Four: The Food Chapter

Many of the rules in this chapter classify food into two groups: bhojana/bhojaniya (consumables) and khādaniya (chewables). Scholars usually translate the two as “softer food” and “harder food,” although the hardness or softness of a particular food has little to do with the category it belongs to. A translation closer to the essence of each category would be “staple food” and “non-staple food.” The distinction between the two is important, for it is often the deciding factor between what is and is not an offense. Note, however, that the term staple here covers only what was considered staple in the time of the Buddha. Bread, pasta, and potatoes, which are staples in the West, were not always staples in India at that time and so do not always fit into this category.

Staple foods

Staple foods are consistently defined as five sorts of foods, although the precise definitions of the first two are a matter of controversy.

1) Cooked grains: The Commentary to Pc 35 defines this as seven types of cooked grain, but there is disagreement on the identity of some of the seven. They are sāḷi (BD translates this as rice; the Thais, wheat); vīhi (BD again has rice, and the Thais agree); yava (BD has barley; the Thais, glutinous rice); godhūma (BD has wheat; the Thais, tares); kaṅgu (both BD and the Thais identify this as millet or sorghum); varaka (BD doesn’t identify this beyond saying that it is a bean; the Thais are probably right in identifying it as Job’s tears); and kudrūsaka (the Commentary defines this term as covering all forms of grain coming from grass—rye would be an example in the West). Whatever the precise definitions of these terms, though, we could argue from the Great Standards that any grain cooked as a staple—including corn (maize) and oats—would fit into this category.

2) Kummāsa: The Commentary describes this as a staple confection made out of yava but doesn’t give any further details aside from saying that if the kummāsa is made out of any of the other grains or mung beans, it doesn’t count as a staple food. References to kummāsa in the Canon show that it was a very common staple that could form a rudimentary meal in and of itself and would spoil if left overnight.

3) Sattu: any of the seven types of grain dried or roasted and pounded into meal.

4) Fish: the flesh of any animal living in the water.

5) Meat: the flesh of any animal living on land, except for that which is unallowable. Because the Commentary, in discussing unallowable meat, uses the word meat to cover all parts of an animal’s body, the same convention would apply to allowable meat (and to fish) as well. Thus it covers the liver, kidneys, eggs, etc., of any animal whose flesh is allowable.

The Mahāvagga (Mv.VI.23.9-15) forbids ten kinds of flesh: that of human beings, elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, lions, tigers, leopards, bears, and hyenas. To eat human flesh entails a thullaccaya; to eat any of the other unallowable types, a dukkaṭa. Human beings, horses, and elephants were regarded as too noble to be used as food. The other types of meat were forbidden either on grounds that they were repulsive (“People criticized and complained and spread it about, ‘How can these Sakyan-son monks eat dog meat? Dogs are loathsome, disgusting’”) or dangerous (bhikkhus, smelling of lion’s flesh, went into the jungle; the lions there, instead of criticizing or complaining, attacked them).

The Commentary adds three comments here: (a) These prohibitions cover not only the meat of these animals but also their blood, bones, skin, and hide (the layer of tissue just under the skin—see AN 4:113). (b) The prohibition against dog flesh does not include wild dogs, such as wolves and foxes, (but many teachers—including the Thai translator of the Commentary—question this point). The flesh of a half-dog half-wolf mixture, however, would be forbidden. (c) The prohibition against snake flesh covers the flesh of all long, footless beings. Thus eels would not be allowed. (Many Communities question this last point as well.)

Mv.VI.23.9 also states that if a bhikkhu is uncertain as to the identity of any meat presented to him, he incurs a dukkaṭa if he doesn’t ask the donor what it is before eating it. The Commentary interprets this as meaning that if, on reflection, one recognizes what kind of meat it is, one needn’t ask the donor about the identity of the meat. If one doesn’t recognize it, one must ask. If one mistakenly identifies an unallowable sort of meat as allowable and then goes ahead and consumes it under that mistaken assumption, there is no offense.

Raw flesh and blood are allowed at Mv.VI.10.2 only when one is possessed by non-human beings. Thus, in more ordinary circumstances, one may not eat raw fish or meat even if of an allowable kind. This would include such things as steak tartare, sashimi, oysters on the half-shell, raw eggs, and caviar. Furthermore, even cooked fish or meat of an allowable kind is unallowable if the bhikkhu sees, hears, or suspects that the animal was killed specifically for the purpose of feeding bhikkhus (Mv.VI.31.14).

Non-staple foods

Non-staple foods are defined according to context:

a) in Pc 35-38: every edible aside from staple foods, juice drinks, the five tonics, and medicines (see below);

b) in Pc 40: every edible aside from staple foods, water, and toothwood;

c) in Pc 41 (also the bhikkhunīs’ Pc 44 & 54): every edible aside from staple foods, the five tonics, juice drinks, medicine, and conjey.

The Commentary to Pc 37 lists the following items as non-staple foods: flour and confections made of flour (cakes, bread and pasta made without eggs would be classed here); also, roots, tubers (this would include potatoes), lotus roots, sprouts, stems, bark, leaves, flowers, fruits, nuts, seed-meal, seeds, and resins that are made into food. Any of these items ordinarily used as medicines, though, would not be classed as a non-staple food.

The Commentary also acknowledges that some societies use roots, tubers, confections made out of flour, etc., as staple foods, but it nowhere suggests that the definition of staple food be altered to fit the society in which one is living. However—because eggs come under meat—any bread, pastries, noodles, and pasta made with eggs are staple foods. Thus in the West we are left with a somewhat zigzag line separating what are and are not staple foods for the purposes of the rules: Meal pounded from grain is a staple; flour ground from grain is not. Bread made with oat meal, corn meal, wheat germ, etc., would thus be a staple; bread made without any grain meal or eggs would not. The same holds true for pastries, noodles, and pasta.

This means that it would be possible for a donor to provide bhikkhus with a full, strictly vegetarian meal that would include absolutely no staple foods. A wise policy in such a case, though, would be to treat the meal as if it did contain staple foods with reference to the rules (Pc 33 & 35) that aim at saving face for the donor.

Conjey, the watery rice porridge or gruel commonly drunk before alms round in the time of the Buddha, is classed differently according to context. If it is so thick that it cannot be drunk and must be eaten with a spoon, it is regarded as a staple food at Mv.VI.25.7 and under Pc 33. “Drinking conjey” is classed as a non-staple food under Pc 35-38 & 40, whereas it is considered neither a staple nor a non-staple food under Pc 41. The Commentary notes, though, that if drinking conjey has bits of meat or fish “larger than lettuce seeds” floating in it, it is a staple food.

Mv.VI.34.21 contains an allowance for the five products of the cow: milk, curds, buttermilk, butter, and ghee. The Commentary mentions that each of these five may be taken separately—i.e., the allowance does not mean that all five must be taken together. Milk and curds are classed as “finer staple foods” under Pc 39, but in other contexts they fit under the definition of non-staple food. All other dairy products—except for fresh butter and ghee when used as tonics (see NP 23)—are non-staple foods.

One of the ten disputed points that led to the convening of the Second Council was the issue of whether thin sour milk—milk that has passed the state of being milk but not yet arrived at the state of being buttermilk—would count inside or outside the general category of staple/non-staple food under Pc 35. The decision of the Council was that it was inside the category, and thus a bhikkhu who has turned down an offer of further food would commit the offense under that rule if he later in the morning consumed thin sour milk that was not left over.

In addition to staple and non-staple foods, the Vibhaṅga to the rules in this chapter mentions three other classes of edibles: juice drinks, the five tonics, and medicines.

Juice drinks

Juice drinks include the freshly squeezed juice of sugar cane, water lily root, all fruits except grain, all leaves except cooked greens, and all flowers except licorice (Mv.VI.35.6). The way the allowance for juice drinks is phrased—fruits, leaves, and flowers are mentioned as a class, whereas canes and roots are not—suggests that the Great Standards should not be used to extend the allowance for sugar cane juice and water lily root juice to include the juice from other canes or roots.

According to the Commentary, the juice must be strained and may be warmed by sunlight but not heated over a fire. What category boiled juice would fit under, the Commentary does not say. As we noted under NP 23, the Vinaya-mukha—arguing from the parallel between sugar cane juice, which is a juice drink, and sugar, which is made by boiling sugar cane juice—maintains that boiled juice would fit under sugar in the five tonics. This opinion, however, is not accepted in all Communities. In those that do accept it, pasteurized juice, juice concentrates, and juice made from concentrate would come under sugar.

In discussing the Great Standards, the Commentary says that grain is a “great fruit,” and thus the juice of any one of nine large fruits—palmyra fruit, coconut, jackfruit, breadfruit, bottle gourd, white gourd, muskmelon, watermelon, and squash—would fall under the same class as the juice of grain: i.e., as a non-staple food and not a juice drink. From this judgment, many Communities infer that the juice of any large fruit, such as pineapple or grapefruit, would also be classed as a non-staple food. However, not all Communities follow the Commentary on this point, as the allowance for juice-drinks states specifically that the juice of all fruits is allowed except for that of grain.

According to the Commentary, allowable leaf-juice drinks include juice squeezed from leaves that are considered food—such as lettuce, spinach, or beet greens—as well as from leaves that are classed as medicines. Health drinks such as wheat grass juice would thus be allowable. Leaf-juice may be mixed with cold water and/or warmed in the sunlight. The prohibition against consuming the juice from cooked vegetables in the afternoon covers all cooked leaves that are considered food, as well as any medicinal leaves cooked in liquids that are classed as food, such as milk. Medicinal leaves cooked in pure water retain their classification as lifetime medicines.

The Commentary’s discussion of flower juice drinks allowable and unallowable for the afternoon shows that licorice flower juice was used to make alcohol, which is why the Canon doesn’t include it as allowable in this class. The Commentary extends this prohibition to cover any kind of flower juice prepared in such a way that it will become alcoholic. The Commentary goes on to say, though, that licorice flower juice and other flower juices not prepared so that they will become toddy are allowable in the morning.

The Commentary notes further that if a bhikkhu himself makes any of the juice drinks, he may consume it only before noon. If the juice is made by a non-bhikkhu and formally offered before noon, one may “also” drink it with food before noon—the “also” here implying that the original allowance, that one may drink it without food after noon and before dawnrise, still holds. If the juice is made by a non-bhikkhu and formally offered after noon, one may drink it without food until the following dawnrise. The allowance for mango juice drink covers juice made either from ripe or from unripe mangoes. To make unripe mango juice, it recommends that the mango be cut or broken into small pieces, placed in water, heated in sunlight, and then strained, adding honey, sugar, and/or camphor as desired. Juice made from Bassia pierrei must be diluted with water, as the undiluted juice of this fruit is too thick.

The five tonics

The five tonics are discussed in detail under NP 23.


According to the Mahāvagga (VI.3.1-8), any items in the six following categories that, by themselves, are not used as staple or non-staple food are medicines: roots, astringent decoctions, leaves, fruits, resins, and salts. For example, under fruits: Oranges and apples are not medicines, but pepper, nutmeg, and cardamom are. Most modern medicines would fit under the category of salts. Using the Great Standards, we can say that any edible that is used as a medicine but does not fit under the categories of staple or non-staple food, juice drinks, or the five tonics, would fit here. (For a full discussion of medicines, see BMC2, Chapter 5.)

Keeping and consuming

Each of the four basic classes of edibles—food, juice drinks, the five tonics, and medicines—has its “life span,” the period during which it may be kept and consumed. Food may be kept and consumed until noon of the day it is received; juice drinks, until dawnrise of the following day; the five tonics, until dawnrise of the seventh day after they are received; and medicines, for the remainder of one’s life.

