Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,039 words

This page describes “the concept of revulsion toward food (ahare pratikula-samjna)” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

V. The concept of revulsion toward food (āhāre pratikūla-saṃjñā)

When one notices that food arises from disgusting causes and conditions (aśubhahetupratyaya), this is the notion of revulsion toward food (āhāre pratikūlasaṃjñā).[1]

Thus, meat (māṃsa) comes from sperm (bīja), blood (śoṇita) and urine (mūtra); it is the seat of pus (pūya) and worms (kṛmi). Ghee (ghṛta), milk (kṣīra) and curdled milk (dadhi), products of a transformation of blood, are nothing but rottenness.

The cook also adds to it his sweat and all kinds of dirt. When food is put into the mouth, the throat (mastaka) secretes disgusting saliva (siṅghāṇaka) that runs down from two channels, joins with the mucus (kheṭa)[2] and then produces flavor (rasa). The food is thus formed like vomit (udara) where it is solidified by the earth [element] (pṛthivī), moistened by the water (ap), stirred by the wind (vāyu) and cooked by the fire (tejas).[3] In the same way, when boiled rice (yavāgū) is cooked in a pot (sthālī), the dirt sinks to the bottom and the clean part stays at the surface. By means of a process similar to wine-brewing, the impurities are changed into excrement (viṣ) and the cleanliness into urine (mūtra).

The kidneys have three orifices.[4] By means of the [internal] wind, the fatty juice spreads throughout the hundred veins (asirā), joins with the blood, coagulates and is changed into flesh (māṃsa).

From this new flesh arise fat (meda), bone (asthi) and marrow (majjam).

From that comes the organ of touch (kāyendriya). From the union of the recent flesh and the new flesh arise the five sense organs (pañcendriya). From the five sense organs arise the five consciousnesses (pañcavijñāna). From the five consciousnesses arises the mental consciousness (manovijñāna) which analyzes and grasps characteristics (nimittāny udgṛhṇāti) and distinguishes the beautiful from the ugly.

Next there arise the ideas of ‘me’ (ātman) and ‘mine’ (ātmīya), negative emotions (kleśa) and bad actions (nigha).

This is how the yogin meditates on food, the first and last causes of which involve many impurities (aśubha). He knows that his internal (ādhyātmika) four great elements (mahābhūta) are not different from the external (bāhya) four great elements, and it is only from the wrong view of the self (ātmadṛṣṭi) that the existence of the ‘I’ is created.

Furthermore, the yogin says to himself: “In order to make this food, somebody has worked very hard; he had to clear the land, plant, hoe, harvest, [231c] beat, grind, wash and cook. For a single bowl of cooked rice (odana), the laborers have combined oceans of sweat (sveda). If they are compared, the food is just a small amount but the sweat [poured forth to make it] is a huge amount. And this food that has required such great labor is nothing but bitter suffering. As soon as it is put into the mouth, it becomes dirt and is worth nothing. In the space of one night, it is changed into excrement and urine. At the beginning, it was a pleasant taste loved by people; changed into dirt, it is a disgusting thing that nobody wants.”

The yogin also says to himself: “If I am attached to this bad food, I will fall into hell (niraya) where I will have to swallow red-hot iron balls (ayoguḍā ādīptāḥ).[5] Having come out of hell, I will become an animal (tiryagyoni), a cow (go), a sheep (eḍaka) or a camel (uṣṭra), and I will be acquitted of my former debt. Or else, I will be a pig (sūkara), a dog (kukkura) and I will always eat excrement.”

Thinking of food in this way engenders the notion of disgust (udvegasaṃjñā) and, by means of this disgust for food, one becomes disgusted with the five objects of enjoyment (pañcakāmaguṇa).

[The brahmin who unwittingly ate disgusting cakes.]

It is the same for the yogin. He is attached to food and drink, is joyful and loves to eat. Seeing the beautiful colors of the food, its softness, its aroma and its taste, he does not think about the impurities (aśubha). Later when he has to undergo the painful retribution (duḥkhavipāka), how great will be his repentance (kaukṛtya)! If he can see the beginning and the end (pūrvāparānta) of food, he produces a mind of disgust (udvegacitta) and, eliminating the desire for food (āhāratṛṣṇā), he rejects the five{GL_NOTE::} objects of enjoyment (pañcakāmaguṇa). Completely detached (virakta) from the happiness of the world of desire (kāmadhātu), he cuts through these five objects and is also free from the five fetters of lower rank (pañcāvarabhāgīyasaṃyojana).[6]

For all these reasons and these disadvantages [of food], the yogin no longer loves it and is no longer attached to it: This is what is called the notion of repugnance toward food (āhāre pratikūlasaṃjñā).

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Anguttara, IV, p. 49: Āhāre paṭikūlasaññaparicitena bhikkuno cetasā bahulaṃ viharato rasataṇhāya cittaṃ paṭīliyati paṭikuṭati paṭivaṭṭati na sampasārīyati, upekkhā vā pāṭikkulyatā vā saṇṭhāti: “When a monk devotes himself deeply to reflection filled with disgust towards food, his mind escapes from desire for flavors, withdraws, shrivels up and is not released; indifference or repugnance is established.”


Salivary secretion influenced by the vegetative nervous system. The parotid or salivary glands are meant here, the excretory channel of which is called the Stenon channel, opening by a distinct orifice on either side (note by Dr. C. Harvengt).


The internal four great elements give the body solidity, liquidity, movement and warmth, respectively.


Rather than kidneys, what is meant here is the bladder which has three orifices, two upper orifices, the ureters which bring in the urine excreted by the kidneys, and a lower orifice, the urethra, by means of which it expels this urine outside at intervals at greater or lesser intervals (note by Dr, C. Harvengt).


Punishment reserved for a particular hell described above, p. 963F and note.


The five fetters favorable to “the lower part”, i.e., to kāmadhātu, either prevent one from leaving of this world or make one return to it. These are belief in the self (satkāyadṛṣṭi), unjustified trust in the efficacy of rituals and vows (śīlavrataparāmarśa), doubt (vicikitsā), love of pleasure (kāmacchanda) and malice (vyāpāda): cf. Dīgha, I, p. 156; II, p. 92, 252; III, p. 234; Majjhima, I, p. 432: Saṃyutta, V, p. 61, 69; Anguttara, IV, p. 459; V, p. 17.

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