The Three Recollections and the Five Contemplations Performed at Mealtime

We shouldn’t casually go through life in a muddled manner, not knowing why we eat, wear clothes, and sleep.

Left-home people make three recollections before taking their meals. They begin the meal by drinking three spoonfuls of soups, making one recollection with each spoonful.

The first recollection is, “I vow to cut off all evil.” This includes not discriminating whether the food is good or not. Just eat whatever food is served. Don’t be picky or indulge in idle thoughts as you eat. Don’t think, “This place is not nice at all. We’re not allowed to talk when we eat, and there’s no freedom. It’s like being in jail. I only came to bow to the Buddha, and there are so many rules to follow. It’s no fun at all!”

If you have such thoughts, you won’t be able to digest your food. Don’t always look at other people’s faults. “If you always see the faults of others, then you haven’t put an end to your own suffering.” Why don’t you reflect upon and examine yourself?

The second recollection is, “I vow to cultivate all good.” We should vow to correct all bad habits and faults. Cultivating the Way is nothing more than “doing no evil and practicing all good.”

The third recollection is, “I vow to save all living beings.” We vow to help all living beings leave suffering, attain bliss, and end birth and death.

During the meal, we should also make the five contemplations:

1. Consider the amount of work involved in bringing the food to the table. Contemplate whether we have merit and virtue to accept this meal. Then consider how much energy the farmers expended in planting and harvesting the crops. Think about all the different stages of preparation the food went through before it reached our plate. None of it came easily.

2. Reflect on whether or not one’s virtuous conduct is sufficient to entitle one to receive this offering. Have we perfected our virtuous conduct? Do we deserve to accept this meal?

3. Guard the mind from transgressions, principally that of greed. We must watch over our own mind and keep it from errors and greedy thoughts. We shouldn’t help ourselves to more of the good food while not touching food that is not as appetizing. In other words, we shouldn’t be picky about food. Whether it tastes good or not, it’s food all the same.

4. Regard the food as medicine to prevent the body from collapsing. Why do we need to eat? We should regard the food as medicine that provides energy for our bodies. Just as cars cannot run without gasoline, people cannot survive without food. We eat not for the taste of the food but to cure hunger.

5. This food is taken only in order to accomplish the Way. We eat not because we want to enjoy good food, but because we want to cultivate our Dharma body and wisdom life to accomplish the Way.

These five contemplations are guidelines to be observed when we eat. They should also be applied to our other daily activities, such as dressing and sleeping. We shouldn’t casually go through life in a muddled manner, not knowing why we eat, wear clothes, and sleep. These are all essential matters, and we should understand them very clearly.

A talk given on November 7, 1979