Can I Read Dharma Books (On My Lap) While Eating?

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!

Related Article:
Can I Read Dharma Books In Bed?

1 Comment

  • I have no opinion on the ‘high-low’ option of where to put our Dharma books since I am just a beginner in Buddhism, but I do have one on the eating/reading issue.

    I’ve been an avid reader since I first learned to read. Although reading for knowledge didn’t occur for me until I was well into my teens, unfortunately I zipped through them as though they were novels, learning some new things but mostly forgetting the bulk of the knowledge provided.

    A lot of that, I believe, is because, like when reading novels, I read while doing another task – such as eating. You either taste and enjoy the food or you grasp the concept of the ideas put before you but, unfortunately, not both.

    Until our brainpower can be enhanced, multi-tasking, I believe, is a myth. For instance, a multitude of thoughts crowd my mind but each is ‘presented’ individually then hustled aside as another takes it’s place. They may all fit ‘in the room’, but true attention cannot be given to all or even two at the same time. Some things gets lost, I believe, during that important period of absorption.

    But then, that’s just my opinion/experience. 🙂 What’s yours?

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