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Buddhist cuisine is a kind of cuisine mainly for the believers of Buddhism. It is known as zhāi cài (zhāi means "purification" or "discipline", cai means "cuisine" or "vegetable") in China, and shōjin ryōri (shōjin means "devotion", ryōri means "cuisine") in Japan, and by many other names in other countries.
Three types of restrictions
Rebirth is one basic tenet of Buddhism, and this includes rebirth of humans as other animals, and vice-versa. Due to the understanding of animals as conscious and suffering beings, many Buddhists do not kill animals and many also do not eat meat (other than that from those who died naturally, and from species where the consumption of brethren is not troubling to the still living). Other common reasons cited are that killing animals and/or eating their meat are a violation of the Five Precepts, bad for one's own karma, and because of a compassion for other animals. Many vegetarian Buddhists are not vegan, but for those who are vegan, such beliefs are often due to objections about the circumstances in which the animals producing products such as milk and eggs are raised.
Some Mahayana Buddhists in China and Vietnam also avoid eating strong-smelling plants such as onion, garlic, chives, shallot, and leek, and refer to these as wu hun (五葷, 'Five Spices'). One theory behind this Buddhist dietary restriction is that these vegetables have strong flavours which are supposed to excite the senses and, thus, represent a burden to Buddhists seeking to control their desires. Another theory is that these are all root crops, and harvesting them requires killing organisms in the soil. The latter explanation is accepted in the Jain religion that sprung up in India at the same time as Buddhism, and quite possibly influenced its practices. A third theory is that these strong spices could be used to cover up the taste of meat. Practitioners were told to avoid dishes with these spices to ensure they could discern if food prepared by others was tainted by meat. It is unclear, historically, what the original reason was for this restriction.
Alcohol and/or other drugs are also avoided by many Buddhists because of their effects on the mind and "mindfulness."
Only for some Buddhists
There are no universally agreed-upon rules for permitted and not-permitted foods in Buddhism. In some regions, it is common for monks to eat no meat and drink no alcohol. But the laity are exempt from this rule either entirely or except when they visit a monastery. In some regions, even some Buddhist monks will eat meat or drink alcohol. In other regions, it is also common for Buddhists to believe that vegetarianism is better for their karma than eating meat, but do eat meat anyway and consider it something of a bad habit; and, in some areas, such as Japan, avoidance of wu hun foods is not a large part of Buddhism. Many Buddhist traditions state the Buddha himself taught that meat offered as charity to monks and nuns should not be refused (as this was the only way for them to gain sustenance), unless the killing was done specifically for the monks and nuns. This is often misinterpreted to mean that as long as the animals were killed for other humans, or for the public, the eating of their flesh is acceptable, while the implication is that the animal must have died naturally, and not have been of a species that is troubled by the eating or taking of their dead (humans, elephants and horses amongst others). However, other traditions state this concession to be inaccurate, and that the Buddha was strictly always vegetarian.
While many debate Buddhist teachings, it is widely believed that the Buddha's final words were, "Be a light unto thyself," which might imply that he wanted each individual to choose his/her own path to Enlightenment, or perhaps that he urged debate and philosophical reasoning rather than religious faith; however, many Buddhists would ask what the sense of calling oneself a Buddhist is, if one is not trying to discern and follow the Buddha's teachings on foods and all other issues. Conflicting aspects of Gautama Buddha's teachings -- compassion, The Five Precepts, and karma, versus the humility to accept meat and other things offered as charity -- are not likely to be easily resolved, given the vagueness of written history. However, unlike other major world religions, Buddhism is least bothered about traditions and scriptures. The focus is on the need of an individual to 'discover his path' using the precepts as mere 'guidelines', or even just a starting point on a philosophical, lifelong investigation.
According to a blog post at SuperVegan.com - http://supervegan.com/blog/entry.php?id=186 , Buddhist scriptures contain the following statements relating to vegetarianism:
from The Dedication of Merit—8th century
Let the animals be free from the fear of being devoured…
Let the bodhisattvas' wishes for the well-being of the world become reality. May everything that these protectors intend be realized for all sentient beings…
from Against Animal Sacrifice—Dated Between Year 964 to 1032
What need to destroy so many lives in quest of rich and exotic flavors? People gorge themselves from cup and tray to the music of reed pipe and song, as butchered animals scream on the chopping block. Alas! Could anyone with a human heart be so insensitive as this? That the whole world engages in this without realizing its error, surely this is [an] example of something so painful that one weeps endlessly with grief?
When you know that the creatures on your tray come, struggling and squealing, from the chopping block, then you are making their extreme anguish your greatest delight. You would never be able to get them down, even if you tried to eat them. Is it not the height of insensitivity?
It is not appropriate to take life in order to make one's living. In the quest for food and clothing, some people may take up hunting, others fishing, others the slaughtering of oxen, sheep, pigs, dogs in order to make food and clothing, all with the thought of obtaining a regular livelihood. And yet, I find that persons who do not engage in such professions still have clothing and still have food to eat. By no means are they fated to die of exposure or starvation. To make one's living by taking life is something that in principle is condemned by the gods...There is no more certain means than this when it comes to planting the seeds for rebirth in the hells and evil retribution in lives to come. How could you face such pain and not seek a different livelihood?
I tell you people that, if you have no other means to make a living, it is far better to beg for your meals. To live by killing is no match for bearing your hunger and dying of starvation. How could you not restrain yourself?
I pray that all will refrain from taking life, and that household after household will observe vegetarian fasts. The buddhas will be filled with joy, and the myriad gods and spirits will extend their protection to you. Armed conflict will for ever cease; punishments may never need be applied; the hells will be emptied; and people will for ever depart from the causes that produce the ocean of miseries.
Common sources for Buddhist foods
Buddhist vegetarian chefs have become extremely creative in imitating meat using prepared wheat gluten, also known as "seitan" or "wheat meat", soy (such as tofu or tempeh), agar, and other plant products. Some of their recipes are the oldest and most-refined meat analogues in the world. Soy and wheat gluten are very versatile materials, because they can be manufactured into various shapes and textures, and they absorb flavourings (including, but not limited to, meat-like flavourings), whilst having very little flavour of their own. With the proper seasonings, they can mimic various kinds of meat quite closely.
Some of these Buddhist vegetarian chefs are in the many monasteries which serve wu hun and mock-meat (also known as 'meat analogues') dishes to the monks and visitors (including non-Buddhists who often stay for a few hours or days, to Buddhists who are not monks, but staying overnight for anywhere up to weeks or months). Many Buddhist restaurants also serve vegetarian, vegan, non-alcoholic, and/or wu hun dishes. Some Buddhists eat vegetarian only once per week or month, or on special occasions such as annual visits to an ancestor's grave. To cater to this type of customer, as well as full-time vegetarians, the menu of a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant usually shows no difference from a typical Chinese or far-Eastern restaurant, except that in recipes originally made to contain meat, a chicken flavoured soy or wheat gluten might be served instead (e.g. "General Tso's chicken" made with flavoured wheat gluten).
- Buddha's delight
- Buddhism in China
- Meat analogue
- Chinese cuisine
- Wheat gluten (food)
- Culinary Fundamentals: Shojin Ryori
- Shojin Ryori: Vegetarian Cooking
- Return To The Middle Kingdom: Chinese Vegetarian Eating in East Asia
- Shabkar.Org A Buddhist website on vegetarianism