Plants and Food in East Asian Buddhist Culture

Tue., Aug. 19th, 14:00-17:30

Milk and Milk Products in Indian and Chinese Buddhist Texts

Kong, Man-Shik (King's College, London. Theology & Religious Studies, London, GBR)

Even though the ethical dietary issues surrounding the consumption of meat and pungent vegetables have been examined in relation to East Asian Buddhism, and are relatively well known, the related issue of milk consumption has so far evaded notice.

In Buddhist vinayas, which originated in India, the consumption of milk products is mentioned in a number of rules, indicating that it was part of the normal diet of Indian monks. There are, however, two exceptions. One is Pācittiya 39th, which prohibits monks from requesting sumptuous food items including ghee and fresh butter. In other words, it is a rule preventing the expression of desire and indulgence. The other rule is not among the Pātimokkha rules, but mentioned in the medical, Bhesajja, section of the Mahāvagga. It says that medicines made of milk products may only be consumed when a monk is ill.

Generally, then, Indian monks included milk products in their diet, and the evidence from the vinaya is confirmed both by Indian Buddhist texts and by the eye-witness accounts of Chinese pilgrims.

Looking at the textual evidence of sūtras, we find that even though the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa sūtra is opposed to meat-eating, unlike the vinayas, it in fact supports the consumption of milk. After the Buddha has finished preaching against meat-eating the monk Kassapa responds by suggesting that they should therefore also avoid milk. The Buddha is critical of this approach, identifying it as a Jain attitude. Jains had banned milk because of the micro-organisms within it. This attitude in Indian Mahāyānasūtras that are pro-milk consumption but against meat-eating is in stark contrast to the attitude found in some Chinese Buddhist writings.

The so-called ‘apocryphal’ Chinese sūtra, the Shoulengyan jing (首 楞 嚴 經), appears to be the first sutra to prohibit the use of milk products, breaking with the previous tradition. This text, which perhaps dates to the 8th century CE, has been highly influential and many commentaries were written on it. These commentaries take up its prohibition on milk. They explain it as harmful to the animals concerned and also as being the same as taking life, given that milk is to be considered a part of the body.

The Shoulengyan jing and its commentarial corpus had a pivotal and unparalleled role in the shaping of Buddhist monastic cuisine. As a result, milk products do not feature in Chinese monastic cooking, which is therefore not just vegetarian, but vegan. This paper looks at the details of these contrasting approaches to milk consumption in Indian and Chinese Buddhism.


The Metaphor of Lotus Flower in Medieval Chinese and Japanese Texts

Lin, Peiying (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, ISR)

The symbolic value of the lotus flower in East Asian Buddhism cannot be overstated. One need only think of the title of the Lotus Sūtra. Love of the lotus flower began in India, even before Buddhism, for its sun-like splendour and heavenly fragrance. In various Buddhist writings, it is admired for its beauty and spontaneous generation. It symbolizes a newly created world.

This essay focuses attention on the rationale behind and conceptual shifts in the symbolic value of the lotus blossom. In relatively early Chinese writings, such as that by Chinese Master Daoxuan (596–667), it represents Buddha-nature and purity. In the other context, however, the lotus flower is praised for its unlimited ability to grow and grow. This conceptualisation was widely adopted by the Tiantai School, Pure Land Buddhism, and Chan Buddhism, and was taken up in a text written by Saichō (767–822), the founder of the Japanese Tendai School. Later on, the radical thinker Nichiren (1222–82) renamed himself as “sun and lotus” with an extreme emphasis on his Japanese identity.

Reading through a range of commentaries by Chinese and Japanese monks and literati, this essay discusses how the feminine characteristics of the lotus flower transcend gender and how the conception of the lotus seed became connected to consciousness in accordance with Buddhist scriptures such as the Flower Garland Sūtra and the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. 


