Buddha’s advice for monks to beg for food and to accept it all is poisoning many monks because Buddha either didn’t know or didn’t care that food could heal or poison (actually, I do not really think this practice really originated from the Buddha’s advice -see note one, below.)

Eating alms food in imitation of Shakyamuni Buddha’s lifestyle means that nearly half of Thailand’s monks are obese and suffering related health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.

Dr. Chotechuang (MD)

According to a new study [1] by Dr. Chotechuang (MD) Buddhist monks are literally being poisoned by the bad advice handed down from Buddha. Alms from the well-meaning faithful often consist of drink juices, sweet tea, snacks and street foods all of which are laden with fat and sugar which not only lacks the essential nutrition needed to live a healthy and happy life but can actually act as a poison. In addition, the largely sedentary nature of temple monastic life is adding to the problem.

Realizing that Buddha’s advice on eating is literally poisoning monks a new initiative has been launched to promote healthy living and enable the monks to prepare nutritional meals and reject the unhealthy food [1]. This is will help the monk live longer healthier lives and also reduce the cost of medical fees that are currently paid for by the Thai government.

This issue is wider than Thailand and 80% of Buddhist monks from Sri-Lanka die of heart disease which is thought to be largely down to diet [3] prompting calls for monks to break with tradition and watch their diet [4.]

In fact, Shakyamuni Buddha himself died of food poisoning because the food donated had not been cooked properly, but it seems no-one around learned any lessons from that [2.]


Actually, it was not Shakyamuni Buddha who started the tradition of yogins begging for food and this was the standard practice for seekers in Ancient India.  This practice clearly continued in Buddhism and got codified in the sayings attributed to the Buddha and written down hundreds of years after his death, in a language he didn’t speak and in a country he didn’t live it.  In other words, this tradition did not actually start with the advice of the Buddha but was part of the socio-cultural-religious practices of the time and place that Buddhism took root.  Or in other words, it is the Buddhist tradition rather than the Buddha himself which passed down this practice that is questionable.


[1] http://www.bangkokpost.com/archive/almost-half-monkhood-overweight/897276 Accessed 6/5/17

[2] In the traditional account of the Buddha’s death he was poisoned by eating a piece of rotten pork. (cf, Mahaaparinibbaana-sutta.)

[3] Dr. Gunasena, (11th October 2012), The Island, “Poor Health of Monks”.

[4] http://www.bbc.com/news/av/health-21296153/sri-lankan-monks-told-to-watch-diet Accessed 6/5/17

9 Responses

    1. The word for pork, at the time of the Buddha, was also the word for mushroom. So, it isn't known for sure that it was bad pork that killed the Buddha.

    2. True, but tradition has held that he died from pork, and would it matter if he ate donated mushrooms that killed him because they were uncooked or poison?

  1. This blog is good food for thought.
    : There was one kind of food that Buddha specifically directed mendicants to not eat: meat that was killed especially with the intention of being for them.  Second: Buddha said all the smaller non-essential rules could be changed by the sangha democratically, but after he died they were so dependent on Buddha's authority that they could not democratically decide for themselves which were essential rules and which were the smaller rules so they were deadlocked like our Congress gets.  Third: The Early Schools tended toward literalization of the Dharma so they developed into authoritarian structures that could not be flexible about changes.  Thus the less literal Mahayana could develop in nations where the climate, both in weather and culture, would not allow a literal interpretation of the Vinaya. Fourth: the falseness of the literal interpretation of the Vinaya is demonstrated by the slave-like use of children by the monks to carry their money, as if controlling a child to handle the money is better than simply keeping the money in one's bag. Fifth: Accepting "food" does not mean accepting "sugar water" if we don't define "sugar water" as "food."  .

    1. Actually the Buddha of the Pali-cannon outlined many foods monks should not eat such as Tiger, and others. I do agree with most of the other points, although even if your point five is correct it still seems to remain true that for many monks it is still bad advice that has filtered down through the tradition regarding food. If the government, or religion gave us health advice that killed us we would call it bad, and I think that this applies here.

  2. On this topic further thoughts have made me think that I rather understated the case.

    Having to eat, unvetted, donated food must of, we can only assume, killed and/ or made seriously ill many monks and nuns throughout history. It is seriously inconceivable that there haven't been many Buddhist monks and nuns though out history that have felt obliged to eat foods that they were intolerant to or caused them allergies with sickness or death the result. After all peanuts, which can kill are native to India and the same is true of other foods that make people sick such as wheat and rice.

