Why Avoid The Five Pungent Roots?

The below is a set of answers I helped to write for Makan Sutra (MS) upon request via a friend. MS is not to be mistaken as an actual spiritual sutra. In fact, it’s a very worldly guide for indulgence in all kinds of foods, including animals. It’s kind of an abuse of the word ‘sutra’ actually, unless you consider it being used in ‘Kama Sutra’ as alright too!

Question: Is it so that some vegetarians do not consume ‘aromatics’ such as garlic or onion? 

Answer: Yes, such as Chinese Mahayana Buddhist vegetarians and vegans, who often also exclude shallots, leeks and chives in their diet.

Question: What are the spiritual reasons for not consuming them?

Answer: They avoid these ‘five pungent roots’ (even if seen as ‘aromatic’ by some) as the Buddha taught in the Surangama Sutra that when eaten cooked, they can have aphrodisiac effects that increase craving for sense pleasures, distracting them from progress in spiritual practices such as meditation; and when eaten raw, they can cause irritability (anger). The effects might not be obvious to those who consume only a little, or who are not mindful enough to notice the effects – e.g. who do not do much meditative practices. With less giving in to sensual indulgence (greed) and anger (hatred) by abstaining from these roots, this is good for both physical and mental well-being.

In the same sutra, it is mentioned that protective gods dislike the smell of the roots and shun those who consume them, while hungry ghosts (some of whom might be potentially harmful) like the smell and draw near. With less protection during meditative practices and everyday life, there is the possibility of being urged by demonic beings to break moral precepts, and increase in greed, hatred and delusion. In the worst-case scenario, one might even join the retinue of demonic kings in the next life, thereafter losing blessings (after depletion of good karma) before falling into the hells (which are not permanent though; as negative karma created is limited in nature).

2 thoughts on “Why Avoid The Five Pungent Roots?

  1. Re: In Theravada tradition, the monks and nuns consume large amount of garlic and onions. In fact, most of these monks and nuns are very good meditators.

    Reply: It is not accurate to say ‘most’ of them are ‘very good meditators’ unless there are detailed studies on this. Do see the following for the Buddha’s admonition on the 5 roots: http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2016/10/how-should-all-aspiring-for-buddhahood-eat-and-drink All will be better meditators without consuming these roots.

    Re: … most Chinese Buddhists don’t meditate.

    Reply: This is untrue. In Chan practice for instance, meditation is central. In Pure Land practice, Nianfo (mindfulness of Buddha) is a meditative practice too, as can be seen at http://purelanders.com/2012/01/16/buddha-mindfulness-is-supreme-meditation

  2. Re: In Theravada tradition, the monks go begging for alms – receiving cooked leftover food from householders, so by right, they are unable to dictate or direct how much onions or garlic or meat they will consume.

    Reply: They can gradually educate via Dharma talks. Not all received food are leftovers these days too. Much is prepared in advanced.

    Re: In Mahayana tradition, the monks can cook themselves, so their lives have to abide by the monastic rules.
    As for the 5 pungent veggie, one can read the Vinaya sutra and see what are the rules, this is esp so for Buddha-time monks and definitely Buddha himself, who were invited to lunch by rich householders and/or Kings. Buddhist believe mind and matter interdependently affect each other.

    Reply: More can be seen at https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2016/10/how-should-all-aspiring-for-buddhahood-eat-and-drink/

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