Mixed foods

Edibles made from mixed ingredients that have different life spans—e.g., salted beef, honeyed cough syrup, sugared orange juice—have the same life span as the ingredient with the shortest life span. Thus salted beef is treated as beef, honeyed cough syrup as honey, and sugared orange juice as orange juice (Mv.VI.40.3). According to the Commentary, mixing here means thorough intermingling. Thus, it says, if fruit juice has a whole, unhusked coconut floating in it, the coconut may be removed, and the juice is all right to drink until the following dawnrise. If butter is placed on top of rice porridge, the part of the butter that hasn’t melted into the rice may be kept and eaten for seven days. If items with different life spans are all presented at the same time, they maintain their separate life spans as long as they don’t interpenetrate one another. Not all Communities, however, follow the Commentary on this point.

Mv.VI.40.3, the passage underlying these rulings, can be translated as follows (replacing the formal terms for categories of food with the primary examples of each category):

“Juice-mixed-with-food, when received that day, is allowable during the right time and not allowable at the wrong time. A tonic-mixed-with-food, when received that day, is allowable during the right time and not allowable at the wrong time. Medicine-mixed-with-food, when received that day, is allowable during the right time and not allowable at the wrong time. A tonic-mixed-with-juice, when received that day, is allowable through the watches of the night and not allowable when the watches of the night have past. Medicine-mixed-with-juice, when received that day, is allowable through the watches of the night and not allowable when the watches of the night have past. Medicine-mixed-with-a-tonic, when received, is allowable for seven days and not allowable when seven days have past.”

Translated in this way, the passage covers foods that are already mixed when presented to a bhikkhu. One of the general issues that led to the convening of the Second Council, however, concerned how to treat cases where foods received separately are then mixed by a bhikkhu. The specific issue presented to the Council was that of bhikkhus who kept a horn filled with salt so that they could add salt to bland foods. The Council’s verdict was that in doing so, the bhikkhus incurred a pācittiya under Pc 38. The Vibhaṅga to that rule, however, gives a dukkaṭa for using, as food, life-long medicine that has been stored overnight, and salt is a life-long medicine. Thus the elders at the Council seem to have reasoned that if the salt has been mixed in with food, the mixture as a whole counts as food accepted when the first ingredient (the salt) was accepted: thus the pācittiya, rather than the dukkaṭa, under Pc 38. This principle is nowhere expressly stated in the texts, but is in some places taught as an oral tradition.

The Commentary, in treating the issue of foods mixed by a bhikkhu, translates Mv.VI.40.3 as follows:

“Juice received that day, when mixed with food, is allowable during the right time and not allowable at the wrong time. A tonic received that day, when mixed with food, is allowable during the right time and not allowable at the wrong time. Medicine received that day, when mixed with food, is allowable during the right time and not allowable at the wrong time. A tonic received that day, when mixed with juice, is allowable through the watches of the night and not allowable when the watches of the night have past. Medicine received that day, when mixed with juice, is allowable through the watches of the night and not allowable when the watches of the night have past. Medicine received, when mixed with a tonic, is allowable for seven days and not allowable when seven days have past.”

The question the Commentary then raises is, “Why is the word ‘that day’ (tadahu) omitted from the last case?” Its answer is that there is no limit on when the medicine has to be received for it to be properly mixed with a tonic received today. In other words, it could have been received any number of days before the tonic was received. If it is mixed with the tonic on the first day of the tonic’s life span, the mixture as a whole has a seven-day life span. If mixed with the tonic on the second day of the tonic’s life, the mixture has a six-day life span, and so forth. The Commentary’s translation of this passage may strain standard Pali syntax, but it is grammatically correct and is the only way of deriving from Mv.VI.40.3 a general principle to cover the issue of foods received separately that are then mixed by a bhikkhu. Thus the principle has been generally accepted that tonics and medicines, such as sugar and salt, received today may be eaten mixed with food or juice drinks received today, but not with food or juice drinks received on a later day. Medicine, such as salt, tea, or cocoa, received at any time may be eaten mixed with any of the five tonics on any day of the tonic’s life span.

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A bhikkhu who is not ill may eat one meal at a public alms center. Should he eat more than that, it is to be confessed.

“Now at that time a certain guild had prepared food at a public alms center not far from Sāvatthī. Some group-of-six bhikkhus, dressing early in the morning, taking their bowls and (outer) robes, entered Sāvatthī for alms but, after not getting any almsfood, went to the public alms center. The people there said, ‘At long last your reverences have come,’ and respectfully waited on them. Then on the second day… the third day, the group-of-six bhikkhus… entered Sāvatthī for alms but, after not getting any almsfood went to the public alms center and ate. The thought occurred to them, ‘What’s the use of our going back to the monastery? (§) Tomorrow we’ll have to come right back here.’

“So staying on and on right there, they ate the food of the public alms center. The members of other religions fled the place. People criticized and complained and spread it about: ‘How can these Sakyan-son monks stay on and on, eating the food of the public alms center? The food at the public alms center isn’t prepared just for them; it’s prepared for absolutely everybody.’”

A public alms center is a place—in a building, under the shade of a tree, or in the open air—where all comers are offered as much food as they want, free of charge. Soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless, if run in this way, would fit under this rule. A meal is defined as one that includes any of the five staple foods. Not ill in this rule is defined as being able to leave the alms center.

The origin story seems to indicate that this rule is directed against staying on and eating day after day in the alms center. The Commentary, though, maintains that it forbids eating in the center two days running, without making any mention of whether the bhikkhu stays on at the center or not. To eat one day in a center belonging to one family (or group) and the next day in a center belonging to another group, it says, entails no penalty. However, if—after one’s first meal there—a center has to close down for a period of time for lack of food and then later reopens, one should not eat there the first day of its reopening.

According to the Vibhaṅga, a bhikkhu incurs a dukkaṭa for accepting, with the intention of eating it, any food that falls under the conditions specified by this rule, and a pācittiya for every mouthful he eats.

Perception as to whether one is actually ill is not a mitigating factor here (see Pc 4.)


According to the Vibhaṅga, there is no offense in taking a meal on the second day—

if one is invited by the proprietors;

if one is ill;

if the food is specifically intended for bhikkhus (§); or

if the center determines the amount of food the recipients may take, rather than allowing them to take as much as they want (§). The reason for this allowance is that if the owners of the center were unhappy with having a bhikkhu eat there, they could give him very little or nothing at all.

The Vibhaṅga also states that, “everything aside from the five staple foods is a non-offense.” None of the texts discuss this point, but this apparently refers both to the first and to the subsequent meal. In other words, if a bhikkhu consumed no staple foods at his first meal, then there would be no penalty in accepting and eating any of the five staple foods in the subsequent meal. But if he did consume any staple foods at his first meal, then at the subsequent meal he would have to refrain from eating staple foods if he wanted to avoid an offense.

Also, there is no offense in taking a second meal when “coming or going,” which in the context of the origin story seems to mean that one may take a second meal if one simply leaves the center and then comes back. The Commentary, though, interprets this phrase as meaning “coming or going on a journey,” and even here it says a meal should not be taken from the center two days running unless there are dangers, such as floods or robbers, that prevent one from continuing on one’s way.

Summary: Eating food obtained from the same public alms center two days running—without leaving in the interim—unless one is too ill to leave the center, is a pācittiya offense.

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A group meal, except at the proper occasions, is to be confessed. Here the proper occasions are these: a time of illness, a time of giving cloth, a time of making robes, a time of going on a journey, a time of embarking on a boat, a great occasion, a time when the meal is supplied by monks. These are the proper occasions here.

This is a rule dating from Devadatta’s efforts to create a schism in the Saṅgha.

“Now at that time Devadatta, his gain and offerings diminished, ate his meals with his following having asked and asked for them among households. (Here the Commentary elaborates: ‘Thinking, “Don’t let my group fall apart,” he provided for his following by eating his meals among households together with his following, having asked for them thus: “You give food to one bhikkhu. You give food to two.”’) People criticized and complained and spread it about: ‘How can these Sakyan-son monks eat their meals having asked and asked for them among households? Who isn’t fond of well-prepared things? Who doesn’t like sweet things?’”

Group meals

The Vibhaṅga defines a group meal as one consisting of any of the five types of staple foods to which four or more bhikkhus are invited. Pv.VI.2 adds that this rule covers any group meal that the donor offers at his/her own initiative, as well as any that results from a bhikkhu’s requesting it.

In the early days of the Buddha’s career, donors who wished to invite bhikkhus to their homes for a meal would invite an entire Community. Later, as Communities grew in size and there were times of scarcity in which donors were unable to invite entire Communities (Cv.VI.21.1), the Buddha allowed:

1) designated meals, at which a certain number of bhikkhus were to be served. The donors would ask the Community official in charge of meal distribution—the meal designator (bhattuddesaka)—to designate so-and-so many bhikkhus “from the Community” to receive their meals. Bhikkhus would be sent on a rotating basis to these meals as they occurred.

2) invitational meals, to which specific bhikkhus were invited;

3) lottery meals, for which the bhikkhus receiving the meals were to be chosen by lot; and

4) periodic meals, i.e., meals offered at regular intervals, such as every day or every uposatha day, to which bhikkhus were to be sent on a rotating basis, as with designated meals. The meal designator was to supervise the drawing of lots and keep track of the various rotating schedules. (The explanations of these various types of meal come partly from the Commentary. For a fuller explanation, see Appendix III.)

The non-offense clauses to this rule state that in addition to the exceptions mentioned in the rule, which we will discuss below, this rule does not apply to lottery meals or periodic meals. The Commentary concludes from this—and on the surface it seems reasonable enough—that the rule thus applies to meals to which the entire Community is invited and to invitational meals. (Buddhaghosa reports that there was disagreement among Vinaya authorities as to whether it applies to designated meals—more on this point below.)

The Commentary’s conclusion, though, creates a problem when lay people want to invite Communities of more than three bhikkhus to their homes for a meal. Perhaps this problem is what induced the Commentary to interpret the Vibhaṅga’s definition of a group meal as meaning one in which the invitations specifically mention the word meal or food, or the type of meal or food to be served. (“Come to my house for breakfast tomorrow.” “I know you don’t often get a chance to eat Indian food, so I’m inviting you all over for chappatties and curry.”) This interpretation has led to the custom of phrasing invitations to eat “in the morning” or to eat “before noon,” so that groups of four or more bhikkhus may be invited without breaking this rule.

The Buddha’s purposes for establishing this rule, though, are listed at Cv.VII.3.13 as follows: “For the restraint of evil-minded individuals, for the comfort of well-behaved bhikkhus, so that those with evil desires will not split the Community by (forming) a faction, and out of compassion for families.”

The Commentary’s definition of group meal accomplishes none of these purposes: The custom of phrasing invitations to avoid the word meal or food does nothing to restrain evil-minded individuals, etc., and it actually creates trouble for lay people who do not know the custom, a point well-illustrated by the Commentary itself in an entertaining section on how to deal with a person whose invitation contains the word meal. After getting the run-around from the meal designator—who apparently was not allowed to tell him in any straightforward way how to phrase his invitation and so gave him a long series of hints—the poor man returns to his friends and makes a cryptic statement that the A/Sub-commentary translates as: “There are a lot of words that have to be spoken in this business of making an invitation. What’s the use of them all?”

Two other arguments against the Commentary’s interpretation are:

1) The Vibhaṅga’s definition of invited in this rule is repeated word-for-word under Pc 33 & 46. If the factor of mentioning “food” or “meal,” etc., is necessary for there to be an offense under this rule, it would have to be necessary under those rules as well, a proposal that makes no sense in their context and that no one has ever suggested.

