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The Empty Beggar's Bowl


[The Polished Plate]
[The Purification of Alms-food]
[Complete Purity for Alms-Gathering]

Introduction:

 

How is it that concentrating on One Thing, Ahara, Food, can encompass the entire system?

The following Sutta is translated "The Purification of Alms-food" by Bhikkhu Bodhi. "Purification" here is a term that points to the process whereby the food received by a Beggar is made to produce the maximum outcome for the giver. This involves putting that food to the best possible use with the least possible hanging on...in other words, with "detachment."

To visualize the meaning, recollect the saying "You are what you eat." (overlooking the non-Pali implications of the words "You Are") and then imagine the processing of a meal from beginning to end as it passes from the hand to the mouth, is chewed and savored, swallowed, passes down through the esophagus into the stomach, from there into the intestines where the valuable nutrients are extracted and the waste material is sent on down the intestines to pass on out. That which remains is then absorbed into the bloodstream and is used to nourish the cells which in their turn extract what they need and discard the waste, and so forth until what has been eaten comes down to that which supports one's efforts to end Dukkha. When in so "reviewing" one can see that the maximum value has been extracted from each bite eaten and the best possible use has been made of it's nutrients then one can be said to have "cleaned up the beggars bowl" or "polished the plate." or "cleaned up every scrap on your platter:" 

The Purification of Alms-food

Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Rajagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrels' Sanctuary. Then, when it was evening, the venerable Shariputra rose from meditation and went to the Blessed One. After paying homage to him, he sat down at one side. The Blessed One then said to him:

"Shariputra, your faculties are clear. The color of your skin is pure and bright. What abiding do you often abide in now, Shariputra?"

"Now, venerable sir, I often abide in void-ness." [1]

"Good, good, Shariputra! Now, indeed, you often abide in the abiding of a great man. For this is the abiding of a great man, namely, void-ness.

"So, Shariputra, if a Bhikkhu should wish: 'May I now often abide in void-ness,' he should consider thus: 'On the path by which I went to the village for alms, or in the place where I wandered for alms, or on the path by which I returned from the alms-round, was there any desire, lust, hate, delusion, or aversion in my mind regarding forms cognizable by the eye? If, by so reviewing, he knows thus: 'On the path by which I went to the village for alms, or in the place where I wandered for alms, or on the path by which I returned from the alms-round, there was desire, lust, hate, delusion, or aversion [2] in my mind regarding forms cognizable by the eye,' then he should make an effort to abandon those evil unwholesome states. But if, by reviewing, he knows thus: 'On the path by which I went to the village for alms, and in the place where I wandered for alms, and on the path by which I returned from the alms-round, there was no desire, lust, hate, delusion, or aversion in my mind regarding forms cognizable by the eye,' then he can abide happy and glad, training day and night in wholesome states.

"Again, Shariputra, a Bhikkhu should consider thus: 'On the path by which I went to the village for alms, or in the place where I wandered for alms, or on the path by which I returned from the alms-round, was there any desire, lust, hate, delusion, or aversion in my mind regarding sounds cognizable by the ear...regarding odors cognizable by the nose...regarding flavors cognizable by the tongue...regarding tangibles cognizable by the body...regarding mind-objects cognizable by the mind? [3] ' If, by reviewing, he knows thus: 'On the path by which I went to the village for alms...there was desire, lust, hate, delusion, or aversion in my mind regarding mind-objects cognizable by the mind,' then he should make an effort to abandon those evil unwholesome states. But if, by reviewing, he knows thus: 'On the path by which I went to the village for alms...there was no desire, lust, hate, delusion, or aversion in my mind regarding mind-objects cognizable by the mind,' then he can abide happy and glad, training day and night in wholesome states.

"Again, Shariputra, a Bhikkhu should consider thus: 'Are the five cords of sensual pleasure [4] abandoned in me? If, by reviewing, he knows thus: 'The five cords of sensual pleasure are not abandoned in me,' then he should make an effort to abandon those five cords of sensual pleasure. But it, by reviewing, he knows thus: 'The five cords of sensual pleasure are abandoned in me,' then he can abide happy and glad, training day and night in wholesome states.

