Pure and simple food;
Perfect and thoughtful work
by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
Transcribed by Heng Gu
We should pay special attention to the aspect of food. Food should not be overcooked. For the elderly, we can make gruel and shred the vegetables in the blender, since their teeth are not strong and they cannot chew hard food. Children should also be served softer food, which is easier for them to digest. We should treat others' children just like our own. But you can't be too indulgent and spoil them; that's not right either. In general, we should regulate our diet and eat with good hygiene.
We shouldn't have so many different kinds of food everyday; it's too complicated. We can change the fare from day to day, eating this kind today, and another kind tomorrow. If we always give our stomach the same kind of food, it will soon get tired of it. You can serve a different dish every day. But in one meal, one main dish and one soup is enough; we don't need too many different dishes. If there are many dishes, people will have false thoughts. When they get food, they think, "Should I eat this kind? Or should I take that kind?" As they calculate, they become greedy, thinking, "Why did they cook this dish?" So this causes people to have false thoughts. But if there is only one main dish and one soup, then whether you want it or not, that's all there is. You may vary the food from day to day, but don't serve bread, rice, margarine, and a whole bunch of different things all at once, because when I go look, I don't know what to eat. As a result, all the joy is gone, because during the meal I'm calculating: this tastes good and that doesn't taste good. So I'll get a lot of what tastes good, and I won't eat what isn't delicious.
Cultivators! A superior person seeks for the Way, and does not seek for food. We take food just to sustain our lives and to keep from starving to death, and need not concern ourselves with whether it tastes good or not. For instance, take the vegetables we eat: today we have cabbage, tomorrow lettuce, and the next day we can see which vegetable will spoil the fastest, and eat it first. Those which keep longer can be eaten more slowly. The kitchen manager has to check the icebox every day. It shouldn't be that the vegetables and fruit are spoiling and she doesn't even know. Isn't that just harming people? The food was perfectly fine, but if you wait until it rots to serve it, you're just creating offenses!
Spoiled food should never be served, because it's unhealthy and it makes people sick. "Sickness enters through the mouth, and disasters come out from the mouth." You put no limit on food and drink, not knowing to eat in moderation. What is called eating in moderation? When we cultivators eat, we should not stuff our bellies full, especially if we eat once a day, it's a mistake to purposefully eat a lot. If you do so, you're likely to get a stomachache, because you didn't restrain your intake. Unrestrained eating soon leads to problems. So what should we do? Eat food which is lighter, with less oil and salt. This is good for you. But when there's a Dharma Assembly and people come from outside, we cannot cook such bland food. We have to prepare delicious vegetarian food which people will like to eat. You cannot say, "The rule at the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is that we only eat food with no oil or salt." The City has no such rule, and I haven't fixed anything. You must act according to the circumstances and people.
When only our own cultivators are here, it's fine to eat bland food with no oil and salt. But when visitors come, they cannot adjust to such a simple lifestyle, and it would be unreasonable to expect them to. This is not to play up to people, but since people from outside are used to tasty food, we cannot tell them to be just like us. So when a Dharma Master came and improved the kitchen's operation, this was very good. He wanted to cook good food to create affinities with others, and cause people to bring forth the resolve for Bodhi after eating. In the past, I also wanted to change some things, but since I did not go to the kitchen, the changes were not made. Now that he's come here and wants to improve the food in the kitchen, this is excellent.
But someone actually said, "We follow the principle of not eating oil and salt here." That was just too stupid. You people in charge of the kitchen should have some wisdom and not be so inflexible, sticking to one path until you run into a dead-end. Someone cane here wanting to do some good, yet you dare tell him this goes against the principle of the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas! But what principles does the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas have? There are basically no principles here at all. You just don't know how to adapt to the situation, and correct your usual mistakes. Accordingly, from now on, our diet should be well-regulated, so everyone will eat well, and then be able to cultivate the Way with vigor.
Also, our practice of sitting at night is basically a joke. People who sit at night do not plan to sleep, or if they do sleep, a little bit is enough. But those of us here probably don't get enough sleep at night, so we doze off during the lecture, doze off while reciting the Buddha's name, and doze even more while meditating. This is not the way of a cultivator. A cultivator is vigorous at all times, always in the spirit to work hard. He isn't so weak-willed and indecisive, just mechanically following others.