Tea Ceremonial Practices and Zen Monasteries in the Meiji Era (1868-1912)

Oshikiri, Taka (The University of the West Indies, Mona, JAM; History & Archaeology, Kingston, JAM)

A Buddhist monk, Eisai, introduced Zen Buddhism and tea to Japan in the 13th century. Since then, the practice of Zen and the consumption of powdered green tea (matcha) have developed a close relationship. This presentation focuses on the production and consumption of powdered green tea in the Meiji period (1868-1912). Among the places where the tea producers in the Meiji era targeted consumers of powdered green tea were Zen monasteries. This presentation highlights the cultural practices in Zen monasteries by exploring the relationship between the production of tea and the practice of tea drinking in the Meiji era.


New Research on Five Pungent Vegetables (wuxin)

Shi, Yifa (Rosemead, USA)

This talk focuses on the five pungent vegetables (alliums) wuxin 五辛, singling out important discrepancies between authoritative texts, comparing the wuxin with other Chinese traditions, and seeks new approaches to research based on insights from modern nutritional and chemical sciences. Although some conclusions must be left less than certain, this paper addresses some of the many misconceptions about the five pungent vegetables.

The first section of my paper compares the definition of and reasoning behind “the five pungent vegetables” in the Vinaya and early Mahayana sutras and precept texts. There are many reasons given in different texts, including that it causes unfortunate breath odor or that it arouses sexual passions. The Vinaya do not discuss wuxin, and only four of the five wuxin were known with certainty in China. I suspect that the origin of some of these beliefs is in Central Asia. On the basis of this research, together with the below work on Bencaogangmu, I speculate on the identity of the mysterious fifth pungent vegetable, ch. xingqu 興渠, as asafoetida. Other important distinctions must be made between the Vinaya proper and later Vinaya commentaries. Furthermore, there are several interesting exceptions in the Vinaya made for the use garlic, including as medicine for arthritis. The second part of this paper compares the Chinese Buddhist wuxin with the other Chinese traditions of Daoism and Chinese medicine to suggest the complicated relationship between native traditions and Chinese Buddhist practices. In addition to comparisons with the Huangdineijing 黃帝内經 and Bencaogangmu 本草綱目, I am interested in clarifying the original use of the term huncai 葷菜. Though the character hun 葷 is often used as a synonym for non-vegetarianism, the original term in its Daoist context referred to some pungent vegetables and had no relation to meat and meat-eating practices.

The third part of my research summarizes recent research in the fields of Nutrition Sciences and Chemistry that is focused on allium. This modern research indicates that some early Mahayana explanations concerning the aphrodisiac qualities of garlic are not backed up by science, while the research of onions is ambiguous. This contrast between tradition and science creates the opportunity to discuss the place of tradition in our modern world.


Food and Efficacy: Porridge, Milk, and Beans in the Shishi liutie, a Buddhist Encyclopedia from Tenth-Century China

Toleno, Robban (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, CAN)

Scholars of Chinese Buddhism have given far more attention to historical processes vilifying foodstuffs such as meat and pungent vegetables (alliums) than to those celebrating foods such as porridge, which is enshrined in the wording of mealtime rites in Chinese monastic communities. While proscriptions are highly important, we should not overlook celebrations of foods and claims of karmic, numinous, or health-promoting efficacy, since these claims inform normative practices. Sources as temporally and geographically distanced as the Pali canon’s Porridge Scripture (Yāgu Sutta) and Mujaku Dōchū’s (1653-1744) Zenrin shōkisen (禪林象器戔) agree that porridge is a food with special significance to Buddhists. Nonetheless, the ingredients of Buddhist porridge transformed in the wake of Mahāyāna revisionism and through cross-cultural reinterpretation (i.e., substitutions), shifting from dairy and meat to mold-cultured and bean porridges. Analyzing 10th-century citations on porridge, milk, and beans, and also referencing the Sutra Spoken by the Buddha on the Five Advantageous Rewards Reaped from the Bestowal of Food (Foshuo shishi huo wufubao jing 佛說食施獲五福報經), I attempt in this paper to offer the beginnings of an historically informed answer to a basic problem: Why would Buddhist authors idealize some foods over others?


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