Pure Sustenance of Food

From Rigpa Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

This sutra, Pure Sustenance of Food (Tib. ཟས་ཀྱི་འཚོ་བ་རྣམ་པར་དག་པ། , Wyl. zas kyi ‘tsho ba rnam par dag pa) begins with Maudgalyayana asking Shakyamuni Buddha about some unusual beings he saw while on an alms round. After describing their bizarre features, such as their enormous stomachs and needle-thin throats, the Buddha informs Maudgalyayana that these beings are, in fact, starving spirits. The Buddha gives a discourse explaining how these starving spirits were once humans but attained this dismal state by committing misdeeds related to food. He uses their example as an opportunity to describe the misdeeds and meritorious actions related to food, along with their results. The first half of the discourse concerns the sangha and monastic rules surrounding food—eating only a single meal a day, how to participate in meals, how to treat leftovers, and the way to receive offerings—that are fundamental to the Vinaya, the Buddhist monastic code. The second half of the discourse concerns food hygiene and is specifically directed to the laypeople who handle the sangha’s food. To illustrate these strictures around food for both the monastic and lay audiences, the Buddha describes the workings of karma with vivid, sometimes graphic, imagery. These descriptions include positive results, such as being blessed and protected by the entire pantheon of gods, as well as negative results, such as being reborn as starving spirits who consume the contents of toilets.

The provenance of Pure Sustenance of Food is far from certain. While the notions of purity and pollution presented in the sutra would appear to be rooted in an Indic worldview, and the narrative connection between Maudgalyayana and starving spirits is common in Indic Buddhist literature, the sutra is bereft of the expected Sanskrit title and lacks the traditional colophon naming its Indian and Tibetan translators. Thus, there is the possibility that this sutra is a “grey text,” one that is neither purely Indic in origin nor fully Tibetan apocrypha. Rather than a translation in the strict sense of the term, it may have been derived from Indic material in a Tibetan setting. [1]


The Tibetan translation of this sutra can be found in the General Sutra section of the Tibetan Dergé Kangyur, Toh 206


  1. 84000 Translating the Words of the Buddha.