2) In the origin stories of two of the reformulations of the rule, bhikkhus refuse invitations on the grounds that they would break the rule against a group meal, and yet the invitations make no mention of “food” or “meal.”

An alternative interpretation

To find an alternative to the Commentary’s explanation, we have to go back to the origin stories leading to the reformulations of the rule, where we find an interesting point: The invitations rejected by scrupulous bhikkhus on the grounds that they would break the rule all deal with “invitational” meals. In one of them, a naked ascetic invites a group of bhikkhus to an invitational meal and is rejected on the grounds that it would constitute a group meal. He then goes to the Buddha and—after complaining that he should not be subjected to such treatment—rephrases the invitation, this time inviting the entire Community. This suggests that he felt an invitation of this sort would not constitute a group meal.

His reasoning has its grounds in the Vinaya itself: Throughout the Vibhaṅga and Khandhakas, the word group is used to refer to any set of bhikkhus not forming a complete Community and yet acting as an independent unit. This may be why the category of Community meal was not mentioned in the non-offense clauses: The arrangers of the Vibhaṅga may have felt that no mention was necessary, in that the term group meal automatically excluded Community meals.

Similar considerations suggest that designated meals may also be exempted from this rule even though they are not mentioned in the non-offense clauses. Invitations to such meals were customarily worded as requests for so-and-so many bhikkhus “from the Community,” and thus—as a type of Community meal—they would by definition not be invitations to a “group” meal.

Because invitations to lottery meals and periodic meals did not customarily make reference to the Community, the Vibhaṅga arrangers did have to make mention of those types of meals in order to exempt them.

We are left with a rule that applies exclusively to invitations to specific groups—not Communities—of four or more bhikkhus regardless of whether the invitation mentions the word “food” or “meal.”

The rule in this form has the virtue of fulfilling the express purposes mentioned for it in Cv.VII.3.13: It would prevent evil-minded bhikkhus and lay people from trying to exert influence over specific groups in the Community by arranging meals especially for them; and in the same way, it would prevent people with evil desires from creating a split in the Community. (Because the smallest faction that can create a split in the Community is four bhikkhus, the maximum number allowed at a group meal is three.)

The rule in this form would also contribute to the comfort of well-behaved bhikkhus in that invitations to meals would not be preempted by factions; and it would protect lay families from being prey to the maneuverings of bhikkhus who would pressure them repeatedly into providing meals as part of their strategy to create and maintain such factions. (Anyone who has lived in a traditional Buddhist country knows only too well the influence of sweet-talking bhikkhus over unsuspecting or low-minded lay people. This sort of thing neither started nor ended with Devadatta.)

Because Community meals and designated meals would not form an opening for such machinations, there would be no reason to limit them to groups of three if lay people want to invite groups larger than that. One objection to exempting Community meals from this rule is that a meal for the entire Community would be more burdensome than a meal for a smaller group, but that is what designated meals are for. A donor willing and able to provide a meal for an entire Community is welcome but not required to do so. A donor willing but not able may simply ask to provide a meal for x-number of bhikkhus from the Community, leaving it up to the meal designator to designate which bhikkhus will go for the meal, with no danger of creating a faction.

Thus the point at issue is not whether the invitation makes mention of food or meals, but whether it specifies the individual bhikkhus to be invited. If it specifies more than three individual bhikkhus—either naming them outright or saying such things as “Ven. X and four of his friends,” or “The five of you,” etc.—the meal would count as a group meal.

Perception as to whether food actually constitutes a group meal is not a mitigating factor (see Pc 4).


The Vibhaṅga states that, aside from the allowable times, there is a dukkaṭa for accepting—with the thought of eating it—food that would qualify as a group meal, and a pācittiya for every mouthful eaten. Whether the bhikkhus accepting the food actually eat together is not an issue. If they receive their food at the same invitation to a group meal but then split up and eat it separately, they still incur the full penalty.


The Vibhaṅga defines the proper occasions mentioned in the rule—during which bhikkhus may eat a group meal without committing an offense—as follows:

A time of giving cloth is the “robe season.”

A time of making robes is any time the bhikkhus are making robes.

A time of journeying is any time the bhikkhus are about to go, are going, or have just returned from a journey of at least half a yojana (about five miles, or eight kilometers).

A time of embarking on a boat is any time the bhikkhus are about to embark, are embarking, or are disembarking from a boat. No minimum distance for the boat journey is specified.

A time of illness is, in its minimal terms, a time when the bhikkhus’ feet are split (and they cannot go for alms).

A great occasion is one in which there are so many bhikkhus in proportion to the donors giving alms that three bhikkhus going for alms can obtain enough food to support themselves, but not enough to support a fourth.

A meal supplied by monks is one provided by a person who has taken on the state of religious wanderer. This the Commentary explains as meaning not only those ordained in other religions, but also one’s own co-religionists (bhikkhus, bhikkhunīs, and novices) as well; the Vibhaṅga’s definition of “one who has taken on the state of religious wanderer” under Pc 41 suggests that the Commentary is correct. This exemption, as its origin story makes clear, was formulated to promote good relations between bhikkhus and members of other religions, but it also means that a bhikkhu, from his own resources, can provide food for a group of his friends without incurring an offense. Although this exemption could thus open the door for wealthy bhikkhus to attract factions, as long as they are not getting their funds from lay donors, they would be placing no burden on the laity, which seems to be the most important of the purposes for this rule.

Aside from the proper occasions, there is no offense—

if groups of three or less eat a meal to which they have been specifically invited;

if the meal to which a group of four or more is invited does not include any of the five staple foods; or

if bhikkhus, having walked separately for alms, eat assembled as a group.

No mention is made of whether bhikkhus can go for alms in groups of four or more, as is the custom at present in the rural areas of many Buddhist countries. From the various stories of bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs on alms round that appear in the Canon, it seems that the custom was for them to go individually. Pc 42 mentions bhikkhus going for alms as a pair, but the Vibhaṅga notes that they might receive less food that way than when going individually. Apparently, going as a group would not have made much sense in their cultural context.

As mentioned above, the Vibhaṅga also states that there is no offense for groups of any number eating periodic meals or lottery meals; and as we have already stated, our interpretation would explicitly extend this exemption to cover Community and designated meals as well.

Summary: Eating a meal to which four or more individual bhikkhus have been specifically invited—except on special occasions—is a pācittiya offense.

*    *    *


An out-of-turn meal, except at the proper occasions, is to be confessed. Here the proper occasions are these: a time of illness, a time of giving cloth, a time of making robes. These are the proper occasions here.

“Now at that time a meal-series of exquisite meals had been arranged in Vesālī. The thought occurred to a certain poor laborer: ‘The way these people respectfully present meals suggests that it’s not a minor thing at all. What if I were to present a meal?’ So he went to his supervisor (§) and said, ‘Young master, I want to present a meal for the Community of bhikkhus with the Buddha at its head. Please give me my wage.’ Now that supervisor also had faith and confidence in the Buddha, so he gave the laborer more than his wage.

“Then the laborer went to the Blessed One, bowed down to him, sat down to one side, and said, ‘Venerable sir, may the Blessed One together with the Community of bhikkhus acquiesce to a meal with me tomorrow.’

“‘You should know, friend, that the Community of bhikkhus is large.’

“‘Let it be large, venerable sir. I have prepared plenty of jujube fruits. The masters (§) will fill themselves even with the jujube hash.’

“So the Blessed One acquiesced by becoming silent…. The bhikkhus heard, ‘…The masters will fill themselves even with the jujube hash,’ so right before the time of the meal they went for alms and ate. People heard, ‘They say that the poor laborer has invited the Community of bhikkhus with the Buddha at its head,’ so they took a great deal of staple and non-staple foods to the laborer…. (When the time came for the meal) the Blessed One went to the poor laborer’s house… and sat on a seat made ready, together with the Community of bhikkhus. Then the poor laborer served the bhikkhus in the meal-hall. The bhikkhus said, ‘Give just a little, friend. Give just a little.’

“‘Don’t take so little, venerable sirs, thinking that I’m just a poor laborer. I’ve prepared plenty of staple and non-staple food. Take as much as you want.’

“‘That’s not the reason why we’re taking so little, friend. It’s simply that we went for alms and ate just before the time for the meal: That’s why we’re taking so little.‘

“So the poor laborer criticized and complained and spread it about: ‘How can their reverences eat elsewhere when they were invited by me? Am I not capable of giving them as much as they want?’”


The term out-of-turn meal covers two sorts of situations: A bhikkhu has been invited to a meal consisting of any of the five staple foods but then either (1) goes elsewhere and eats another meal consisting of any of the five staple foods at the same time as the meal to which he was originally invited; or (2) eats a staple food prior to going to the meal, as in the origin story.

Perception as to whether food actually constitutes an out-of-turn meal is not a mitigating factor (see Pc 4).


The Vibhaṅga states that there is a dukkaṭa for accepting—with the thought of eating it—food that will constitute an out-of-turn meal, and a pācittiya for every mouthful eaten.

Proper times

The special occasions when one may accept and eat an out-of-turn meal are defined as follows:

 A time of illness is when one is unable to eat enough at one sitting and so has to eat two or more times in a morning.

The times of giving cloth and making robes are defined as in the preceding rule. The reason for exempting them is that in the days of the Buddha, cloth and thread were hard to come by, and donors who wanted to offer them usually did so in conjunction with a meal. If these exemptions were not made, a bhikkhu making a robe, having already been invited to one meal, could not go to another meal beforehand to receive the cloth or thread offered there.

There is reason to believe that these three exemptions apply to out-of-turn meals of the type mentioned in the origin story: i.e., a bhikkhu is allowed in these cases to go to another meal before attending the meal to which he was originally invited.

Sharing invitations

As for the sort of out-of-turn meal where a bhikkhu invited to one meal goes to another meal instead, the Buddha in a story ancillary to this rule gives permission to share invitations: If a bhikkhu has received an invitation, he may give it to another bhikkhu or novice by saying, “I give my expectation of a meal to so-and-so.” He is then allowed to eat elsewhere.

The Commentary regards the act of sharing as a mere formality: One may even make the statement outside of the other bhikkhu’s presence without his knowing anything about it. This, though, is very unlikely to satisfy the original donor. The wise policy in this case would be to make the statement in the presence of the other bhikkhu—“I give my expectation of a meal to you”—making reasonably sure that he is willing and able to go.

The Vinaya-mukha adds, though, that if the donors of the meal have specifically invited one to a meal—i.e., one is going to an invitational meal rather than a designated meal (see Pc 32)—it would be bad manners to share the invitation without making an agreement with the donors first.


In addition to mentioning the “proper times” during which one may eat an out-of-turn meal, the non-offense clauses state that there is no penalty for a bhikkhu who, on receiving an invitation, states, “I will go for alms.” This statement the Commentary explains as a refusal, and interprets the allowance as meaning that if a bhikkhu refuses an invitation, he is still allowed to eat another meal at the time for which the invitation was made. If the Vibhaṅga arrangers did mean this statement to be a refusal, though, it is probably for the sake of those bhikkhus who hold to the dhutaṅga vow of going for alms and not accepting invitations. If a bhikkhu who does not hold to such a vow refuses an invitation for a time for which he has no prior commitment, it is considered very bad manners. And if he were later to accept an invitation for a meal served at the same time as the meal he earlier refused, it would be extremely bad manners.

