There are few things we do that are more complex, or fraught, or important than eating. The suttas teachings on food seem to boil down to 3 ideas:
- Minimize the suffering that eating inevitably causes.
- Knowing that whenever we eat we do some harm, eat as little as necessary for energy and health.
- Don’t get too caught up in the world of the senses.
This last one flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Western Buddhists especially often miss the point. I hear people say things like, “Do mindfulness so you can enjoy your food more and more. Do ‘Ice Cream Meditation’ so you can really enjoy your ice cream.” Now, mindfulness of eating is terrific, but the function is to strengthen your mindfulness, not to make your rocky road taste even better.
Here is a little sutta on how we should thinking about eating.
How should we think about eating? Here is a little story:
A husband, wife set out with their beloved son on a journey through the desert with only the food and water they could carry. Halfway across the desert, they ran out of food.
So the couple thought: “Maybe we should kill our son even though we love him so much. We could dry and roast his meat, then we could get the rest of the way across this desert. Otherwise, all three of us will surely die.”
So they killed their son, dried and roasted his meat, and ate him. The whole time, they wept, beat their breast, and called out: “Where are you, our beloved only child!?”
Now what do you think? Would that couple eat this food for fun? For taste? For pleasure? Just to improve their looks? Of course not! Would they eat it purely to survive the trip across the desert? Of course.
You should treat all of your food in this way. If you can handle food in this way, you can understand the desire for all sensual desire. And if you can understand sensual desire, nothing stands in the way of final liberation.