This time, for our Precept Ordination, we have invited Dharma Masters from mainland China and Taiwan to conduct the Water-Land-Air Ceremony. The two shores have joined hands in cooperation, for the first time in several decades. This is a bright indication for the future of China. We should now show some concern for our country, and work vigorously and bravely. Don't be so lazy! For the sake of establishing the Way place, we should discipline ourselves, and not hang around to eat and wait for death. You are completely irresponsible, so when the bottle gets knocked over, you don't even bother to pick it up. This is being irresponsible to the permanent dwelling, and to your master as well. Although the master is compassionate, you who are disciples have to fulfill your duty. You can't just follow the crowd: When others get up, I get up; when others do something, I do it too; when others recite the Buddha's name, I just follow along.
For instance, when we went to the front gate to welcome Dharma Masters from the two shores (mainland China and Taiwan), people could tell immediately that our hearts weren't in it. There was no vitality at all, and the sound of our recitation could hardly be heard. We seemed to be half-asleep. The Dharma instruments barely made any sound either. On the way back, the sign shouldn't have been taken down as soon as we passed the gate, as if the affair were finished. Rather, after we pass the gate, the sign should be out front, raised up above our heads on two poles held by two people. It shouldn't be at waist level. It should be raised above our heads, up at the front, announcing that we are welcoming So-and-so or Dharma Master So-and-so, so whoever wants to take a photograph can do so. You people-I really don't know how you can be so foolish, not knowing how to do anything right. Also, why was the sign in the tent welcoming the Dharma Masters from mainland China and Taiwan taken down so soon? There's plenty of room there; it can be hung on any of the four sides, and needn't be in the central position. Why were you in such a rush to take it down? The Ordination follows right after the Water-Land-Air Ceremony, and it's not over yet! Why did you take it down so soon? This shows a lack of intelligence. From what I see, in everything you do you are not even up to kids. The more you do, the more you fall behind.
When we lined up outside, neither men nor the women were organized. We should line up according to height, with tall people standing next to tall people, the short people standing next to short people, and the children standing together, too. But you were all disordered, with tall and short mixed together. So today they called you the soldiers of Buddhism, but you don't understand warfare. Think about the army. I'm sure when they line up the tall ones are together and the short ones are together, and they are very orderly. Although we usually rank ourselves by the number of years we have held the precepts, and by age, when there's a special event like the welcoming party, we have to be really neat, very full of spirit, very energetic, with resonant voices which are neither too high nor too low in pitch. And when you walk to Wonderful Words Hall, every evening, I hear you walking, but your chanting of the Buddha's name fades away to silence. Just what would you say you are doing here? If you aren't even willing to recite the Buddha's name, what are you here for? Just eating till your full, and then being chatterboxes, gossiping about rights and wrongs. I really don't dare to go along with such behavior of yours.
Our clothes should also be clean. Don't go for too long without washing them. Otherwise, no matter whom you approach, he will be repelled by the stench of perspiration you carry, and you end up creating offenses. Therefore, you must first take care of the matters of clothing, food, and dwelling. To cultivate the Way, you must first work on these. If you can't even take care of clothing, food, and dwelling satisfactorily, how can you cultivate the Way? There are both internal and external conditions for cultivating the Way. Externally, you have to wear clothes, eat, and dwell according to the rules. You cannot be so careless and sloppy everyday. If you constantly swing your arms to and fro while wearing a robe, you are violating the awesome deportment. When left-home people walk, they should put both hands in front of the chest. You must not walk as if you had wings flapping back and forth-that's really unattractive. I've seen a lot of shramanerikas who don't even understand this much. When I see them, I feel really disappointed! Since they don't even understand this basic rule, they walk around with their robes sweeping the ground. It's just like someone who used to be here; she walked in circles, like a drunk. While everyone was circumambulating the Buddha, she would always take a few steps left, then a few steps right, never following the rules, always trying to manifest a special style. I heard that a few years ago, a certain person was also criticized for trying to act special, so now he doesn't dare to do that anymore. You should not try to be conspicuous, making circles or staggering left and right when everyone else is walking in a straight line, or dress sloppily, as if you had wings and were about to fly away. I am still being polite. To put it impolitely, you look as if you had a tail.
Time is up. We cannot hold time back, nor tell the sun to stop turning. Everyone should take a moment to think, "What kind of contribution have I made to the Way place? What help have I given?" Living on this land, we should fulfill our share of responsibility, and not just cross our arms and stand on the sidelines. Just see how that Dharma Master pointed out our problems as soon as he got here. He said, "When it's time to eat, everyone shows up. But when the meal is over, everyone disappears." I don't know what burrow you all crawled into. Did you crawl into a mouse hole, or into an ant's nest? I don't know! There's no way t find you. Someone saw our problems as soon as he arrived. So how can we who live here feel at ease? How ugly it is to be living here in such conditions!