Eating Time

Maha Ghosananda

Excerpted from Step by Step: Meditations on Wisdom and Compassion by Maha Ghosananda (Parallax Pres,; Berkeley, 1991).

ALL BEINGS are dependent on food, that is, eating. There is food for the body, food for feeling, food for volitional action, and food for rebirth.

The Buddha cried when he saw this endless cycle: the fly comes and eats the flower; the frog comes and eats the fly; the snake comes and eats the frog; the bird comes and eats the snake. The tiger comes and eats the bird; the hunter comes and kills the tiger. The tiger's body becomes swollen; many flies come and eat the tiger's corpse. The flies lay eggs, and the eggs become more flies. The flies eat the flowers, and the frogs eat the flies. . . .

In Buddhist stories there is a big giant with many mouths and many teeth. This giant eats everything. This giant is Time. If you can eat Time, you can gain Nirvana.

You can eat Time by being here and now, by living in the moment. Then Time cannot eat you. Time is the eater.

Feeling is also the eater. Feeling has six mouths—the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body, and the mind. The first mouth eats material shape; that is the eye. The second mouth eats sound. The third mouth eats smell. The fourth mouth eats taste. The fifth mouth eats physical contact, and the last mouth eats ideas. That is feeling.

Everything depends upon something. Depending on the eye and material shape springs up eye-consciousness. The meeting of the eye, material shape, and eye-consciousness is called eye impingement. Feeling is conditioned by eye impingement. Perception is conditioned by feeling. Thinking is conditioned by perception. And from this there is "I," "my," "me." I have seen, I have heard, I have seen my material shape," etc. Feeling is, the place where all these things gather together. From feeling there comes craving, and from craving there comes suffering.

In Pali, Cambodian, and many other languages, "feeling" means "eating."

All of this is compared to a tree—the Bodhi tree. Bodhi means "enlightenment." The Bodhi tree has roots, trunk, branches, leaves, flowers, and fruits. The roots are ignorance, anger, and lust. And the opposites of these things are wisdom, compassion, and generosity. All of these are gathered together in feeling. Lust and generosity are gathered together in pleasant feeling; anger and compassion are gathered together in unpleasant feeling; and ignorance and wisdom are gathered together in neutral feeling.

The fruits of the Bodhi tree are the Four Noble Truths: the noble truth of Suffering; the noble truth of the Cause of Suffering; the noble truth of the Ceasing of Suffering; and the noble truth of the Middle Path leading to the Ceasing of Suffering. All of these are in feeling, because feeling is suffering. Pleasant feeling, unpleasant feeling, and neutral feeling are always suffering. When we understand feeling, then we understand the cause, the ceasing, and the Middle Path leading to the ceasing of suffering.

The Buddha said, "I teach only two things: suffering and the ceasing of suffering." And suffering is feeling. Therefore in meditation we try to stop all feeling, all thinking. Thinking makes suffering. Thinking makes feeling, and feeling makes thinking. All the Dharma is gathered together in feeling. The happiness without feeling is Nirvana—the highest, supreme happiness.

This means to be always in the present, here and now, step by step. And so, brothers and sisters, please eat Time! . . .

A Cambodian Buddhist monk, Maha Ghosanand survived the decimation of the Buddhist community during the Pol Pot regime and came to the United States in 1989 at the invitation of the United Nations to represent the Cambodian nation in exile.


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