An alternative explanation for the statement, “I will go for alms,” is that there is no offense if the bhikkhu lets the donor know beforehand that he will go for alms before the meal: He can have his alms meal first and then go to receive the meal offered by the donor. This would make room for the custom common in village monasteries throughout Theravādin countries, where invitations are usually for the late-morning meal, and bhikkhus are expected to have an early-morning alms meal before that. (If this interpretation does not hold, most village bhikkhus would then probably claim a perpetual “time of illness” as their exemption from this rule.)

Meals that do not include any of the five staple foods are also exempted from this rule. Thus if one is invited to a meal and takes a snack of milk, drinking conjey, fruit, etc., beforehand, this would not constitute an offense—although to be in keeping with the spirit of the rule, one should not take so much as to spoil one’s appetite for the meal.

There is no offense if, when invited to more than one meal on the same day, one goes to them in the order in which one received the invitations (but see Pc 35); if one puts the food from the various invitations together in one’s bowl and eats them at the same time; or, if invited by an entire village, one goes to eat anywhere in the village.

The Commentary, in discussing this point, mentions a situation that often occurs where there are very few bhikkhus in proportion to the number of donors: A bhikkhu has been invited to a meal but, before he leaves the monastery to go to the meal, another group of donors arrives with food to place in his bowl; or after he arrives at the home of the original donor, another group of donors arrives with still more food. According to the Commentary he may accept the food of these various donors as long as he is careful—when he finally eats—to take his first mouthful from the food offered by the original donor.

The non-offense clauses also state that periodic meals and lottery meals do not count as out-of-turn meals under this rule, but the Vibhaṅga offers no explanation as to why. The Commentary to Cullavagga VI.21 shows that the custom was for many families to prepare such meals on the same day. This exemption would thus seem to provide for the situation where there are fewer bhikkhus than there are families preparing these meals. One bhikkhu would be allowed to accept more than one meal so that no family’s meal would go without a recipient.

Mv.VI.25.7 implies that if the donor of the meal provides a pre-meal snack of thick conjey—or by extension any other staple food—there would be no offense in eating it. And the Commentary notes that if the donor gives explicit permission to eat another meal before the one he/she is providing, there would be no offense in doing so.

Summary: Eating a meal before going to another meal to which one was invited, or accepting an invitation to one meal and eating elsewhere instead, is a pācittiya offense except when one is ill or during the time of giving cloth or making robes.

*    *    *


In case a bhikkhu arriving at a family residence is presented with cakes or cooked grain-meal, he may accept two or three bowlfuls if he so desires. If he should accept more than that, it is to be confessed. Having accepted the two-or-three bowlfuls and having taken them from there, he is to share them among the bhikkhus. This is the proper course here.

The purpose of this rule is to prevent bhikkhus from abusing a donor’s generosity and good faith.

The origin story deals with two separate cases. In the first, a woman named Kāṇā is about to return to her husband’s house after visiting her parents. Her mother, thinking, “How can one go empty-handed?” bakes some cakes. A bhikkhu comes, and the mother—being a faithful lay follower—presents him with the cakes and then bakes some more to replace them. The bhikkhu, meanwhile, has informed another bhikkhu that cakes are baking at Kāṇā’s house, so the second bhikkhu goes and receives the second batch of cakes. This process keeps up until Kāṇā’s husband tires of waiting for her and takes another woman for his wife. The Commentary notes, reasonably enough, that Kāṇā developed a long-term grudge against Buddhism as a result of this incident.

In the second case, a man is preparing provisions for a journey by caravan. A similar series of events takes place, and he eventually ends up tagging along behind the caravan and getting robbed. People criticize and complain as usual, and spread it about, “How can these Sakyan-son monks accept food without knowing moderation?”

There are two factors for the full offense here.

1) Effort: Receiving more than three bowlfuls

2) Object: of cakes or cooked grain-meal (sattu).


Receiving, here, is defined in the context of an invitation to take as much as one likes. Perception as to whether one has taken more than three bowlfuls is not a mitigating factor here (see Pc 4).


In the context of this rule, the Vibhaṅga defines cakes to cover anything prepared as a present, and cooked grain-meal (sattu) to cover anything prepared as provisions for a journey. Thus we will use the terms presents and provisions for the remainder of this explanation. The word journey here refers to journeys that the donors are planning to take themselves. This rule thus does not cover gifts of food that donors have prepared to give to a bhikkhu for a journey he is planning to take.

The Vinaya-mukha, using the Great Standards, infers from the Vibhaṅga’s definitions for presents and provisions that any food prepared in large quantities for sale or for a party, banquet, or reception, etc., should be covered by this rule as well.


If a bhikkhu has accepted two or three bowlfuls of such items, then on his return from there he should tell every bhikkhu he sees, “I accepted two or three bowlfuls over there. Don’t you accept anything there.” He incurs a dukkaṭa if, seeing a bhikkhu, he does not tell him, while there is a dukkaṭa for the other bhikkhu if, having been told, he accepts anything at the place in question. According to the Commentary, if the first bhikkhu accepts two bowlfuls, he should tell the second bhikkhu to accept no more than one, and all other bhikkhus he meets that they should not accept anything. If he accepts only one bowlful, he should follow a similar process so that, all-in-all, the bhikkhus accept a total of no more than three.

The Commentary states further that a bhikkhu receiving two or three bowlfuls may keep one bowlful and do as he likes with it, but must share the remainder among an entire Community, i.e., not just among his friends. A bhikkhu receiving only one bowlful may do with it as he likes .


The Vibhaṅga states that there is no offense in taking more than three bowlfuls of items not intended as presents or provisions, of items left over from preparing presents or provisions, or of provisions remaining when plans for a journey have been abandoned. As explained above, the Vinaya-mukha would include items prepared for sale or for parties, etc., under the word provisions here.

The Vibhaṅga also says that there is no penalty in accepting more than three bowlfuls from relatives or from those who have offered an invitation. Here the Commentary states that if such people give more than three bowlfuls outright, one may accept them without penalty, but if they tell one to take as much as one likes from items prepared as presents or provisions, the proper course is to take only two or three bowlfuls.

The Vibhaṅga further says that there is no offense in having more than three bowlfuls of presents or provisions purchased with one’s own resources, and that there is no offense in taking extra for the sake of another. Neither the Commentary nor Sub-commentary discusses this last point, but the only way it can make sense in the context of this rule is if it refers to cases where the bhikkhu takes extra for the sake of another not on his own initiative, but because the donor asks him to.

Summary: Accepting more than three bowlfuls of food that the donors prepared for their own use as presents or as provisions for a journey is a pācittiya offense.

*    *    *


Should any bhikkhu, having eaten and turned down an offer (of further food), chew or consume staple or non-staple food that is not leftover, it is to be confessed.

“Now at that time a certain brahman, having invited bhikkhus, fed them. The bhikkhus, having eaten and turned down an offer of further food, went to their relatives’ families. Some ate there; some left having received alms.

“Then the brahman said to his neighbors, ‘Masters, the bhikkhus have been satisfied by me. Come and I will satisfy you as well.’

“They said, ‘Master, how will you satisfy us? Even those you invited came to our homes. Some ate there; some left having received alms.’

“So the brahman criticized and complained and spread it about, ‘How can their reverences, having eaten in my home, eat elsewhere? Am I not capable of giving as much as they want?’”

When a donor invited bhikkhus for a meal, the custom in the time of the Buddha was for him/her to offer food to the bhikkhus repeatedly while they ate, and to stop only when the supplies of food were exhausted or the bhikkhus refused any further offers. (This custom is still widespread in Sri Lanka and Burma.) Thus it was often a matter of pride among donors that their supplies were not easily exhausted and that they could continue offering food until the bhikkhus were completely satisfied and could eat no more. Now, where there is pride there is bound to be wounded pride: A donor could easily feel insulted if bhikkhus refused further offers of food, finished their meal, and then went to eat someplace else.

As the origin story shows, this rule is designed to protect generous donors from being insulted by the bhikkhus in this way. It is also designed to protect bhikkhus from being forced to go hungry by stingy or impoverished donors. If the donor stops offering food before the bhikkhus have refused further offers—or if what he/she offers is not substantial food at all (see the discussion under Pc 8 for an historic case of this sort)—the bhikkhus, after finishing their meal, are free to accept food elsewhere that morning if they are still hungry.

There are two factors for an offense here.

1) Object: staple or non-staple food that is not leftover.

2) Effort: One eats the food after having eaten and turned down an offer of further food.

Before explaining these factors, we must first explain the situation of having eaten and turned down an offer of further food.

Having eaten

Having eaten (bhuttāvin), according to the Vibhaṅga, means having eaten any of the five staple foods, “even as much as a blade of grass.” On the surface, this could mean one of two things: having taken one’s first bite of a meal or having finished a meal—even the smallest possible one. The Commentary adopts the first interpretation, but in doing so creates two problems:

1) If having eaten means having taken one’s first bite of a meal, then the word serves no purpose in the rule, because the first factor of “having turned down an offer of further food” is “the bhikkhu is eating,” and as the Commentary itself notes, if one is eating then one has already taken one’s first bite of the meal. It concludes that the word having eaten, both in the rule and in the Vibhaṅga, is completely superfluous.

2) A more practical problem coming from the Commentary’s interpretation is that if one turns down an offer of extra food when one already has more than enough food in one’s bowl but has yet to finish one’s meal, one cannot continue eating. The Commentary tries to get around this predicament by introducing an additional factor: As long as one does not move from the spot on which one is sitting, one may continue eating. This, though, creates further problems: Suppose a bhikkhu has turned down an offer of further food but has yet to finish his meal. If there is then some compelling reason for him to move from the spot on which he is sitting—for example, the donor spills a pot of hot soup, or ants come crawling into his robes—then he cannot finish his meal even if the donor begs him to continue eating.

The Sub-commentary gets around the first problem by interpreting having eaten as “having finished a meal,” which fits better with the origin story and with the linguistic usage of the Canon itself. (The word bhuttāvin also appears in MN 91, Cv.VIII.4.6, and Cv.VIII.11.5, where it clearly and consistently means “having finished a meal.” The Canon uses a separate term, asana, for one who is in the process of eating a meal without yet having finished it.) The author of the Sub-commentary doesn’t realize, though, that in adopting this interpretation he is also eliminating the need for the Commentary’s extra factor concerning moving from one’s spot. If the factor is unnecessary and has no basis in the Canon, there seems no reason to adopt it. Thus the Commentary’s factor, and not the wording of the rule, is what is superfluous. So we can say that having eaten means having finished one’s meal, and that the question of having moved from one’s spot doesn’t enter into the rule.

As the Commentary itself notes when discussing the term asana, the point where one finishes eating is determined in one of two ways:

a) There is no food left in one’s bowl, hand, or mouth; or

b) one decides that one has had enough for that particular meal.

Thus, as long as the bhikkhu has not yet finished the donor’s meal, he is free to turn down, accept, and eat food as he likes. In other words, if he turns down an offer of further food, he may continue eating what is left in his bowl. If he initially turns down an offer of further food but then gives in and accepts it after being pressured by the donor, he may eat what he accepts without penalty. Or if he feels, for example, that he has enough vegetables but would like more rice, he may turn down an offer of vegetables yet accept and eat an offer of rice that follows it.

But once he no longer has any food in his bowl, hand, or mouth, or has decided that he has had enough for that particular meal, he fulfills the factor of “having eaten” under this rule. If he turned down an offer of further food before finishing the meal, he may not for the remainder of the day eat any staple or non-staple foods that are not leftovers.

Turning down an offer of further food

The Vibhaṅga defines this as an act with five factors:

1) The bhikkhu is eating.

2) There is further staple food.