    Furthermore, relying on food that has been obtained, stored, prepared, and transported by strangers is a 'health and safety' nightmare. A common modern day related issue is the common food poisoning we find when Church groups feed the homeless with the best intentions but lacking the skills needed to provide donated food with the results being sickness and sometimes death (a quick Google search will show the extent of this problem in modern day America and elsewhere.)

    However romantic the idea of not picking your food might sound to those of us who do not eat like this it seems to me that the Buddhist tradition in this regard offers seriously bad advice.

  3. Now let us look at this from the other perspective. The reason Buddha allowed that tradition to continue was because it can free the monks to focus on meditation and also as a training in detachment from worldly life. Now just because some stupid lay people dont have the Wisdom to donate good food for the monks doesnt mean the system has to be questioned. I think whoever donates bad food for monks is himself/ herself eating bad food at home. Its also not the fault of the system if some monks cant stop eating. Furthermore, in the monastery where i practice in myanmar, i saw food being purchased by the monastery kappiya and cooked at the monastery. Most of the donated food was in the form of uncooked rice that later gets stored properly for cooking the next day. These days many laypeople don't have time to cook so they donate money, and that money can be used by the monastery to purchase food and other necessities.

    1. Thankyou for your thouhtful reply. I still do not think it is that simple as donating good food since many people have food allergies. For instance, 1% of the population has celiac disease, and nut allergies which can cause discomfort and even death. People are individuals and one mans medicine is another mans poison (quite literally). Where we agree is that the donation of uncooked rice which is then washed and cooked properally is much more sensible and healthy than accepting food as was the practice handed down from Buddha.

  4. This is an ill informed article.I will deal with my critique by moving from the beginning through to the last lines.
    The Buddha did follow the practice of other contemplatives of his time.The word 'bhikkhu' means beggar. However,the Buddha did not say that monks had to eat EVERYTHING they are given.It is up to each individual monk what he eats and what he doesn't. You make no mention of 'bhikkhunis'and I wonder why? I have never seen an obese bhikkhuni and I offer a possible reason.
    Women cannot receive full ordination in most Theravada countries.Those women who do manage to receive full ordination are usually well educated. The same is true of Western monks in Asia. Any male can become a monk in Theravada countries; in fact it is usual for most men to take ordination at least once in their lives.Because ordination is a custom in SE Asia, the tradition applies to one and all. Many men ordain simply as a way to escape poverty and to avoid work.Thus they lack the education necessary for knowing what is, and what isn't, beneficial to eat.
    Secondly,the drinking of sugar loaded drinks was not a problem in the Buddha's time. Monks and nuns mostly drank water. Most rivers were clean enough to drink from in the time of the Buddha.
    You have cited Dr Chotechuang as your source. This issue needs to be raised with her.She is surprisingly ignorant about what the Buddha did and did not teach.
    I think it is very obvious that the Buddha ate no meat whatsoever. My reason for being so certain of this is that he was a close contemporary of the Jain teacher Mahavira. In one sense they were rival teachers. Jains are very strictly vegetarian. If Buddha and his disciples had eaten meat, Mahavira would have lost no time in repeatedly – and publicly -criticising the Buddha for doing this. The famous Burmese meditation master – the Ven Mahasi Sayadaw – has noted that if one wishes to keep the non harming and non killing of animal life – one needs to be vegetarian. We must distinguish between the teachings of the Buddha and what has been written in – and adde to – by later monks and scholars (Particularly meat eating ones). No one knows what exactly poisoned the Buddha at the time of his last meal. The Pali has been translated into English as 'Pig's delight'.I hardly think that would be Pork;more likely it was something like truffles. These are defined in my dictionary as "A strong-smelling underground fungus that resembles an irregular, rough-skinned potato, growing chiefly in broad-leaved woodland on calcareous soils. It is considered a culinary delicacy and found, especially in France, with the aid of trained dogs or pigs." The truth is that we have no idea what poisoned the Buddha. As for monks living sedentary lives, a good monk is busy meditating and spreading the Dhamma. The problem here again is people wearing robes who have no commitment to the Buddha's teaching. good monks are extremely active and far too busy to get fat. Dr Chotechuang's claim that'Buddha's advice on eating is 'literally poisoning monks' is outlandish and highly irresponsible. No monk is obliged to eat that which is harmful or detrimental to one's health; monks who do so are lacking in basic health and dietary education. Perhaps as a medical doctor, Dr Chotechuak could give up some of her free time to voluntarily teach monks about following wholesome diets; she would be thus generating good Kamma for herself, rather than the bad Kamma she is currently accumulating by her outlandish criticisms of the Buddha.

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