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Sunflower seeds as evening medicine?

I have just learned that in some (Thai) monastic communities sunflower seeds are ‘evening allowable’.

I’m trying to trace back to the idea behind this. One person has suggested that flowers are allowable, therefor the seeds are allowable. However, I can’t even see an allowance for eating flowers, only for flower juice drinks (with the exception of liquorice flower).

This all seems even more controversial than cheese!

Any clues appreciated :pray:t2:

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Yeah , it’s a big thing to have those seeds in the evening over there. I recall the argument of it playing the role of oil as a tonic?
Maybe Ven. @Dhammanando could help?

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I think sunflower seeds are regarded as lifetime medicine but taken as an evening allowable?
But it’s worth noting that many Thai monasteries don’t allow them. I also remember seeing quite a few things that we don’t see in the west, such as small bitter fruits, again regarded as lifetime medicines for digestion.

It’s interesting noting the regional variations of what is considered tonics or medicines. In the early days herbs and seeds and those sorts of things would have been regarded as medicines. When the Sangha first came the the west, the options for tonics would been quite limited - which is how we arrived at sugary jelly lollies like snakes, chocolate and all sorts, which would not be acceptable in most places as they would see it as proper food. But the various pickled fruits and things available overseas were not available here at that time. We almost never see ghee or oil here in the evening but it’s quite common overseas.

I think many sangha wish for something that wasn’t sugary that they could consume in the evening if needed, for health reasons. Some places allow miso I believe.

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This was my thinking. I’d much rather not just eat sugary junk. I was offered a large jar of sunflower seeds when I visit a local Thai monastery and was quite confused, so I’ve been eating them in the morning

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I don’t understand the concept of allowables. I thought the idea was no food after 12 Noon. But I know the monastery near me has an interesting array of sugar-y treats, cheese, miso, and coconut oil set out at their 5:00 tea. I hadn’t realized the extent of regional variation until reading this post.

What is the thinking behind allowables?

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Hi @JimInBC, the thinking behind the allowables is that when one only eats one meal a day, they can get a little hungry in the evening and their sugar levels drop, they can feel tired and sometimes have hunger pains, which can make it difficult to practice. So the Buddha allowed tonics in the evenings.

Here at Lokanta Vihara we have only one meal, and rarely have any tonics. We rely on juice for sugar a sugar hit. You get used to it after some time.

Here’s a good summary from Bhante Ariyesako’s book on the Bhikkkhus Rules for Laypeople.

MEDICINES OR TONICS

We have dealt above with food and fruit juice. There is now the category of ‘tonic-medicines’ (sattaahakaalika). These can be consumed at any time but cannot be stored longer than seven days (after they are offered).

These tonic-medicines were originally regulated when Venerable Pilindavaccha’s great feats of psychic power made him so famous that he received many offerings of the five ‘tonics.’ Even though he distributed these among other monks there was so much that the excess had to be stored away and their dwellings were overrun by rats. Visiting lay people criticized the monks for “storing up goods in abundance like a king.” The Buddha therefore set down this rule:

"Keeping any of the five tonics — ghee, fresh butter, oil, honey, or sugar/molasses — for more than seven days is [an offence of Confession with Forfeiture.] (Summarized Nis. Paac. 23; BMC p.242)

◊ There are various translations and interpretations about these ‘tonic- medicines’ — according to different Communities and different countries. Some places consider only liquids allowable while a few communities will drink only plain water in the afternoon. Some communities will not accept re-offered tonic-medicines (after the seven days period is over), some will under certain circumstances. Therefore lay devotees need to enquire about the practice of their local Community and follow that way.[94]

Some contemporary observations:

“The five medicines — ghee, navaniita.m, oil, honey, and suga — were allowed by the Buddha to be consumed by ‘sick’ monks at any time of the day or night. According to the Mahaavagga, these five were ‘agreed upon as medicines and, although they served as nutriment for people, were not considered as substantial food.’ The degree of infirmity required before a monk is allowed to consume these [tonic-]medicines is a controversial point… It seems that feeling rundown or feeling tired after physical exertion would be sufficient cause to be able to make use of the Five Medicines.”(AB)