3) The donor is standing within hatthapāsa (1.25 meters) of the bhikkhu.

4) He/she offers the food.

5) The bhikkhu turns it down.

The Commentary adds that if the bhikkhu has finished eating before the further food is offered, factor (1) is not fulfilled, so if he turns down the food he does not fall under the terms of this rule. Similarly, if the food in factor (2) is not a staple food—e.g., if it is fruit, chocolates, or cheese—or if it is staple food of a sort unallowable for a bhikkhu to eat—e.g., it has been offered as a result of a bhikkhu’s claiming a superior human state or corrupting a family (see Sg 13), or it is made of human flesh or snake meat, etc.—the factor is not fulfilled. Because none of the texts specify that the donor under factor (3) must be unordained, a bhikkhu offering food to a fellow bhikkhu would apparently fulfill this factor as well. Thus this rule would apply not only to meals offered by lay donors, but also to food handed out by bhikkhus and novices in a monastery.

Factor (5) is fulfilled by any refusal made by word or gesture.

Cv.VI.10.1 states that when a senior bhikkhu makes a junior bhikkhu get up from his seat before the latter has finished his meal, the senior bhikkhu counts as having turned down an offer of further food (§). In other words, when the senior bhikkhu then finishes his own meal, he comes under the purview of this rule as well.

Staple & non-staple food

Staple food, here, follows the standard definition. Non-staple food, in the context of this rule, covers all edibles except for the five staple foods, juice drinks, the five tonics, medicines, and water.

Leftover food is of two sorts: (1) leftover from a sick bhikkhu’s meal and (2) formally “made” leftover by a bhikkhu who is not sick. In the latter case, the formal act has seven factors:

1) The food is allowable.

2) It has been formally received by any bhikkhu except Bhikkhu Y.

3) Bhikkhu X lifts it up in the presence of Bhikkhu Y.

4) Bhikkhu Y is within hatthapāsa of X.

5) Bhikkhu Y has finished his meal.

6) Bhikkhu Y has not yet gotten up from the seat where he has finished his meal and turned down an offer of further food; and

7) he says, “All that is enough (in Pali: Alam’etaṁ sabbaṁ).” 

The Commentary notes under step (3) that X may either offer the food to Y or simply lift it up, even slightly. It goes on to say that any bhikkhu except Bhikkhu Y may eat the food formally made leftover in this way.

Both of these allowances for leftover food are designed to prevent food’s going to waste. The first needs no explanation; the second would be useful for preventing waste in cases such as these: (a) X has turned down an offer of further food but cannot finish the food in his bowl; after getting Y to make it leftover, X can take the food back to the monastery and finish it there later. (b) All the bhikkhus except X have finished eating after turning down an offer of further food. Friends of the donors arrive late with large quantities of food they want to present to the bhikkhus; after X receives the food from them and gets Y to make it leftover, all the bhikkhus except Y may partake of it.


If a bhikkhu who, having eaten and turned down an offer of further food, is presented with staple or non-staple food that is not leftover—e.g., a snack of milk or ice cream—he incurs a dukkaṭa if he accepts it with the thought of eating it, and a pācittiya for every mouthful he eats.

According to the Vibhaṅga, perception as to whether the food is actually leftover is not a mitigating factor here (see Pc 4).


There is no offense—

if a bhikkhu accepts the food and takes it for the sake of another,

if he accepts and eats leftover food, or

if, having a reason, he later in the day accepts and consumes juice drinks, any of the five tonics, or medicine. According to the Commentary, having a reason means, in the case of juice drinks, being thirsty; and in the case of the tonics and medicine, suffering from an illness that they are meant to assuage. (As we have noted under NP 23, these illnesses include hunger and fatigue as well as medical disorders.) In other words, a bhikkhu under the circumstances covered by this rule may not take these items as food. The Vibhaṅga penalizes him with a dukkaṭa if he accepts them with the idea of taking them as food, and a further dukkaṭa for every mouthful he eats.

According to the Mahāvagga (VI.18.4, VI.19.2, VI.20.4), this rule was relaxed during times of famine so that a bhikkhu who had eaten and turned down an offer of further food could later in the day consume food that was not leftover:

if it was accepted before he went to his meal,

if it is brought back from a place where a meal has been offered, or

if it has been taken from a wilderness area or a pond. The texts offer no explanation for this last stipulation. Perhaps, during famines, these were places where people would commonly forage for food.

These famine allowances were later rescinded (Mv.VI.32.2) without any provision for invoking them again if a similar crisis—such as the collapse of modern civilization—were to arise. Thus, they were part of the Buddha’s repertoire but not of the Community’s after his parinibbāna.

Summary: Eating staple or non-staple food that is not leftover, after having earlier in the day finished a meal during which one turned down an offer to eat further staple food, is a pācittiya offense.

*    *    *


Should any bhikkhu, knowingly and wishing to find fault, present staple or non-staple food he has brought to a bhikkhu who has eaten and turned down an offer (of further food), saying, “Here, bhikkhu, chew or consume this”—when it has been eaten, it is to be confessed.

“Now at that time two bhikkhus were traveling through the Kosalan districts on their way to Sāvatthī. One of them indulged in bad habits; the second one said, ‘Don’t do that sort of thing, my friend. It isn’t proper.’ The first one developed a grudge. Eventually, they arrived at Sāvatthī.

“Now at that time one of the guilds in Sāvatthī presented a Community meal. The second bhikkhu finished his meal, having turned down an offer of further food. The bhikkhu with the grudge, having gone to his relatives and bringing back almsfood, went to the second bhikkhu and on arrival said to him, ‘Here, friend, have some of this.’

“‘No thanks, my friend. I’m full.’

“‘Really, this is delicious almsfood. Have some.’

“So the second bhikkhu, being pressured by the first, ate the almsfood. Then the bhikkhu with the grudge said to him, ‘You think I’m the one to be reprimanded when you eat food that isn’t leftover, after finishing your meal and turning down an offer of further food?’

“‘Shouldn’t you have told me?’

“‘Shouldn’t you have asked?’”

This rule covers cases in which one bhikkhu, knowingly and wishing to find fault, offers food to another bhikkhu in order to trick him into committing an offense under the preceding rule. The full offense here requires a full set of five factors.

1) Object: staple or non-staple food that one perceives not to be leftover.

2) Effort: One gives the food to a bhikkhu who has eaten and turned down an offer of further food, as under the preceding rule.

3) Perception: One knows that he has eaten and turned down an offer of further food.

4) Intention: One wishes to find fault with him.

5) Result: He finishes a meal that includes that food.

Only four of these factors—object, perception, intention, and result—require further explanation.


Staple food and non-staple food here are defined as under the preceding rule. Whether the food is actually leftover is not a factor in determining the offense here. The important point lies in the perception: As long as one assumes the food to be not leftover, one is subject to a penalty if the other bhikkhu accepts it. If one assumes the food to be leftover, one’s actions would not fit under this rule.


If one is in doubt as to whether a bhikkhu has eaten and turned down an offer of further food, he is grounds for a dukkaṭa regardless of whether he has. If one thinks that he has eaten and turned down an offer of further food when he actually hasn’t, he is grounds for a dukkaṭa. If one thinks that he has not eaten and turned down an offer of further food, then regardless of whether he has or hasn’t, he is not grounds for an offense.


Wishing to find fault, according to the Vibhaṅga, means planning either to charge, interrogate, counter-charge, or counter-interrogate the bhikkhu (these are steps in a formal accusation), or simply to make him abashed after one has succeeded in tricking him into breaking the preceding rule.

Effort & result

Bhikkhu X, in giving food to Bhikkhu Y “knowingly and wishing to find fault,” incurs a dukkaṭa when he brings the food to Y, another dukkaṭa when Y accepts the food with the thought of eating it, a further dukkaṭa for every mouthful Y eats of the food, and a pācittiya when Y has stopped eating from it. If X then tries to make Y feel abashed, he is to be treated under Pc 2 as well. As for Y, the Commentary states that he should be treated under the preceding rule. Because perception is not a factor there, this means that Y is not exempt from an offense even though X has deliberately misled him as to the status of the food he is eating. (Some have misread one of the “wheels” of offenses listed in the Vibhaṅga to this rule as applying to Y, but because they conflict with the offenses the Vibhaṅga to the preceding rule allots to Y for eating under a misperception, that reading cannot stand. Thus the Commentary seems right in stating that all the offenses mentioned in the Vibhaṅga to this rule apply to X.) This means further that both bhikkhus in the origin story were right: The bhikkhu with a grudge should have told the second bhikkhu, while the second bhikkhu should have asked.


There is no offense—

if one gives leftover food for the other bhikkhu to eat;

if one gives him food for the sake of another; or

if one gives him juice drinks, any of the five tonics, or medicines when he has a reason to take them.

In the case of the second exemption—one gives him food for the sake of another—none of the texts mention the point, but it would seem to hold only in cases where the other bhikkhu is ill or has not eaten and turned down an offer of further food.

None of the texts make any mention of a bhikkhu trying to trick another bhikkhu into committing an offense under any rule other than Pc 35; and apparently, a bhikkhu who tricks a fellow bhikkhu into committing an offense under Pc 35 with no desire to blame or shame him, but simply for the perverse satisfaction of seeing him commit the offense, would incur no penalty under this or any other rule. There is no escaping the fact, though, that such actions carry their own inherent penalty in terms of one’s spiritual maturity. This is one of those cases where a wise policy is to look past the particulars of the rule to the general principle underlying it: that one should not deliberately trick another person into breaking a rule or vow that he or she has pledged to uphold.

Summary: Deliberately tricking another bhikkhu into breaking the preceding rule, in hopes of finding fault with him, is a pācittiya offense.

*    *    *


Should any bhikkhu chew or consume staple or non-staple food at the wrong time, it is to be confessed.


Staple food here follows the standard definition given in the preface to this chapter. Non-staple food refers to all edibles except for the five staple foods, juice drinks, the five tonics, medicines, and water.

The wrong time

The Vibhaṅga defines the wrong time as from noon until dawnrise of the following day. (See Appendix I for a discussion of how dawnrise is defined.) Noon is reckoned as the moment the sun reaches its zenith, rather than by the clock—in other words, by local rather than standard or daylight-savings time. Thus, for example, a bhikkhu who is offered food while traveling in an airplane should check the position of the sun in order to determine whether he may accept and eat it. Some have argued that one may eat after noon if one has begun one’s meal before noon, but the Commentary says explicitly that this is not the case.

Perception as to whether one is eating at the wrong time or the right time is not a mitigating factor here (see Pc 4).


The verbs chew and consume in the Pali of this rule are the verbs normally paired, respectively, with non-staple and staple foods. They both mean “to eat,” but the question arises as to whether eating means going down the throat or entering the mouth. This becomes an issue, for instance, when a bhikkhu has a piece of food stuck in his teeth from his morning meal and swallows it after noon.

The Commentary generally defines eating as going down the throat, but a passage from the Cullavagga (V.25) suggests otherwise. In it, the Buddha allows a ruminator who brings up food to his mouth at the “wrong time” to swallow it, and ends with the statement: “But food that has been brought out from the mouth should not be taken back in. Whoever should take it in is to be dealt with according to the rule (i.e., this rule and the following one).” This suggests, then, that eating is technically defined as “taking into the mouth.”


