Is it true that the only medicinal food allowed in the Vinaya is food pickled in cow urine?

Hello, can a Vinaya expert tell me whether it’s true that the only medicinal food allowed in the Vinaya is food pickled in cow urine? (I have read this in a book I referred to in a recent thread).
If this is so, why are monks allowed to eat chocolate (for example) in the afternoon?

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It is not correct, there are many medicines allowed in vinaya.
You may read Medicine (Bhesajja)

But cow urine might be one of the allowed medicines. If I say it precisely a moderate monk would only prefer gallnuts and urine as his medicines but others would use other medicines as derected by doctors. There is a debate on the use of urine. That urine used to make putimutta besajja (gallnuts fermented/pickled in urine ) may be cow urine or one’s own urine.

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Thanks. And do you have to actually be ill to take medicine? I am asking because I saw some people eating chocolate in the afternoon at a monastery with their tea, saying ‘let’s have some medicine’, but they did not look sick at all.

Chocolate falls under the tonic category, just like sugar molasses. It can be used if it has been offered and the bhikkhu or bhikkhuni feels weak and has a long wait ahead before the next morning’s meal.

A sense of excitement began to grow about the diet. After feeling a little tired in the first week, I did as the monastics do: I began taking tonics in the late afternoon and evening (sugar, honey, and medicine are allowed according to all the different lineages). I would have tea and honey or a particular scandalous treat that is allowed for monastics courtesy of a loophole: dark chocolate. Due to the ingredients of pure dark chocolate being cocoa (a medicine) and sugar, monks in the Thai Forest tradition munch on the little dark squares at tea time. This might make us on the diet seem like dandies to you, but believe me—when dark chocolate is the only food stuff you are allowed, its flavor begins to turn ascetic pretty quickly.
I Tried the “Buddhist Monk” Diet—And It Worked - Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

There’s also allowance for curd which in some monasteries is interpreted as including cheese.


Ghee is ‘sappi’ cheese/coffe mate is derived from ‘navanītaṃ’ & ‘tela’ oil I guess too.

From BMC…

The Vibhaṅga defines the five tonics as follows:
Ghee means strained, boiled butter oil made from the milk of any animal whose flesh is allowable for bhikkhus to eat (see the introduction to the Food Chapter in the pācittiya rules).

Fresh butter must be made from the milk of any animal whose flesh is allowable. None of the Vinaya texts go into detail on how fresh butter is made, but MN 126 describes the process as “having sprinkled curds in a pot, one twirls them with a churn.” Fresh butter of this sort is still made in India today by taking a small churn — looking like an orange with alternate sections removed, attached to a small stick — and twirling it in curds, all the while sprinkling them with water. The fresh butter — mostly milk fat — coagulates on the churn, and when the fresh butter is removed, what is left in the pot is diluted buttermilk. Fresh butter, unlike creamery butter made by churning cream, may be stored unrefrigerated in bottles for several days even in the heat of India without going rancid.

Arguing by the Great Standards, creamery butter would obviously come under fresh butter here. A more controversial topic is cheese.

In Mv.VI.34.21, the Buddha allows bhikkhus to consume five products of the cow: milk, curds, buttermilk, fresh butter, and ghee. Apparently, cheese — curds heated to evaporate their liquid content and then cured with or without mold — was unknown in those days, but there seems every reason, using the Great Standards, to include it under one of the five. The question is which one. Some have argued that it should come under fresh butter, but the argument for classifying it under curds seems stronger, as it is closer to curds in composition and is generally regarded as more of a substantial food. Different Communities, however, have differing opinions on this matter.

Oil, according to the Vibhaṅga, includes sesame oil, mustard seed oil, “honey tree” oil, castor oil, and oil from tallow. The Commentary adds that oil made from any plants not listed in the Vibhaṅga carries a dukkaṭa if kept more than seven days, although it would seem preferable to apply the Great Standards and simply make all plant oils subject to the full offense under this rule.

The best one is meat broth, especially for fasting

…there is an allowance in Mv.VI.14.7 for a bhikkhu who has taken a purgative to take strained meat broth, strained rice broth, or strained green gram (mung bean) broth at any time of the day. Using the Great Standards, we may say that a bhikkhu who has a similar illness or worse may take these broths at any time; and some have argued that other bean broths — such as strained broth made from boiled soybeans — would fit under the category of green gram broth as well. However, unlike the case with the five tonics, mere hunger or fatigue would not seem to count as sufficient reasons for taking any of these substances in the wrong time…


Could you share with us exactly what it says in the book. I think you may be misreading.

If you are this curious about monastic life and monastic rules, I’m sure we can give you far, far better things to be reading.

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Thanks for that. So, the correct link / argument for consuming cheese is equating it to curd?

Hi Gabriel yes, sapi-ghee tela-oil navanitam-butter?curds?cheese! madu-hony panīta-…

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It comes from a humorous scene of the book. In the evenings they were eating pickled olives against constipation. After Tim Ward read the Vinaya (since there was a lot of emphasis on rules at the wat he decided to study them) he pointed out to a monk that they were not really following it, since the only allowable medicine was food pickled in cow urine. To which the monk replied: ‘actually, we are following the Vinaya more strictly than you think’ (meaning that he had been eating olives pickled in urine all along, without knowing it) :sweat_smile:

Oh, I remember that passage.

Yeah, this guy doesn’t know what he is talking about. He tried to write an interesting book, which he did. But it’s filled with wrong information. Remember that publishers do not have fact checkers for books. Only journalistic endeavors do that (hopefully!). It’s great that you want to learn about monastic life. But I’m afraid that if you take him as your guide you are going to fall into unnecessary trouble.


I am not really taking him as my guide, I am trying to see things from different angles though. I tried to read a book by an ex monk, Paul Breiter, but I found that it was much less well written (from a literary point of view at least).
If you have some good references to suggest I would be thankful :slight_smile:

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Have you ever heard the expression, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but they are not entitled to their own facts.”? Just because someone can write a good book doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about. Really, your first question when you came to this forum could have been “is this book a good source of factual information” and a lot of people would have been quickly able to tell you that it isn’t. It doesn’t mean that anyone is blindly adhering to anything. But if you keep posting things that are basically “Tim Ward says this but I saw monks doing that???” then people are going to get tired of it. Because people have already told you that his book is not a good guide. Or an “angle” as you said. You have a sincere interest. Ward did not.

Basically if your questions are going to be, “Ward says this, but I see all this other evidence to the contrary,” save some time and know that Ward’s book is wrong.

If you want to learn about the vinaya rules, then you need to read a book that teaches lay people the vinaya. This is a fairly good one:

One bit of advice I can give you that might make your time here more beneficial… According to the vinaya, if one monk thinks another monk has broken a vinaya rule, the proper procedure is ask questions in general about the rule, not to accuse them out right. Because 1) no one likes to be accused, 2) the accuser could be misunderstanding the rule and 3) what the accuser saw may not have really been what happened. So by asking questions about the rule, #2 could get cleared up. And the person who broke the rule has the chance to say “oh, I didn’t know that was against the rule. I did that.” So slowly things can be cleared up, and only if necessary do you have to confront the person directly.


I always refrigerate the butter that I make–it will spoil unrefrigerated. Ghee lacks the milks solids that will spoil so I leave ghee out during the winter. Unrefrigerated ghee during the winter looks solid, a lot like fresh butter. During the summer I refrigerate ghee because only because it’s easier to measure when solid. Oddly, ghee made in India has a higher melting point than my own homemade ghee.