Receiving And Eating Food
A whole section1 of the seventy five Sekhiya Training guidelines is concerned with how a bhikkhu receives and eats his alms food. Although table manners may differ from country to country, and from age to age, these Sekhiya rules still largely conform to what is considered good manners:
"I will receive alms food appreciatively."2
"When receiving alms food, I will focus my attention on the bowl."
This explains why the bhikkhu may not look at the donor when accepting food — he is concentrating on properly receiving it.
"I will receive/eat (bean-)curries in the right proportion to the rice."
It is suggested that this was laid down so that bhikkhus on alms round would not pass by people offering plain rice in favor of better quality food. (See EV,I,p.211)
"I will receive alms food only until it reaches the rim of the bowl."
_ However, on festival or special occasions the bhikkhus bowl may be emptied so that everyone who wants to join in offering has the opportunity.3
"I will eat alms food attentively."
When eating alms food, I will look only into the bowl."
This is also why the bhikkhu should not be expected to talk while he is eating, for this will distract his attention.
"I will not cover up curries or other food with rice out of a desire to get more."
If donors think that the monk has only plain rice in his bowl, they may give him some better food.
"When I am not sick, I will not ask for curries or rice for my own benefit."
Other Sekhiya rules seem aimed at bhikkhus eating from their bowl using their fingers in the traditional way of India:4
"I will not make up an overlarge mouthful of food; nor open my mouth until the portion of food has been brought to it; nor put my fingers into my mouth; nor speak with my mouth full.
"I will not eat: stuffing out my cheeks; shaking my hand about; scattering grains of rice about; putting out my tongue; making a champing sound; (or drink) making a sucking sound; licking my hands; scraping the bowl; licking my lips. I will not take hold of a vessel of water with my hand soiled with food."
(Sekhiya Section; see End Note 75.)
See BMC pages 495-504. The following translations are based on this. Breaking a Sekhiya is usually considered an offence of wrong doing.2.
"This rule teaches bhikkhus to show their appreciation of the donors, for they should not look down on them, while they should show their appreciation of the food given to them. They should not behave in such a way (as to suggest that) they are accepting it to play with it or throw it away later." (EV,I,p.210)3.
When the Buddhist Community comes together to celebrate a festival day, it can show its harmony and common purpose through the alms round. The bhikkhu carries the bowl of the Buddha and all the lay people, young and old, join in putting a token amount of rice or food into the bowl. The abundant food is usually afterwards shared out among everyone present.4.
Nowadays, bhikkhus often use plates and cutlery. However, forest bhikkhus will usually keep to the old traditions — which is also part of the dhuta"nga practices. The practice of eating out of the bowl using ones fingers is still found in Sri Lanka.