The Vibhaṅga says that a bhikkhu incurs a dukkaṭa when, intending to eat it, he accepts staple or non-staple food. The question is, is the dukkaṭa only for accepting the food in the wrong time, or is it also for accepting food in the right time, intending to eat it in the wrong time? The Vibhaṅga doesn’t answer the question, but the Commentary does, saying that the dukkaṭa is for accepting the food in the wrong time. The Vibhaṅga goes on to say that if the bhikkhu eats staple or non-staple food at the wrong time he incurs a pācittiya for every mouthful he eats. As for juice drinks, the five tonics, and medicine, there is a dukkaṭa for accepting them at the wrong time to be used as food, and another dukkaṭa for eating them at the wrong time as food.

No exception is granted to an ill bhikkhu, because there are a number of edibles an ill bhikkhu may consume at the wrong time without involving an offense: juice drinks, the five tonics, and medicines. Also, there is an allowance in Mv.VI.14.7 for a bhikkhu who has taken a purgative to take strained meat broth, strained rice broth, or strained green gram (mung bean) broth at any time of the day. Using the Great Standards, we may say that a bhikkhu who has a similar illness or worse may take these broths at any time; and some have argued that other bean broths—such as strained broth made from boiled soybeans—would fit under the category of green gram broth as well. However, unlike the case with the five tonics, mere hunger or fatigue would not seem to count as sufficient reasons for taking any of these substances in the wrong time.

A substance termed loṇasovīraka (or loṇasocīraka) is allowed (Mv.VI.16.3) to be taken in the wrong time as a medicine for ill bhikkhus and, when mixed with water, as a beverage for bhikkhus who are not ill. No one makes it anymore, but the recipe for it in the Commentary to Pr 3 bears some resemblance to the recipe for miso (fermented soybean paste). Some have argued, using the Great Standards, that the special allowance for this substance should extend to miso as well, but this is a controversial point. As far as I have been able to ascertain, miso is not used to cure diseases in adults even in China, which would be the place to look for its use as a medicine. However, even if the allowance does apply to miso, taking miso broth as food in the wrong time would entail a dukkaṭa.


There is no offense if, having a reason, one consumes juice drinks, any of the five tonics, or medicine after noon or before dawnrise.

Summary: Eating staple or non-staple food in the period from noon till the next dawnrise is a pācittiya offense.

*    *    *


Should any bhikkhu chew or consume stored-up staple or non-staple food, it is to be confessed.

This is one of the few rules where the original instigator was an arahant: Ven. Beḷaṭṭhasīsa, Ven. Ānanda’s preceptor and formerly the head of the 1,000 ascetics who attained Awakening on hearing the Fire Sermon (SN 35:28). The origin story here reports that he made a practice of keeping leftover rice from his alms round, drying it, and then moistening it to eat on a later day. As a result, he only rarely had to go out for alms. Even though he was doing this out of frugality rather than greed, the Buddha still rebuked him. The story doesn’t give the precise reasons for the rebuke. Perhaps it was because the Buddha saw that such behavior would open the way for bhikkhus to avoid going on alms round, thus depriving themselves of the excellent opportunity that alms-going provides for reflecting on their dependency on others and on the human condition in general; and depriving the laity of the benefits that come from daily contact with the bhikkhus and the opportunity to practice generosity of the most basic sort every day. Although frugality may be a virtue, there are times when other considerations supercede it.

Another possible reason for this rule is expressed in AN 5:80: “In the course of the future there will be bhikkhus who will live entangled with monastery attendants and novices. As they are entangled with monastery attendants and novices, they can be expected to live intent on many kinds of stored-up consumables and on making blatant signs (identifying their) land and crops.” The Buddha showed great foresight in seeing this as a danger. Over the centuries, whenever bhikkhus have lived in Communities where vast stores of food were kept—such as the great Buddhist universities in India—they have tended to grow lax in their practice, and a gulf of misunderstanding and suspicion has come to separate them from the laity.


Staple food here, as usual, follows the standard definition given in the preface to this chapter. Non-staple food here includes all edibles except for the five staples, juice drinks, the five tonics, medicine, and water.

Stored-up means formally accepted by a bhikkhu (see Pc 40, below) on one day and eaten on the next or a later day. The boundary between one day and the next is dawnrise.

Perception as to whether food has been stored up is not a mitigating factor here (see Pc 4).

The story of the Second Council (Cv.XII.2.8) shows that this rule also forbids storing such medicines as salt (or pepper, vinegar, etc.) to add to any bland food one might receive on a later day. (See the discussion preceding Pc 31 for more details on this subject.)

The Commentary contains an allowance of its own, saying that, “If a bhikkhu without desire (for the food) abandons it to a novice, and the novice, having stored it (overnight) gives it (again), that is all allowable. If, however, he has received it himself and has not abandoned it, it is not proper on the second day.” This allowance raises two main questions, the first being how to interpret it. Some, focusing on the second sentence to the exclusion of the first, have noticed that it makes no mention of the presence or absence of any desire for the food, and so have interpreted it as meaning that the issue of desire is totally irrelevant: If one has not given the food to a non-bhikkhu, it is not allowable; if one has given it away, it is. This interpretation, however, ignores the point that if the presence or absence of desire for the food were irrelevant, the first sentence would not have mentioned it. Both the Old and New K/Sub-commentaries note this point, and say the abandoning in the second sentence means “abandoning without desire.” In other words, the Commentary’s allowance is meant to apply only in cases where one has abandoned both the food and any desire to receive it back.

This, however, begs the second question, which is what justification the Commentary has for making the allowance. There is no basis for it in the Vibhaṅga’s definition of “stored-up,” nor is there anything else in the Vibhaṅga to this rule from which the Great Standards could be used to support the allowance. The Commentary is apparently importing one of the non-offense clauses from NP 23 to this rule, but that is a misapplication of the Great Standards. The Vibhaṅga for one rule cannot be used to rewrite the Vibhaṅga for another; otherwise there would be no end to the rewriting of the rules. Had the compilers meant for the principle under NP 23 to be applied here, they could have done so themselves. For these reasons, there seem to be no grounds for accepting the allowance as valid. Thus, if one abandons food received today then, regardless of whether one has abandoned desire for it, if one accepts it again on a later day and eats it, one commits the full offense under this rule all the same. For further analysis of this point, see the article, Stored-up Food: A Discussion of Pācittaya 38.


The Vibhaṅga says that there is a dukkaṭa “if one accepts/takes it, thinking, ‘I will eat it.’” The question has arisen as to whether “it” here means food that has already been stored up or food that one is planning to store up. The Commentary, noting that the intention “I will store it up” is not mentioned, adopts the first interpretation: “It” here means food already stored up. The Vibhaṅga adds that there is a pācittiya for every mouthful one eats.

Perception is not a factor here. Thus, a bhikkhu who eats stored-up food commits an offense regardless of whether he perceives it as stored-up. This means—

1) If Bhikkhu X receives the food on one day and lets someone else put it away, and Bhikkhu Y eats it on a later day, Y commits an offense all the same, regardless of whether he knows that the food was stored-up.

2) One should be careful that there are no traces of any edible received yesterday on a utensil from which one will eat food today. The protocols a student should follow with regard to his preceptor (upajjhāya-vatta) (Mv.I.25.9) show that the custom in the Buddha’s time was to rinse out one’s bowl before going for alms. The Commentary suggests a method for making sure that one’s bowl is clean: Run a finger along the inside of the bowl while it is dry. If there is enough food residue or dust in the bowl for the finger to make a mark in it, clean the bowl again before use.

3) In a monastery where there are lay and novice attendants, it is important that they be fully informed of the need to make sure that leftovers from the bhikkhus’ meals not be served to the bhikkhus again on a later day. If donors come with a large pot of food, intending for it to be eaten over a period of several days, the amount of food that the bhikkhus would eat in one day can be placed in a separate vessel and offered to them, while the remainder can be stored in a proper place for later use.

Derived offenses

If a bhikkhu accepts or takes, for the sake of food, a juice drink, a tonic, or medicine that has been stored overnight, there is a dukkaṭa in the taking, and another dukkaṭa for every mouthful he eats. The Commentary, though, asserts that when a bhikkhu takes, not for food but simply to assuage his thirst, a juice drink stored overnight, he incurs a pācittiya with every swallow.

It seems strange that drinking the juice simply as juice would entail a stronger penalty than taking it as food. As there is no basis anywhere in the Canon for the Commentary’s assertion, there seems no reason to adopt it. Mv.VI.40.3 states clearly that juice drinks, taken for any reason, are allowable at any time on the day they are accepted, but not after dawnrise of the following day. No specific penalty is given for taking them on the following day, but inferring from the Vibhaṅga to this rule we can use the Great Standards to say that the penalty would be a dukkaṭa.


There is no offense in the mere act of storing food. A bhikkhu going on a journey with an unordained person may thus carry the latter’s food—while the latter carries the bhikkhu’s food—without committing an offense.

There is also no offense in telling an unordained person to store food that has not been formally received. For example, if donors simply leave food at a bhikkhu’s residence without formally presenting it, the bhikkhu may tell a novice or lay person to take it and put it away for a later day. If the food is then presented to the bhikkhu on a later day, he may eat it that day without penalty.

However, Mv.VI.33.2 states that food may be stored indoors in a monastery only in a building designated for the purpose (this would include the dwelling of anyone who is not a bhikkhu—see BMC2, Chapter 7). To eat food stored indoors anywhere else in the monastery, even if it has not been formally accepted on a previous day, would incur a dukkaṭa under Mv.VI.32.2. A bhikkhu may, however, store medicines or the five tonics anywhere in the monastery without penalty.

If a bhikkhu accepts, sets aside, and then eats any of the four kinds of edibles all within their permitted time periods—e.g., he receives bread in the morning, sets it aside, and then eats it before that noon; or receives honey today, sets it aside, and takes it as a tonic tomorrow—there is no offense.

This rule makes no exceptions for a bhikkhu who is ill. The Buddha once suspended it during famine but then later reinstated it in such a way that there is no provision for suspending it ever again (Mv.VI.17-20.

Summary: Eating food that a bhikkhu—oneself or another—formally received on a previous day is a pācittiya offense.

*    *    *


There are these finer staple foods: ghee, fresh butter, oil, honey, sugar/molasses, fish, meat, milk, and curds. Should any bhikkhu who is not ill, having requested finer staple foods such as these for his own sake, then consume them, it is to be confessed.

There are three factors for an offense here: object, effort, and result.


The Vibhaṅga defines finer staple foods as any of the nine foods mentioned in the rule, either on their own or mixed with other foods. Thus milk and milk-mixed-with-cereal would both be finer staple foods. The ancient commentators, though, must have objected to including some of these items under the category of staple food (bhojana), so we have the Commentary defining “finer staple foods” as any of the substances mentioned in the rule mixed with any one of the seven types of grain. Thus, it would say, milk with cereal would be a finer staple food, but milk on its own would not.

As we have seen, though, the Vibhaṅga defines its terms to fit the situation covered by each particular rule and is not always consistent from one rule to another. Thus, as the Vibhaṅga is not at fault for being inconsistent here, there is no reason to follow the Commentary in deviating from it. The rule means what it says: It covers each of the foods mentioned in it, whether pure or mixed with other ingredients.

The first five of these finer staple foods are discussed in detail under NP 23. Fish and meat are discussed in the preface to this chapter. Milk and curds here refers to milk and curds from animals whose flesh is allowable. The Sub-commentary, in discussing this point, maintains that tiger’s milk, bear’s milk, etc., are not unallowable, simply that they would not come under this rule. This is an interesting idea, but was included probably just to wake up sleepy students in the back of the room.

According to the Commentary, any food other than these nine finer staple foods is grounds for a dukkaṭa under Sk 37.

