Suppose a monk is invited to a house for food and the lay person asks how the food is? How does a monk reply to such a question. I am sure a monk in his lifetime comes across many such subjective questions. How should he deal with them? Does he:

  1. Just reply something to satisfy the lay person
  2. Give him/her a teaching on impermanence of everything

From the stories in Buddha's life, it is clear that he laid great emphasis on timing his teachings to someone. Many a time he would say that this is not the right time for him/her to learn the Dhamma. Having this in context, does it make sense to impart teaching at every possible opportunity.

Please incorporate any stories if any to showcase the tradition.

  • 2
    If you are interested as an aside, HH Dalai Lama was on Aussie Mater Chef. He said he liked all the food. In one case he said the contestant tried her best. He did express preferences. He said that he was no expert on food, and eats and accepts what he gets. And that each of the foods had a unique character. He said he had no right to prefer one food to another, though he did express a preference at one point and also that all mammals are pleased to receive food. It's on YouTube. I thought I'd write this aside as an amusing modern story compared to what you probably expected!
    – Dan
    Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 0:55

5 Answers 5


Being attached to some rule about how to answer certain questions isn't the point. Good answers come out of being present and aware.

The same question will be answered differently at different moments depending on what the moment calls for.

"Every possible opportunity" is an interesting phrase. If someone isn't ready to learn something there no opportunity to teach him something. Being a good teacher means to know what someone can learn and then give him that lesson. It's not about throwing a lot of spaghetti on the wall and hoping that something sticks.

Christian missionaries do thing that it's the intention that counts. Christian missionaries will lecture someone whether or not there an opportunity to teach something. For them the act in itself is important.

Buddhism is different. It's about being skillful and only teach when the student can learn. Teaching requires patience and waiting for a possible opportunity.


Though not directly related to Buddhism "How to speak so that people want to listen" gives a good strategy to be used in such situation. It is:

  • Being truthful coupled with
  • Compassion

And not being blunt though trueful. In this cases you can be very tactful like answering question like was the food good, etc.

  • 1
    nice lesson in that vid...thanks for pointing it out Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 17:13

My Guru said that if she was eating in someone's home and they put non-vegetarian food in front of her, not knowing she had chosen to not eat meat, she would eat anyway and be grateful for the gift of care and attention the person had made. She did not say (as far as I know) how to answer directly such a question as you asked, but I would say: 1) express pleasure if you enjoy the food 2) express gratitude and whatever you can politely say otherwise, only if asked. I think this is normal common sense, and applies to Monks as well. I can usually find something nice to say about any meal. It is good training for not being so picky, so eat out as much as you can!


Please incorporate any stories if any to showcase the tradition

I cannot say what a monk should do, so this answer is off-topic, and theoretical, for what it's worth.

I had e.g. here a very small amount of insight into conversation when there's a disjoint view of reality.

You might be worried that because the monk and the host have a different view/insight about the food, therefore it's not a topic/subject which they can share a conversation about.

I'd suggest that the 'monk' might try to react/respond to the person, not to the food. Perhaps something like, "It's kind of you to invite me" or "It's kind of you to care about my welfare" or just "It's good" ... and then try to reciprocate, perhaps inquire after the welfare of the person you're talking to.

Also my mum taught pre-schoolers. Part of her advice for controlling their behaviour was, instead of scolding them for bad behaviour, wait until they show some good behaviour and praise that. So you might not want to be scolding a layperson about impermanence. In fact the book described in this answer was written by a monk who deals with laypeople in Texas: and it claims, explicitly, that "impermanence" and "dukkha" and so on are concepts which were more intended for monks than for laypeople.

Please incorporate any stories if any to showcase the tradition

Here's one Zen story that could be relevant to what I was saying above:

No Loving-Kindness

"To think I fed that fellow for twenty years!" exclaimed the old woman in anger. "He showed no consideration for your needs, no disposition to explain your condition. He need not have responded to passion, but at least he should have evidenced some compassion."

I think a moral of that story is, 'Loving-kindness: don't leave home without it.'

An article like Detachment and Compassion might be apposite.

Here is another:

Brother Stream handed out clementines and we all learnt how to peel and eat the fruit slowly and mindfully, enjoying the bright orange colour, the citrus fragrance and the crisp sound as we each held a Clementine up to our ear and gently removed the peel in one long piece, before holding a segment in our mouths and enjoying the taste.

This one is a bit different:

  • It's with school-children
  • Eating is just one activity (read the article for the 'bell' before eating and the 'singing' afterwards)
  • I found a couple of stories to add.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 17:44

Suppose a monk is invited to a house for food and the lay person asks how the food is? How does a monk reply to such a question.

I do not know how a monk would answer such questions since i'm not a monk myself.

Being asked how the food is one could answer in different ways.

If one answers: "The food is good. I like it" one is in a way confirming one's own attachment to the food. That could become an issue since one is trying to overcome attachments and purify oneself of defilements.

One could instead answer: "Thank you for the food. I appreciate the effort put into making it. Food is important to the upkeep of the human body. Upkeeping the human body is important since it allows one to practice longer and help other beings more".

Then one could as you suggest give a teaching on the impermanence of conditioned phenomena or one could give a teaching on dependent origination regarding the danger of attaching to sense pleasures and how that leads to suffering and further becoming.

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