The Patimokkha of the Vinaya, the rules for the bhikkhus and bhikkhunis states that the monastics should eat only one meal per day, at around 12 noon. If they violate this rule, it is to be confessed. It is considered a minor violation and not one that is serious enough to entail expulsion from the Order.
The Buddha praised moderation in eating (Sn.707) and encouraged this in his monks and nuns. To this end and for reasons of health, he made a rule that they should not eat after noon. ‘I do not eat in the evening and thus I am free from illness and affliction and enjoy health, strength and ease’ (M.I,473). The Buddha also suggested to his disciples that they recite these words as a reflection before eating. ‘We will eat in moderation. Reflecting wisely we will not eat for fun, for amusement or for physical attractiveness but only for the maintenance and continuance of this body, for allaying the discomfort of hunger, for assisting in living the holy life and with the thought “I will end the old desires and not give rise to new ones and thus be healthy, blameless and live in comfort” ’ (M.I,273).
Lay people (Upasaka and Upasika) may eat three meals per day or whatever is customary in their land of residence. But on certain days where lay people wish to engage in more serious practice, one meal per day is also followed. For lay people, it is generally followed when they decide to voluntarily do the eight precepts on certain days per month. Some lay people follow the one meal a day program all the time, although this is not required of lay people. A morning meal in addition to the noon meal is considered okay, if it is light, as long as all the food consumed for the day is finished before 12 noon. The Buddha advised the one meal a day program for the following reasons:
- It is good for health, to consume all the food at once and walk (exercise it off later).
- It places less of a burden on lay people who will only need to provide food for one meal, instead of many meals.
- It allows for more time to be spent on the practice and teaching of Dhamma.
Medical doctors (Chopra, MD) have concurred that food is poorly digested in the evenings. Nutritionists have recommended eating the largest meals in the morning or at lunch and very little to no food in the evenings.
Preparing, cooking, and cleaning for several meals is very time consuming and most people would admit, monastic or lay, that it would be better to have more free time for other things (such as practicing the Dhamma).