by Davee Evans
Toooo many holiday gatherings: Thanksgiving to the New Year is a non-stop eating marathon and I’m the one getting stuffed. Perhaps the short days and imposing, cold air inspires richness. Prolific holiday music isn’t cutting the gloom for me quite like eating through it.
But as a good Buddhist, should I be abstaining from all this wonderful gluttony?
I’m not sure the Buddha specifically mentions holiday parties in the Vinaya. Later Buddhist communities definitely got in the spirit with grande feast celebrations like Obon and Vesak, and the Vajrayana traditions in India started feasting monthly even.
Reggie Ray in his book Secret of the Vajra World explains those monthly feasts as a practice of seeing the world as sacred, meaning as brilliant, pure, and filled with wisdom. But he goes into more depth on how one should approach all of the richness in feasts:
This enjoyment of life is, of course, quite different from the samsaric practice of attempting to use pleasure to comfort, fortify and satisfy the ego and to ward off discomfort and pain. The Vajrayana notion is “to take, but not take in.”
I think that notion is pretty much in all the modern Buddhist contemplative paths though, not just Vajrayana, to take but not take in. I hear that same approach whenever someone discusses experiencing what arises in meditation and letting it be. Renouncing it completely would feel more like pushing away or stuffing or trying to avoid thoughts and emotions in meditation. But no one does that. Dr. Ray goes on to say:
It is like enjoying the full pleasure of a gourmet dinner, the arrangement of the table, the disposition of the meal on the plate, the delicate and tantalizing aromas of the food, and the delectable tastes in one’s mouth. The only part left out is the actual swallowing, the glutting of oneself and stuffing one’s belly, and the anesthesia that comes with consumption. Through “taking but not taking in,” one’s intelligence and sensitivity are never dulled, but — for all the ego hunger that is never satisfied — actually heightened and refined.*
Perhaps eating my way through the cold and dark isn’t quite the same approach. Happy holidays and may your festivities be fulfilling!
(*page 227. Photo above by Galant)