A SPIR­I­TUAL LUN­CHEON

It was then that I en­coun­tered a prob­lem in the form of a large hunk of ginger. I won­dered what to do – it was ob­vi­ously used for pur­poses of sea­son­ing, and not re­ally de­signed to be eaten – plus I had no drink to wash it down with.

That's China - - 城市漫步 - Text by / DJP

Dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with a Bud­dhist buddy of mine, I was un­ex­pect­edly in­vited to eat lunch with him and the other monks at Lingyin Tem­ple (in Chi­nese ‘chi zhaifan’ 吃斋饭 ). As my usual diet con­sists of Big Mac burg­ers and Mex­i­can Chicken Twisters (al­though you couldn’t tell, just by look­ing at me), I de­cided I was in­deed in sore need of a veg­etable in­fu­sion, the likes of which only the strictest of Bud­dhist as­cetics can pro­vide. Be­fore lunch (which be­gins at 11:15am), I was taken on a tour of the Bud­dhist Col­lege lo­cated in­side the grounds of the tem­ple it­self. The Col­lege looked like the most plush of pri­vate schools – on a par with Eton or Winch­ester – with mar­ble toi­lets and leather-cush­ioned pews for tired, solemn but­tocks to rest upon. As well as learn­ing the Bud­dhist scrip­tures, the stu­dents must also study English, and if read­ing books be­comes a bit over­whelm­ing they can al­ways take a break on the bas­ket­ball court. As the eleventh hour neared, I was ush­ered into a big din­ing hall, and told to sit at the back, all by my­self - ap­par­ently I wasn’t fit to eat with the spir­i­tu­ally pure. In front of me, three bowls and a pair of chop­sticks were placed. I was told that the food would be brought to me, and I should use my chop­sticks to in­di­cate on the bowl how high I wanted the food to be piled up. Sim­ple. I was also told that I could not leave a sin­gle scrap of food in any of the bowls. I guessed this was im­por­tant, as my friend re­peated this spe­cific in­struc­tion three times. As the food came, served (I pre­sume) by acolytes in grey robes, I be­came ner­vous, and be­fore I could even raise my chop­sticks, an en­tire bowl­ful of egg­plant had been dumped into my bowl.The serv­ing con­tin­ued in this fash­ion, and I found my­self with two full bowls of veg­eta­bles and a bowl­ful of rice. I be­gan to re­gret eat­ing those two choco­late Snick­ers bars for break­fast. Head down, I got stuck into the food, which was de­li­cious, but I was strug­gling with the steamed bread, which was ex­cru­ci­at­ingly dry. No chance of a Coke in the tem­ple re­fec­tory, I sur­mised. Af­ter twenty min­utes, many of the monks started to leave. I still had a bowl­ful of food to get through, when one of the older monks ap­proached and told me ‘You know you can’t leave any of that food, right?’ His words were im­bued with a men­ace that only some­one in ochre robes can voice. It was then that I en­coun­tered a prob­lem in the form of a large hunk of ginger. I won­dered what to do – it was ob­vi­ously used for pur­poses of sea­son­ing, and not re­ally de­signed to be eaten – plus I had no drink to wash it down with. But I could not leave a sin­gle scrap of food in any of the bowls. All I could do was swal­low my pride, and with it the hunk of ginger. Af­ter a full half an hour of pure eat­ing, when only my­self and some wiz­ened old holy men whose faces were ir­re­triev­ably lost be­hind a morass of wrin­kles were left, I had fi­nally fin­ished.Al­though I def­i­nitely pre­fer hav­ing a per­sonal veto on what I eat and what I don’t eat, it was a unique and un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence.

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