Question: I once put a Dharma book on my lap for reading while eating. A fellow Buddhist commented that I should not do that. Does this create negative karma?
Answer: Unless there is no other place to place them, it is better to place Dharma materials higher – at least at table levels. It is not that placing them low definitely means there is disrespect, but placing them higher does help us cultivate greater mindfulness of reverence to the Dharma. This is linked to the psychology of things placed low (such as shoes) being associated (even if subconsciously) with being lowly, and things placed higher (such as our heads!) being associated with being precious and noble.
Unless there is ill intention, there is no negative karma created when Dharma materials are placed low, but since others might see doing so as disrespectful, in order not to give rise to misunderstanding and displeasure, we should avoid placing them low. We can place them in covered bags first, if we have no choice but to place them low, so as to prevent needless misunderstanding. Not only should we respect the Dharma, we should respect fellow Buddhists who are trying to protect the integrity of the Dharma too. (Reading when seated upright on the floor is alright though – especially during chanting sessions without space for tables, when texts might need to rest on the lap at times.)
Unless you are truly too busy to fork out time for dedicated Dharma study, reading ‘while’ eating is alright. However, as studies show, ‘multi-tasking’ is mostly unfruitful, as the mind needs to toggle to and fro dividedly and rapidly. If so, it might make much more sense to do one thing at a time – to eat mindfully and thus efficiently, before studying the Dharma, also mindfully and efficiently – instead of doing both eating and reading semi-mindfully and half-heartedly, thus not truly digesting the physical and spiritual food!
Can I Read Dharma Books In Bed?