And I Can Cook, Too

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Bodhisattva, Won't You Take Me By the Hand

Today, class featured a Buddhist nun with a lecture on how Buddhist tradition affects food choices and eating habits. The nun, regally dressed in traditional Buddhist robes, began by explaining the five main practices of Buddhism:

Abstaining from causing harm to other living creatures.
Abstaining from taking that which has not been freely given.
Abstaining from deception and use of false words.
Abstaining from sensual misconduct.
Abstaining from using substances that could cloud consciousness and judgment.

She went on to explain that the concept of karma is widely misunderstood. Karma is an action that causes an equal and opposite reaction.

While I was pondering the laws of motion, the nun explained that suffering is caused by our own action, that everything we eat and wear causes suffering, and that the rules of Buddhism were established for the purpose of maximizing health and protection for the Buddhist while being the least disruptive as possible to others. At this moment, a cell phone rang. We LCB students are under strict advisement to keep our phones off during class, and we nervously glanced around to see where this particular disruption was coming from. We needn’t have worried. It was the nuns phone. After rummaging in her bag, she produced the phone, checked the number to see who was calling, muttered something about leaving a message, and tossed the phone back into her bag. Without turning it off.

Her attention back to the class, she talked about her decision to become a vegetarian. Not all Buddhists are vegetarian, she informed us. But when she took her vows as a nun, she decided that she would follow at eating pattern that would abstain from harming another living creature. She would occasionally eat eggs, despite the fact that they are potentially baby animals, she told us, but only eggs offered to her by her neighbor, whose chickens have never seen the inside of a cage. “Do they ever lay eggs in your yard?” a classmate asked. “They don’t come to my yard” she replied, “there’s a fence." She then recalled the time when another neighbor gave her the offering of fresh spinach grown in their garden. As any good Buddhist would, the nun gratefully accepted the offer. After taking the spinach inside, however, she noticed that it was covered with living creatures in the form of slugs. Reluctant to cause harm to the slugs by washing them off, she instead offered the spinach to a non-Buddhist would not mind causing harm to the slugs by washing them off. “So you didn’t accept the offer?” someone asked. “Oh, no” she replied, “I accepted it, but I didn’t EAT it.” Ohhh. Our instructor then asked why she didn’t simply pick the slugs off and put them outside. “I didn’t want them on my flowers” she said, having the decency to blush ever so slightly. I had the decency to focus my gaze on her obviously genuine leather strappy sandals.

Avoiding my gaze, the nun went on to discuss the merits of begging, and the peace and enlightenment that comes with offering others the opportunity to be generous. When asked about her begging ritual, however, she was forced to admit that she has a full time job as a clinical psychologist, and that her begging is more ceremonial than for actual sustenance.

She was asked if she walked everywhere or took public transportation. She replied that she owned a car. When it was pointed out that driving a car causes harm to other living creatures, she replied that it was ok, because she thanked the creatures that she harmed by driving a car every time she drove the car, much as the thanked the deer who offered the leather for her sandals every time she wore her sandals. She explained that offering others the opportunity to sacrifice was a sacred gift. She then gave us her favorite recipe for microwaved rice that she eats in the evening, outside of Buddha mandated appropriate eating times and her lecture was done. Did we have any questions?

From the back of the room a hand went up. “So, basically, Buddhist philosophy is that any action is ok as long as you thank whatever it harms?”

“Yes” she responded, “the gift of ability to sacrifice leads to true enlightenment.”

I’m converting.

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