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Korean Temple Food 2017-07-08T13:26:15+00:00

Temple food is food with principles, such as being grateful to everyone involved in preparing the meal, eating for health in proper portions, and never wasting even a single grain of rice. Temple food resulted from a Buddhist culture and practice lineage.

Thus, it is natural food, health food, and meditation food.
Even to this day in many Korean temples, monks and nuns cultivate, prepare, and eat together as they have done for seventeen hundred years.

The spirit of Baru Gongyang

In Korean Buddhism, eating meals is referred to as “Baru Gongyang”, which literally means “offering.” Having meals is not only the eating of food; it is a sacred ritual through which we reaffirm our intentions and vows to live a Bodhisattva’s life and to reflect on the Buddha’s teaching and the services and graces of all Bodhisattvas, all nature, and all sentient beings. Therefore eating meals is a form of Buddhist practice. Accordingly, meals are carried out in silence and humility.

Baru Gongyang is a formal monastic meal in which people eat from a “baru” (a wooden bowl). After the Buddha attained awakening, two lay Buddhists offered him a meal for the first time. At that time, each of the four heavenly kings offered a stone bowl to the Buddha, which the Buddha ate from and stacked. Following this example, disciples of the Buddha also began using four bowls for their meals, shaping a tradition that is still kept in present times.

Temple meals are carried out in an orderly procedure. They are an important part of monastic practice. The meaning contained in Baru Gongyang is well represented in the verses chanted during every stage of the meal.

Participants should pay homage to and praise Buddha, the Bodhisattvas and Buddhism’s Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

They hold the bowls in both hands and chant: “Through this meal offering, may all sentient beings regard the joy of Seon (Zen) practice as their food and be filled with the joy of Dharma.”

Participants chant the “Verse of Five Contemplations”: “We reflect on the effort that brought us this food and consider how it comes to us. We reflect on our virtue and practice and whether we are worthy of this offering. We regard greed, anger and ignorance as obstacles to freedom of mind. We regard this meal as medicine to sustain our life. For the sake of enlightenment we now receive this food.” The verses recited during temple meals may be a little different depending on region and temple, but the core elements are the same.

The spirit embodied in Baru Gongyang has five aspects, often explained as follows.

It embodies the spirit of equality. Regardless of one’s social or monastic standing, all participants sit together and share the food without any class distinctions. This represents the idea that all people are equal.
It embodies the spirit of cleanliness. As each participant serves themselves, it is thoroughly sanitary.
It embodies the spirit of frugality. As each person takes only as much as they can eat, no food is left over and therefore there is no waste of food. In addition, as each person drinks even the water they use to rinse their bowls, Baru Gongyang produces absolutely no food waste, acknowledging the limits of nature’s bounty and the importance of environmental protection.
It embodies the spirit of community. As all monastics share the food produced from the same pot in the same place at the same time, there is an added feeling of harmony and solidarity.
It embodies the spirit of merit. As the participants are thankful for their health and the efforts of all involved, and vow to fulfill their responsibilities, they naturally pray for the immeasurable merits of all things in the universe.

Uniqueness

Temple food is vegan food. It is not made from any dairy or animal products. The reason temple food does not include any of these is because the first precept of Buddhism is to not kill but rather protect all beings. Buddha said in the Nirvana Sutra, “Eating meat cuts the seed of compassion.” Temple food represents compassion and a valuing of the lives of all beings. Temple food also never uses any vegetables of the onion family. It is said that consuming cooked food of the onion family will increase lust while eating raw food will increase anger. The defining characteristic of temple food is that it embodies the spirit of meditation and the principle of compassionate interdependence.

Only natural seasoning is used in temple food, never artificial flavorings. The usual seasoning includes ground mushrooms, ground kelp, ground sesame, and ground raw beans. Temples use these natural seasonings to make soup, kimchi, and side dishes which are balanced and rich in flavor. These days, these natural seasonings are beginning to replace MSG and other unhealthy seasonings.

One of the characteristics of Korean temple food is preservation in order to eat foods even out of season. Having four distinct seasons, Korea has developed many preserved food recipes such as kimchi, doinjang (soybean paste), gochujang (red pepper paste), ganjang (soy sauce), jangajji (pickled vegetables), chojeorim (vinegar-pickled vegetables), sogumjeorim (salt-pickled vegetables), and jangjeorim (pickled vegetables in pot). These recipes enable foods to be preserved for a long time without losing the supplemental nutrients necessary in a vegetarian diet.

Korean temples have various recipes for preparing fermented food. Fermentation is a chemical change caused by the enzymes that bacteria produce. Just like cheese, yogurt and wine in West, zymotechnics is used for making kimchi, doinjang, gochujang, ganjang and shikye (sweet rice drink) in Korea. The various nutrients in such fermented food enrich the taste of food. Fermentation also cuts down on cholesterol and has medicinal benefits in that it acts as an anticancer agent and protects the body from disease.

Korean temple food is healthy food. Its ingredients do not consist of only carbohydrates, fats, and protein, but are rich in minerals and vitamins. It offers a balanced diet low in cholesterol. Because seasonal fruits and vegetables are used and food is never wasted, temple food is natural and environmentally friendly.

With Gratitude for Life and Prayers for Peace. Where has this food come from?

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