Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What was a typical day of a monk like during the time of the Buddha?

How a monk follower of the Buddha spent his typical daily life can be learned and deduced from the Diamond Sutra. In Chapter one of this important Sutra, the monks were said to beg for alms during noon, and after eating their meals, washed their feet, they grouped together to learn from the Buddha, in the afternoon. In the Diamond Sutra, the learning experience was sparked by questions from Subhuti.

Concerning the meal, it is interesting to note that a monk should not be selective in his begging activity. As such he should beg sometimes in poorer area and sometimes in richer areas, and needless to say, he shouldn't be selective towards what was offered (well, enough is enough would likely be up to individual judgment or preference, and therefore, a monk could be overfed!). In such circumstances, a monk couldn't be a vegetarian, and nowadays the Tibetan monks are keeping this tradition: it is OK to eat meat as long as the animals were not killed by the monk!

Another interesting point is the monks wouldn't be lacking in physical exercise. And since a monk shouldn't be thinking of food (and expecting how tasty that might be!), a monk should be engaging in some kind of walking meditation during his begging activities. And he would go deeper into his inner self when he expressed his thanks and blessings towards the alm-givers.

How would a monk spend his morning before begging and his late afternoon after learning from the Buddha and before going to bed? Most likely he would spend most of this time in seated meditation. And it is apparent that there were different level of meditation into the how deep a monk got into his inner depth.

Further more it is interesting to note that the Buddha was said to establish Zen Buddhism through its First Patriarch Mahakassapa in the famous Flower Sermon. And it was further implied that such inner teaching of meditative nature had been passed along in private. A practical session of experiential enlightenment, so to speak, instead of a written manual that was supposed to be reserved for intellectual enlightenment.

This attitude towards deep meditation is quite different from the approach of the traditional Taoists (of the Neidan 内丹, or Taoist yoga, type). The latter stressed on the importance (and difficulty) of putting their practice procedures into texts and manual for the benefit of future Taoist practitioners.

I shall discuss further the reasons for this difference in approach in some future posts.

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