"Again, Shariputra, a Bhikkhu should consider thus: 'Are the five hindrances abandoned in me? [5] If, by reviewing he knows thus: 'The five hindrances are not abandoned in me,' then he should make an effort to abandon those five hindrances. But if, by reviewing, he knows thus: 'The five hindrances are abandoned in me,' then he can abide happy and glad, training day and night in wholesome states.

Again, Shariputra, a Bhikkhu should consider thus: 'Are the five aggregates affected by clinging [6] fully understood by me?' If, by reviewing, he knows thus: 'The five aggregates affected by clinging are not fully understood by me,' then he should make an effort to fully understand those five aggregates affected by clinging. But if, by reviewing, he knows thus: 'The five aggregates affected by clinging are fully understood by me,' then he can abide happy and glad, training day and night in wholesome states.

"Again, Shariputra, a Bhikkhu should consider thus: 'Are the four foundations of mindfulness [7] developed in me?' If, by reviewing, he knows thus: 'The four foundations of mindfulness are not developed in me,'; then he should make an effort to develop those four foundations of mindfulness. But if, by reviewing, he knows thus: 'The four foundations of mindfulness are developed in me,' then he can abide happy and glad, training day and nigh in wholesome states.

"Again, Shariputra, a Bhikkhu should consider thus: 'Are the four right kinds of striving [8] developed in me...Are the four bases for spiritual power [9] developed in me...Are the five faculties [10] developed in me...Are the five powers [11] developed in me...Are the seven enlightenment factors [12] developed in me...Is the Noble Eightfold Path [13] developed in me...Are serenity and insight [14] developed in me?' If, by reviewing, he knows thus: 'Serenity and insight are not developed in me,'; Then he should make an effort to develop them. But if, by reviewing, he knows thus: 'Serenity and insight are developed in me,' then he can abide happy and glad, training day and night in wholesome states.

"Again, Shariputra, a Bhikkhu should consider thus: 'Are true knowledge and deliverance [15] realized by me?' If, by reviewing, he knows thus: 'True knowledge and deliverance are not realized by me,' then he should make an effort to realize true knowledge and deliverance. But if, by reviewing, he knows thus: 'True knowledge and deliverance are realized by me,' then he can abide happy and glad, training day and night in wholesome states.

"Shariputra, whatever recluses and Brahmins in the past have purified their alms-food have all done so by repeatedly reviewing thus. Whatever recluses and Brahmins in the future will purify their alms-food will all do so by repeatedly reviewing thus. Whatever recluses and Brahmins in the present are purifying their alms-food are all doing so by repeatedly reviewing thus. Therefore, Shariputra, you should train thus: 'We will purify our alms-food by repeatedly reviewing thus.'"

That is what the Blessed One said. The venerable Shariputra was satisfied and delighted in the Blessed One's words.

 

Footnotes:

[1] suńńataviharena

[2] the asavas, as Bhikkhu Bodhi points out, with some redundancy: lust equals desire, hate equals aversion.

[3] see The Sixth Lesson

[4] pańca (5) kaamagunaa the five strands of sense pleasure: of the eye, ear, nose, tongue and body. Note: not of the mind.

[5] panca niivara.naa the five Down-bound Mindbending Bindups to High-getting

[6] pańc'upaadaanakkhandhaa the Five Stockpiles, see The Fifth Lesson

[7] cattaaro satipa.t.thaanaa the Four Satisfaction Pastures of the Masters

[8] cattaaro sammappadhaanaa the Four Right Efforts

[9] cattaro iddhipaadaa The Four Power Paths

[10] pańc'indriyaanii The Five Mighty Strengths: Strength over the faculties of sight, sound, scent, taste and touch.

[11] pańca balaanii The Five Balancing Strengths: Trust, Energy, Memory, Getting High, and Wisdom

[12] satta bojjha.ngaa The Seven Dimensions of Awakening Wisdom, see The Seventh Lesson

[13] ariyo attha.ngiko maggo The Aristocratic Multi-Dimensional Way

[14] samatho and vipassanaa Calm and Review

[15] vijjaa and vimuttii Vision and Freedom

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