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By Ven. Chönyi Taylor
Food. It occupies a lot of my mind. In fact it always has, but more so since I was diagnosed with diabetes (Type 2, no big deal). So I wonder again, as I have many times in the past, how much easier life would be if we did not have to eat. This is possible in science fiction, and, as I found out after many years, for some Tibetan yogis: a complete food substitute in a pill.
This gives a new meaning to “the pill” – not a contraceptive, but a no-sugar, instant energizer that helps us diabetics. It is available from Tibetans, made from flowers amongst other ingredients and called chulen. Unfortunately, the energizing effect of this pill takes some times to kick in and one also needs a very good motivation for it to work … and some pretty good positive karma as well.1
There are three kinds of chulen: flower chulen, stone chulen and water chulen. With flower chulen, there is a pill composed of many different kinds of flowers; you take three pills: one in the morning, one at lunch, and one at night. That is all you eat, and it is sufficient. Then, when you get used to it, one pill is enough. And when you’re totally used to that, you don’t need to eat at all – you just use the visualization and absorb the elements directly into yourself. The energy itself is sufficient to sustain you.
When you do chulen you generate yourself as the deity, then you take the pill and you visualize taking the essence of the five elements – earth, air, fire, water and space. You absorb the essence of them into yourself. By doing this you don’t have to rely on any raw food at all.
For Dharma practitioners, doing a chulen retreat helps you not waste time. You don’t waste time gathering the food together and cooking it, which means you have more free time to practice Dharma, especially when you go do retreat in a cave. You don’t need to rely on a benefactor to sponsor the food. And moreover it makes your mind extremely clear. It helps the energy in the meditation. The secondary benefit is that it prolongs your lifespan and it reduces your gray hair and wrinkles. It also makes your face and body more beautiful.”2
It takes a lot of time to shop, prepare and cook food for a family. I used to think how much more spare time I would have if none of us needed to eat. Of course, this would disrupt a massive industry that relies not just on the need to eat, but also on the greed to eat. Millions of stores would become redundant. Even more millions of people would be out of work. On the other hand, there would be no looming food crises due to wars and climate change. What would we all do with so much time?
Our human history does not indicate we would use it well.
On the other hand, think of all the negative karma we create by grasping for food. None of this would occur. Our whole digestive system, which occupies a large proportion of our bodies, would become obsolete.
The Tibetan creation story tells us that we devolved from beings of light into beings with coarse human bodies because we became greedy for food. At first we had given to us exactly what we needed for one day. Then someone became frightened that the food would not arrive the next day and stole his neighbor’s food. The neighbor then needed to steal from another person and so on until everyone was hoarding their food supplies and protecting their hoards.3 I suppose that if we were given a daily magic pill, we would end up doing exactly the same. Back to reality. I need to eat, which means I need to shop, prepare and cook food.
Not only do I need to eat, but my metabolic state means I need to eat mindfully. There are the meditations on mindful eating in which we take note of every moment of tasting and chewing food. Mindful eating, though, also means mindful shopping and mindful food preparation. I need to ask, Where is the dreaded sugar? Mindful shopping means reading the labels carefully and knowing the disguises under which sugar hides. Mindfulness, then needs to be supported by wisdom.
Another important form of food mindfulness is becoming aware of the difference between being hungry and wanting to eat. Then there is the mindfulness of my reactions to refusing myself what I would like to eat. Mindfulness of the discomfort that follows. Mindfulness of the source of my discomfort. Mindfulness of my ego. Mindfulness of the source of my ego. Mindfulness of its non-inherent existence.
Maybe it is a good thing that I have diabetes if it brings me back to mindfulness of non-inherent existence.
Ven. Chönyi Taylor is a registered Foundational Buddhism FPMT teacher and an elder for the Discovering Buddhism at Home Course. She is the author of Enough! A Buddhist Approach to Working with Addictive Patterns (Snow Lion, 2010) and has been published in Mandala, Buddhadharma, Dharma Vision and Sangha Magazine. She is a founding member and member of the training committee of the Australian Association of Buddhist Counsellors and Psychotherapists and an Honorary Lecturer in the Discipline of Psychiatry at Sydney University.
1. You can read one first-hand experience of being on “the pill” at http://www.lamayeshe.com/?sect=article&id=489
2. See Choden Rinpoche, http://www.kurukulla.org/program/choden_articles/revolution.html
3. For a full version of this creation story, see http://bhutanjournals.com/history-culture-tradition/buddhism/the-creation-a-buddhist-tale/
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