deaths.
A practice that defies the centuries
This prescription goes back to Sakyamuni Buddha who, before experiencing enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, had practiced extreme asceticism which had led him to the gates of death as related in the Lalitavistarara Sutra, a magnificent text imbued with Mahayana poetry. Having realized that such a diet was not appropriate for having the ideas sufficiently clear and necessary for the attainment of nirvana, that is to say the extinction of the causes of suffering (dukkha), as soon as he taught his disciples, he recommended to his students a code of conduct avoiding any extreme food. This is one of the aspects of the middle way.
By teaching the middle way and notably by encouraging the adoption of a code of dietary conduct, the Buddha wished to show men a harmonious and serene way, which we can all follow.
For the Buddhists, the spiritual transformation of the human being takes place in the image of the lotus which grows by going from darkness to light. The plant is born in the muddy mire of ponds and grows towards the surface of the water so that its flower bud opens and blossoms in the light. And, nothing except her death, can divert her from this trajectory. In the individual, the stages of this inner process lead to the maturation of the potentials available to him at birth, if he has the courage to face and accept the situations offered by existence and if he has the will , the knowledge and tools that will help them improve and give meaning to the events they go through. To achieve this goal, most of the great traditions recommend that the person in search of knowledge and peace, to ensure that his body and his mind work in a complementary and harmonious way. The loss of this harmonious and complementary use leads to the disappearance of relationships based on respect, tolerance, generosity, tenderness and humour, values which helped to give meaning to life. By teaching the middle way and notably by encouraging the adoption of a code of dietary conduct, the Buddha wished to show men a harmonious and serene way, which we can all follow.