None of the texts mention the issue, but this rule apparently refers only to finer staple foods that have been offered in response to one’s request—either from the person to whom the request was directed or from another person who has learned of the request. If one has made a request for any of these foods but then receives the food from someone who knows nothing of the request, that food would apparently not fulfill this factor of the offense.

Another issue not discussed in any of the texts is what to do if the people who received the request or knew of it continue to offer food of the sort requested. Is one forbidden for life from ever accepting that sort of food from them again? One suggestion for resolving this issue would be to borrow a page from the Commentary’s treatment of a revoked banishment-transaction (see Sg 13). This would mean that if—after the original offering of food—those who know of the request continue offering that sort of food, one must tell them that one may not accept the food because of the penalty it would entail. If, without further prompting, they say that they are offering the food not because of the request but because of their own independent desire to offer it, one may accept it and consume it.

Effort & Result

A bhikkhu who is not ill, requesting any of the finer staple foods for his own use, incurs a dukkaṭa for every request he makes, a dukkaṭa for accepting the food with the intention of eating it, and a pācittiya for every mouthful he eats.

Not ill means that one is able to fare comfortably without these foods. None of the texts go into detail on this point, but ill probably means something more than simply being hungry, for there is a separate allowance under Sk 37 for a bhikkhu who is hungry to ask for rice and bean curry, which was the basic diet of the day, and the Commentary extends the allowance to cover all foods not covered by this rule. Here ill probably refers to any form of fatigue, weakness, or malnutrition that comes specifically from lacking any of the foods mentioned in the rule.

Perception as to whether one is actually ill is not a mitigating factor here (see Pc 4).

The Commentary adds that if a bhikkhu asks for one kind of finer staple food but receives another kind instead, he incurs the dukkaṭa for asking, but no penalty for accepting and eating what he gets. It also notes that when a bhikkhu asks a lay person for any of the finer staple foods, and the lay person makes a donation of money to the bhikkhu’s steward to buy that food, then once the food is bought it comes under this rule all the same.


There is no offense:

in asking for food—any kind of food—when one is ill, and then eating it, even if one has recovered in the meantime (§);

in eating food that has been requested for the sake of an ill bhikkhu and is leftover after his meal;

in asking from relatives;

in asking from those who have offered an invitation to ask;

in asking for the sake of another person; or

in asking that food be bought with one’s own resources.

Also, according to the Meṇḍaka Allowance (Mv.VI.34.21), a bhikkhu going on a journey through a wilderness area where almsfood is difficult to obtain may search for provisions of husked rice, kidney beans, green gram (mung beans), salt, sugar, oil, and ghee for the journey. The Commentary says, though, that he should first wait for spontaneous offerings of these provisions from people who learn of his plans for the journey. If these aren’t forthcoming, he should ask from his relatives or from those who have given him an invitation to ask. Or he may see what he gets on his alms round. (This last alternative apparently applies to the salt, sugar, oil, and ghee; people ordinarily would not be giving uncooked rice, beans, or green gram for alms.) Only when these avenues fail should he ask from people who are unrelated to him and have not given an invitation to ask. Furthermore, he should ask for no more than the journey will require.

None of the texts mention any permission for the bhikkhu, after he has searched for the provisions, to store them longer than usual or to cook them in any way. Apparently, they expect him to arrange for an unordained person—or people—to accept the provisions and be responsible for their storage and preparation while on the road.

Summary: Eating finer staple foods, after having asked for them for one’s own sake—except when ill—is a pācittiya offense.

*    *    *


Should any bhikkhu take into his mouth an edible that has not been given—except for water and tooth-cleaning sticks (§)—it is to be confessed.

“Now at that time a certain bhikkhu, living entirely off of what was thrown away (§), was staying in a cemetery. Not wanting to receive gifts from people, he himself took the offerings for dead ancestors—left in cemeteries, under trees, and on thresholds—and ate them. People criticized and complained and spread it about, ‘How can this bhikkhu himself take our offerings for our dead ancestors and eat them? He’s robust, this bhikkhu. He’s strong. Perhaps he feeds on human flesh.’”

There are two factors for the full offense here: object and effort.


An edible is whatever is fit to eat, and includes all four classes of food and medicine: staple and non-staple foods, juice drinks, the five tonics, and medicine. As the rule notes, however, there are two exceptions:

1) Water, according to the Commentary, includes ice, hailstones, and snow as well. Whether such things as boiled water, bottled water, and man-made ice should also come under this exception is a controversial point. Because the texts offer no specific guidance here, this is an area where the wise policy is to follow the dictates of one’s Community.

2) Tooth-cleaning sticks, as used in the time of the Buddha, were semi-edible. They were sticks of soft wood, like balsam, cut four to eight fingerbreadths long, chewed until they were reduced to fiber and spat out. People in India still use tooth-cleaning sticks of this sort even today.

Here again there is a controversy as to whether toothpaste comes under this exception as well. On the one hand it fits in with the pattern for tooth-cleaning sticks—it is semi-edible and not intended to be swallowed—but on the other hand it contains substances, such as mineral salts, that the Canon classes as medicines (Mv.VI.8) and that are meant to have medicinal value for the teeth and gums. This second consideration would seem to override the first, as it is a question of following what is explicitly laid out in the Canon, rather than of applying the Great Standards. Thus the wise policy would seem to be to regard toothpaste as a medicine that has to be formally given before it can be used, and not as coming under this exception.

The act of giving food and other edibles, as described in the Vibhaṅga, has three factors:

1) The donor (an unordained person) is standing within reach—one hatthapāsa, or 1.25 meters—of the bhikkhu.

2) He/she gives the item with the body (e.g., the hand), with something in contact with the body (e.g., a spoon), or by means of letting go. According to the Commentary, letting go means releasing from the body or something in contact with the body—e.g., dropping from the hand or a spoon—and refers to such cases as when a donor drops or tosses something into a bhikkhu’s bowl or hands without directly or indirectly making contact.

3) The bhikkhu receives the item with the body or with something in contact with the body (e.g., his bowl, a piece of cloth).

There is a tradition in Thailand that a bhikkhu should never receive an offering from a woman hand-to-hand. Either she must offer it with something in contact with her body (e.g., a tray) or the bhikkhu must accept it with something in contact with his: an alms bowl, a tray, a piece of cloth, etc. Apparently this tradition arose as a means of protecting a sexually aroused bhikkhu from committing an offense under Sg 2, or from the embarrassment that might arise if, say, yesterday he was not aroused and so could take something straight from her hand, while today he is and so can’t. Many Thai eight-precept nuns, even though they don’t have any precepts corresponding to Sg 2, follow a reciprocal tradition of not receiving anything hand-to-hand from a man. Neither of these traditions is mentioned in the Canon or the commentaries, nor are they observed by bhikkhus or ten-precept nuns in Burma or Sri Lanka.

A special allowance in the Cullavagga (V.26) states that if food accidentally falls while being offered, a bhikkhu may pick it up himself and eat it without committing an offense.


The Vibhaṅga states that a bhikkhu incurs a dukkaṭa if, with the intention of eating it, he takes food that hasn’t been properly given; and a pācittiya for every mouthful he eats. Perception as to whether the food has actually been formally given is not a mitigating factor here (see Pc 4).

The Commentary asserts, however, that perception would be a mitigating factor in the act of taking food. In other words, the bhikkhu would not incur the dukkaṭa for taking the food if he perceived it as properly given even when in fact it wasn’t. This assertion has no basis in the Vibhaṅga to this rule, and cannot be based on the Great Standards because the Canon contains no example of a derived offense requiring the factor of perception under a rule where the full offense does not. Thus there seems no reason to follow the Commentary on this point.

Once, during a famine, the Buddha allowed bhikkhus to pick up fallen fruit, take it to an unordained person, place it on the ground, and have it formally “given” without committing an offense. This allowance, however, was later rescinded in a way that left no possibility for its being invoked again (Mv.VI.17.8-9; Mv.VI.32). Thus a bhikkhu who—with the intention of eating it—picks up an edible he knows has not been given may not later make it allowable by formally “receiving” it from an unordained person. Whether other bhikkhus may receive it and make use of it, though, is a controversial point discussed in the Commentary in a treatise separate from its explanation of the Vibhaṅga (see below).


Mv.VI.14.6 allows a bhikkhu bitten by a snake to make an antidote of urine, excrement (burned in fire), ashes, and soil. If there is no unordained person present who can or will make these things allowable, the bhikkhu may take and prepare them himself, and then eat them without incurring a penalty under this rule. The Commentary adds that if he cuts a tree under these circumstances to burn it, or digs the earth to get soil, he is exempt from the rules dealing with those actions as well.

Controversial points from the Commentary

As mentioned above, the Commentary’s discussion of this rule includes a treatise separate from its explanation of the Vibhaṅga, dealing with controversial points for which the Canon gives unclear answers or no answers at all. Because the treatise is a compilation of the opinions of various teachers and does not pretend to explain the meaning or intent of the Buddha’s words—and because the Buddha warned bhikkhus against making up their own rules (NP 15.1.2)—the opinions expressed in the treatise are not necessarily normative. Many Communities do not accept them, or are selective in choosing what they do and do not accept. Here we will give a summary of some of the Commentary’s opinions that have influenced practices found in some, if not all, Communities of bhikkhus at present.

1. Taking into the mouth

is defined as going down the throat. As we have already noted under Pc 37, though, this definition has no justification in canonical usage. The Sub-commentary attempts to justify the Commentary’s stand here by defining “mouth” (mukhadvāra—literally, the door of the face) as the larynx, i.e., the back door rather than the front door to the mouth, but again this is not supported by the Canon. Sk 41—“I will not open the door of the face when the mouthful has yet to be brought to it”—shows decisively that this term refers to the lips and not to the larynx. MN 140 explicitly lists the mukhadvāra and the passage “whereby what is eaten, drunk, consumed, and tasted gets swallowed” as two separate parts of the internal space element in the body. Taking into the mouth thus means taking in through the lips.

2. Food

Pond water so muddy that it leaves a scum on the hand or on the mouth is considered to be food, and so must be given before it can be drunk. The same holds true with water into which so many leaves or flowers have fallen that their taste is discernible in the water. For some reason, though, water that has been scented with flowers need not be given, and the same is true with water taken from a stream or river no matter how muddy. (There is a belief still current in India and other parts of Asia that flowing water is inherently clean.) Although leaves and flowers technically do count as edibles—they are classed as non-staple foods or medicines, depending on one’s purpose in eating them—the idea of counting mud and scum as edibles seems to be taking the concept of edible a little too far.

If toothwood is chewed for the sake of its juice, it must first be given. Even if one is chewing it for the sake of cleaning the teeth but accidentally swallows the juice, one has committed an offense all the same. These two opinions have no basis in the Canon, inasmuch as intention is not a factor in determining the offense under this rule.

A long section of this treatise discusses what to do if things that are not given get into food that has been given. It concludes that they must be removed from the food or the food must be given again. If the items “not given” are edibles, this seems reasonable enough, but the Commentary extends the concept to include such things as dust, dirty rain water, rust from a knife, beads of sweat dropping from one’s brow, etc. Again, this seems to be taking the concept too far, for the Vibhaṅga states clearly that the rule covers only those things generally considered as fit to eat.

3. Giving

The Commentary redefines the act of giving, expanding its factors to five:

(a) The item is such that a man of average stature can lift it.

(b) The donor is within reach—1.25 m.—of the bhikkhu.

(c) He/she makes a gesture of offering the food.

(d) The donor is a deva, a human being, or a common animal.

(e) The bhikkhu receives the item with the body or with something in contact with the body.