“The main effectiveness of these medicines seems to be in their nutritional value. They do not have medicinal value as commonly understood today, for example, relieving pain or as an antiseptic. However, as nutriment they would help to maintain bodily strength and assist in recuperation while, since they are so rich, would not be a substitute for normal food.” (HS ch.10)

Also, if the tonic-medicine is mixed with a tiny amount of food then it would be acceptable according to this allowance:

“…if sugar has a little flour mixed with it simply to make it firmer — as sometimes happens in sugar cubes and blocks of palm sugar — it is still classed as a tonic as it is still regarded simply as ‘sugar.’” (BMC p.238-9)

If the flour is for more food-like reasons then it would be counted as food. See also Mixing Edibles above.

LIFETIME MEDICINES

The fourth category of edibles (see The Four Sorts of Edibles) is that of Lifetime Medicines (yaavajiivika). which includes what we generally think of as medicines.

The basic principle set down by the Buddha about all medicines is in this reflection:

“Properly considering medicinal requisites for curing the sick, I use them: simply to ward off any pains of illness that have arisen, and for the maximum freedom from disease.” [OP p. 47; (Paali: M. I, 10; A. III, 387)]

In the beginning, the basic (herbal) medicines allowed by the Buddha were those pickled in urine. Later, nearly all other types came to be considered allowable.[95] (See the separate allowance above for ‘tonic-medicines.’)

Medicines that may be consumed without time limitation are called yaavajiivika. The Texts mention different sorts of herbal medicines such as: plant roots, e.g., ginger, turmeric, sweet flag, etc.; decoctions, such as of the neem or nux-vomica; tree-leaves, such as neem-leaves, tulsi or holy basil; fruits, such as long peppers, myrobalan, wormwood; resins, such as asafoetida; salts, such as sea-salt, rock salt, etc. Any other medicine or herbs similar to these that is not reckoned to be food is included under this ‘lifetime’ category.[96]

◊ Modern western medicines are usually included — using the Great Standards — under this category and therefore can be taken at any time of the day and kept as long as necessary.

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Thank you, @Akaliko! I really appreciate the explanation!

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@Pasanna

Greetings Sāmanerī Pasannā,

When i visited Luang Ta Maha Bua’s monastery Wat Pah Baan Taad a few years back, maybe around the beginning of 2003, i too was surprised when in the evening–at the extremely simple meditation platform and tarp i’d been offered at retreat lodgings out at the very furthest edge of the women’s section–an upāsikā appeared to offer sunflower seeds and a little of an very old-style traditional sweet as evening allowable.

She told me sincerely that i mustn’t chew the sweet, but let it entirely dissolve in my mouth and not chew or swallow any solid, or it would be a fault for me and for her.

“But what of these?” i asked her, with regards to the sunflower seeds. “You are so careful that i not chew, or take any solid, and…?”

She explained to me that in Vinaya, medicinal seeds are allowable in the afternoon and evening, and that it was alright to chew them, that they should be salivated and then chewed thoroughly, and then they worked well and properly as medicine.

I had never seen, nor heard, nor thought of sunflower seeds in this way. After some time of contemplation however, i remembered several kinds of medicinal seeds being allowed in the afternoon in Vinaya.

During my time in India earlier, in fact, seeds were sometimes offered after the meal: cumin, fennel, anise seed, and some others like this, were regularly offered and used as digestive aid, for acid indigestion, and in the case of stomach pain.

For several years i’ve thought i would like to check back on the names of those seeds in Vinaya, and whether they are categorically allowed, or just specific types. Of course, one of the Vinaya principles is “if it is in line with what is allowable, and not in line with what is not allowable, it may be allowable, unless specifically stated otherwise.”

My understanding is this principle is what was at work there, as that particular monastery was one aiming to be relatively strict in Vinaya.

I hope this may be helpful. And please do let me know if someone has undertaken the study that i’ve thought for so long of.

Blessings in your practice, and to all here,
with much mettā

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Sunflower seeds have fat, fibre and protein and keep you satiated longer without a sugar rush/drop. As opposed to a sweet drink or chocolate. Other fatty foods like coconut oil provide calories similarly.
Maybe It was a solution developed to prevent/manage diabetes?