The Four Nutriments
One of the early teachings of the Buddha is that we there are four kinds of nutriments or sustenance: edible food, sense impressions, intentional thoughts, and our consciousness. These life sustaining, life giving and life defining nutriments are instrumental in the way we conceptualize and live our lives. But the bottom line is, if we don't get a handle on these they will drag us into more and more dukkha while implying and suggesting to us that they offer the answer to ending our suffering. Why? Because hunger and craving stand behind all four, because delusion is the result of buying into these as good for us.
One of the traditional ways of exploring these is through similes in which each is made vivid and emphatic in an undeniable way. Take some time with each and consider their role in your life. Are they sustaining you in ways that are more helpful or harmful? Do you understand how they arises in your life, how they can end, and how getting a handle on them leads to right view? It takes time and a lot of chewing to digest these!
1. Edible Food
Simile: Crossing the desert and finding themselves without food, a couple eats their little child so they can reach their destination.
Often, in our search for food and nourishment, literally and figuratively, we destroy what is most dear to us.
Simile: A skinned cow, wherever she stands, will be constantly attacked by the insects and other creatures living nearby.
Like a skinned cow, we are helplessly exposed to the constant excitation and irritation of our ever-changing sense-impressions, attacking us from all sides, through our six senses.
3. Volitional Thought
Simile: We are like a man being dragged by two others into a pit of glowing embers.
The two dragging forces are man's karmic actions, good (but still deluded) and evil. It is our karmic proclivities, our self-centered and life-affirming volitions, our plans and ambitions, that drag us into that deep pit filled with the glowing embers of intense suffering.
Simile: Consciousness is like a criminal whose punishment is to be pierced with three hundred spears three times a day.
Conscious awareness is the punitive result of past cravings and delusions. It's sharp spears pierce our protective skin and lay us open to the impact of the world's objects.