Factor (a) was included apparently to discourage the practice, still found in many places, of getting two or more men to present a table of food to a bhikkhu by lifting the entire table at once. The inclusion of this factor, though, has given rise to the assumption that the donor must lift the food a certain distance before handing it to the bhikkhu, but the Commentary itself shows that this assumption is mistaken, for it states that if a small novice too weak to lift a pot of rice simply slides it along the table or floor onto a bhikkhu’s hand, it is properly given.

Factor (b): If any part of the donor’s body (except for his/her extended arm) is within 1.25 meters of any part of the bhikkhu’s body (except for his extended arm), this factor is fulfilled. If the donor is standing beyond reach, the bhikkhu should tell him/her to come within reach before donating the food. If for some reason the donor does not comply with the bhikkhu’s request, the bhikkhu may still accept the food but should then take it to another unordained person—without setting it down and picking it up again in the meantime (see below)—and have it properly “given” before eating it.

Although the donor must be within reach, the food itself need not be. Thus if the donor places many vessels on a mat while the bhikkhu touches the mat with the intention of receiving them, all of the food is considered to be properly received as long as the donor is within reach of the bhikkhu. The same holds true if the donor places many vessels touching one another while the bhikkhu touches one of the vessels with the intention of receiving them all. (The factor of the bhikkhu’s intention is discussed further under factor (e) below.)

Factor (c) means that the donor cannot simply tell the bhikkhu to take the food being given. Rather, he/she should make a physical gesture of offering the food. In some Communities, this factor is interpreted as meaning that the donor must assume a humble or respectful manner while making the offering, and has led some to believe, for instance, that a bhikkhu going barefoot on his alms round should not accept food from a donor wearing shoes. This view is not supported by the Commentary. Although some of the gestures it cites as examples, such as tilting the head, might be interpreted as showing respect, some of them are not respectful in terms of Asian etiquette at all. For instance, a person riding on the bhikkhu’s shoulders picks a piece of fruit from a tree, drops it into the bhikkhu’s hands, and it is considered properly given.

The question arises as to how much of a gesture is necessary for this factor to be fulfilled. In the West, if a donor brings a tray of food and stands in front of a bhikkhu, waiting for him to take some of the food, the fact that he/she stands there waiting would be considered enough of a gesture to show that the food is being given. If the bhikkhu were to demand more of a gesture than that, the donor would probably be offended. Because the opinions expressed in this section of the Commentary are not necessarily normative, this is an area where one can make allowances for cultural norms. The essence of this factor would seem to be that a bhikkhu should not snatch food that a person happens to be carrying past him without showing any indication that he/she wants him to take the food.

Factor (d) is not discussed by the Commentary, although it is probably inspired by such stories as that of elephants offering lotus stalks to Ven. Moggallāna, and of Sakka, the king of the devas, presenting a gift of food to Mahā Kassapa after the latter had withdrawn from seven days of concentration (Ud.III.7). There is at least one bhikkhu in Thailand today who has trained a pet monkey to “give” him things.

Factor (e): The effort involved in receiving the item may be minimal indeed. In fact, the Commentary’s discussion of the Vibhaṅga quotes the Mahā Paccarī, one of the ancient Sinhalese commentaries, as saying that attention is the measure determining whether or not food has been received. Thus if a donor offers food by placing it on a table, the bhikkhu may simply touch the table with his finger, thinking, “I am receiving the food,” and it is properly given. The same holds true if he is sitting on the table or lying on a bed and regards the act of sitting or lying there as one of receiving whatever is placed there. However, immovable objects—such as a floor, the ground, or anything fixed to the floor or ground—may not be used as “items connected to the body” to receive food in this way.

Food placed in a bhikkhu’s hand when he is asleep or his attention is elsewhere—e.g., in deep meditation—does not count as properly given. He must be awake and paying enough attention to know that the food is being given for this factor to be fulfilled. Food placed in a bhikkhu’s mouth is considered properly given if he is awake. If he is asleep or unconscious and food is put into his stomach via a feeding tube, he has not broken this rule for he is not the agent putting it there, and as the Sub-commentary notes under Sg 1, the Vinaya does not apply to a bhikkhu when he is not in a normal, waking state of awareness.

4. Taking food that has not been given

To take food knowing that it has been improperly given or not given at all (here we are not talking about cases of stealing) is no offense if the bhikkhu has no intention of ever eating it. If, after he has set it down, the food is later “given” to him, he may accept and eat it with no penalty. Here the examples given in the Commentary include such things as picking up fallen fruit or the remains of a lion’s kill with the thought of taking them for a novice to eat, or picking up oil or ghee with the thought of taking it to one’s parents. A common example at present would be picking up food left lying around when one is cleaning up the monastery. The Sub-commentary states that this allowance does not hold if one is thinking of taking the food for other bhikkhus to eat.

To take food with the purpose of eating it, thinking that it has been properly given when in fact it hasn’t, is also no offense. If one then learns or realizes that it has not been properly given, one should return it—if possible, to its original place—without setting it down and picking it up again in the meantime. Once the food is back in its original place, one may “receive” and eat it with no penalty. If one sets it down and picks it up again before returning it to its original place, though, then technically one incurs a dukkaṭa for taking food that one realizes is not properly given, and so one may not later formally receive the food, as mentioned above. If for some reason there is no possibility of returning the food to its original place, one need only return it to some other spot in the building from which it was taken and then “receive” and eat it without committing an offense.

As we noted above, the Commentary’s discussion of this point has no basis in the Vibhaṅga to this rule or in the Great Standards, so there seems no reason to follow it.

According to the Commentary’s treatise, taking the food also includes deliberately touching it or the vessel containing it with the intention of eating it. (Touching it accidentally carries no penalty.) If a bhikkhu deliberately touches it in this way, he may not then properly receive it, although other bhikkhus may. Even after they have received it, the first bhikkhu may not eat any of it.

If the first bhikkhu, instead of merely touching the food or its vessel, actually moves it from its place, then neither he nor any of the other bhikkhus may receive it. Thus if a donor brings a pot of stew to the monastery, and one of the bhikkhus, curious to see what is going to be offered that day, tilts the pot to peek inside, none of the bhikkhus may eat the food, and the donor must either give it to the novices and any attendants at the monastery, if there are any, throw it to the dogs, or take it home.

Many Communities do not accept the Commentary’s opinions on this point, and with good reason: The last-mentioned penalty—even though the offense is a dukkaṭa—is stronger than that imposed by any of the nissaggiya pācittiya rules, and penalizes perfectly innocent people: the other bhikkhus and the donor of the food as well. An alternate opinion, which many Communities follow, is that if a bhikkhu takes—with the thought of eating it—food that he knows has not been properly offered, he may not then formally receive it from an unordained person, but other bhikkhus may. Once it has been properly received, any bhikkhu—including the first—may eat from it.

This is an area in which none of the texts give an authoritative answer, and a wise policy is to adhere to the views of the Community in which one is living, as long as they fit into the framework provided by the Canon.

5. When food becomes “ungiven.”

The Commentary to Pr 1, in its discussion of what to do when a bhikkhu’s sex changes spontaneously (!), lists seven actions through which an edible given to a bhikkhu becomes “ungiven”—i.e., no bhikkhu may pick it up and eat it until it is formally given again. The seven are—

(a) undergoing a spontaneous sex change,

(b) dying,

(c) disrobing and becoming a lay person,

(d) becoming a low person (according to the Sub-commentary, this means committing a pārājika),

(e) giving the item to an unordained person (because a spontaneous sex change would turn a bhikkhu into a bhikkhunī, unordained person here apparently includes not only lay people and novices, but bhikkhunīs as well),

(f) abandoning the item, having lost interest in it,

(g) the theft of the item. (The Sub-commentary, in discussing this last point, refers solely to cases of out-and-out thievery, and not to the mere act of touching or moving.)

The agent in actions (a) through (f) is apparently the bhikkhu who, at that time, has possession of the item. In other words, it does not have to be the original recipient. If Bhikkhu X, after receiving an item, gives it to Bhikkhu Y, then even if X then dies, the item still counts as given.

Of these seven actions, the Commentary’s treatise appended to this rule discusses only two—(e) and (f)—in a series of examples, as follows:

A bhikkhu with rice in his hand offers it to a novice: The rice remains “given” until the novice takes it.

A bhikkhu places food in a vessel and, no longer interested in it, tells a novice to take it: The food is “ungiven” as soon as he says this. This point, however, does not apply to food the bhikkhu leaves in his own bowl or in any Community vessel from which the bhikkhus are served or in which their food is prepared. If he leaves food in such a vessel, he is not regarded as having abandoned interest in it.

A bhikkhu sets his bowl on a stand and tells a novice to take some rice from it. Assuming that the novice’s hand is clean—i.e., not “contaminated” with any food from his own bowl that might fall into the bhikkhu’s bowl—the rice remaining in the bhikkhu’s bowl after the novice has taken his portion is still “given.” Technically speaking, the treatise says, the rice taken by the novice still belongs to the bhikkhu until the novice puts it in his own bowl. Thus if the novice begins to take a second handful and, being told by the bhikkhu, “That’s enough,” puts the second handful back in the bhikkhu’s bowl; or if any grains of rice from the first handful happen to fall back into the bhikkhu’s bowl while the novice is lifting it out, all the rice in the bhikkhu’s bowl is still “given.”

A bhikkhu holding a stick of sugar cane tells a novice to cut off a piece from the other end: The remaining section is still “given.”

A bhikkhu places pieces of hardened molasses on a tray and tells other bhikkhus and novices to help themselves from the tray: If the bhikkhus and novices simply pick up their portions and take them, the remaining hardened molasses is still “given.” If, though, a novice picks up one piece, puts it down, picks up another piece, puts it down, and so on, the hardened molasses remaining on the tray becomes “ungiven.”

The Sub-commentary explains this by saying that the novice picking up the molasses is thinking, “This is mine. I’ll take it,” then changes his mind, puts it down and then lays claim to another piece, and so on. Thus, only the pieces that the novice claims and then abandons in this way become “ungiven.” The other pieces on the tray still count as “given.”

This last example, when taken out of context, has led to the widespread view that food given to a bhikkhu becomes “ungiven” if an unordained person touches or moves it. Viewed in context, though, the example does not imply this at all. The bhikkhu has offered the hardened molasses to the novice, and the novice in picking it up simply completes the factors for case (e): “The bhikkhu gives the item to an unordained person.” The example of the novice taking rice from a bhikkhu’s bowl shows that even when a bhikkhu offers food to an unordained person, the mere fact that the person touches or moves the food does not necessarily make the food “ungiven.”

Thus in cases where the bhikkhu is not giving away the food and has not abandoned interest in it—and the unordained person is not stealing it—there is no reason to hold that “given” food becomes “ungiven” simply when an unordained person touches or moves it. This is another area, though, where different Communities hold different views, and where the wise policy is to conform to the observances of the Community in which one is living.

These points from the Commentary’s treatise may seem like a lot of hair-splitting, but remember that the gift of food ranks with sexual temptation as one of the largest issues in a bhikkhu’s—or anyone’s—life. If questions of this sort hadn’t arisen in practice, no one would have bothered to compile the treatise in the first place. Given the cursory manner in which the Vibhaṅga treats this rule, and given the large gray areas surrounding the act of giving—modern anthropology started with this subject and will probably never finish with it—it’s good to have those areas spelled out in detail so as to minimize any disharmony that might arise in a Community when its members find themselves in gray situations.

Still, as we have noted several times, the guidelines in the Commentary’s treatise are not binding, and the wise policy is to follow the standards of the Community in which one is living, as long as they fall within the framework of the Canon.

Summary: Eating food that has not been formally given is a pācittiya offense.