Chinese Healthy Diet--Buddhist Philosophy (2)


Even highly nutritious foods will produce the opposite effect if the functions of the spleen and stomach are neglected. In spite of their rich nutrients, chicken, duck, fish, and meat that have been deep – fried or stir – fried in oil are not easily digested. If you eat more of them than you need, they will increase the burden on the spleen and stomach, and cause indigestion.

To ensure the normal functioning of the spleen and stomach, it is necessary to keep a peaceful mind. Because the spleen controls the mind, excessive deliberation and thinking hurt the spleen, and if the spleen is hurt, there is no appetite for food.

The nutrients the human body needs are protein, fat, sugar, vitamins, inorganic salts, and water. There are many foods in the world. Because the nutrients contained in each food vary, people should eat many different foods instead of eating only a few foods. A limited selection of food makes it difficult to obtain all the different nutrients needed by the human body. Many people who maintained good health in ancient times ate vegetarian foods. The Nei Jing says: “Excessive eating of fatty meats and fine grains is sure to cause malignant tumors.”

Speaking on the advantage of vegetarian foods, Dr. Sun Yat – sen, the great Chinese democratic revolutionary (1866 -1925), said:

“China has invented a great variety of foods and has cooked them in so many ways that no other country can match. However, the eating and drinking habits of the Chinese people, which conform to scientific and hygienic requirements, are beyond the reach of common people in any other country. What the Chinese people drink is very often clear tea, and what they eat is simple food with some vegetables and bean curd…”

“Bean curd is, in fact, the ‘meat’ of plants. It has the same benefits as meat, but does not have the bad effects of meat,… Europeans and Americans have a habit of drinking alcoholic liquors and eating meat and fish… On the question of food and drink, Chinese habits are superior to those in any other country.” (The Chinese Should Stick to Their Own Dietetic Methods)

In the second year of the Jianyuan Reign of the Western Han Dynasty (139 B.C.), emperor Wudi (156 – 87 B.C.) sent Zhang Qian (? – 114 B.C.) to the Western Region (Xinjiang in China, and Central Asia) as his envoy. Zhang Qian stayed there for 12 years strengthening cultural exchanges between China and the West, and introducing many new varieties of fruits, vegetables, and soybeans into China. Legend has it that Liu An (or Liu Chang), Prince of Huainan in the Western Han Dynasty, invented bean curd. Emperor Wudi of the Liang Dynasty later invented gluten. These inventions greatly enriched vegetarian foods.

Buddhism does not strictly require vegetarianism. Buddhists of the Mongolian, Tibetan, and Dai nationalities in China, who believe in Dacheng Buddhism, all eat meat because meat is more plentiful than vegetables where they live. Some Chinese Buddhist followers are vegetarian because Emperor Wudi of the Liang dynasty advocated it.

Emperor Xiao Yan (502 - 549), was a wise and versatile monarch during the period of the Southern and Northern Dynasties. When still a child, he learned both Confucian and Taoist classics, and followed Taoism. After many discussions with famous Buddhist monks and literati, Xiao Yan held the Buddhist ideas of “not bringing evil,” “doing good deeds,” “abstaining from killing animals,” “releasing captured animals,” “eating vegetarian food,” and “maintaining peace and quiet,” agreed with the Confucian ideas of “a reputation for benevolence” and “filial piety,” so he converted from Taoism to Buddhism. His promotion of vegetarian food had a strong political and religious impact. From that time on, Buddhist followers (mainly in areas inhabited by Han Chinese) equated the idea of not killing animals with vegetarianism.

Buddhist followers contributed greatly to the development of vegetarian food and its own system. Originally, Buddhist followers in India were not required to be vegetarians because, when the monks begged alms door – to – door, they could not choose between meat and vegetarian foods. Neither were Chinese Buddhist monks confined by strict food rules.

Later the pious Buddhist Emperor, Wudi, promoted vegetarianism and prohibited monks from eating meat. He held that eating meat violated Buddhist tenets and he punished monks who drank liquor or ate meat. So, Buddhist temples banned wine and meat. Because the monks then ate vegetarian foods all year, the number of vegetarians increased greatly thereby stimulating the development of vegetarian food. Legend has it that during Emperor Wudi’s reign, a monk who cooked in the “Jianye Temple” in Nanjing was skilled at preparing vegetarian food and earned praises from pilgrims and monks in the temple.

To meet the needs of Buddhist followers, the restaurant trade opened more vegetarian businesses and, to accommodate the pilgrims, literati, officials, VIPs, and tourists, Buddhist temples all over China invented many delicious vegetarian dishes. For example, “Fried Spring Rolls” (sliced bean curd, gluten, and wild vegetables wrapped in dried bean milk cream or cabbage leaves) were invented by Great Master Hongren of the Zen Sect of Buddhism after the Tang Dynasty. Spring rolls are a famous vegetarian dish (now also filled with meat) at home and abroad.

After the Han and Jin Dynasties, Buddhist temples were established in all the big mountains and along large rivers. Many had kitchens to cook mushrooms, fungi, vegetables, gourds, fruits, and all kinds of dishes made of bean curd, After the Song Dynasty, up to the Ming and Qing Dynasties, “all vegetarian dinners” including dishes like vegetarian chicken, vegetarian goose, vegetarian duck, vegetarian fish, and vegetarian ham, were served. Even now, the Yufo (Jade Buddha) Temple in Shanghai, the Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou, the Daming Temple in Yangzhou, the Wuzu Temple in Huangmei County, Hubei Province, the Baoguang Temple in Xindu, Sichuan Province, and the Southern Putuo Temple in Xiamen, Fujian Province, are all famous for their vegetarian food.

Buddhist and Taoist cuisines both stress vegetarian food. Ge Hong (281 - 341), a famous Jin Dynasty Taoist medical scientist, chemist, and health-building expert, advocated “the food of five fungi,” and stressed food of fungi and flowers. Both Buddhists and Taoists ate fungi and flowers, and the people of China are believed to have been the first to eat flowers as food. Day lily, lily lotus, plum, osmanthus, cotton-rose, yulan magnolia, and chrysanthemum flowers are all used for food. It has since been confirmed that these edible flower contain amino acids, fructose, vitamins, and trace elements such as iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.

Many interesting foods have been made from flowers. The Imperial Kitchen stir – fried lotus and lean meat into a fragrant dish that was refreshing in the summer heat. People in ancient times used plum blossoms in porridge to add a refreshing taste. Cotton-rose and bean curd were cooked into a bright moon soup, and scholar-tree flowers were scrambled with eggs to make a delicious dish. Chrysanthemum and osmanthus make excellent flavorings for cakes.

During the 17th century the Nuzhen, a northern nomadic tribe, came to the Central Plains where they established the Qing Dynasty Empire and a preference for vegetarian food. The temples, markets, and palace all had special kitchens that prepared vegetarian food. Vegetarian cooks in the temples were called fragrance – accumulating chefs (cooking monks), and their vegetarian food was caked Buddhist food. In the palace, vegetarian food was known as Buddhist food. The emperors and royal family ate vegetarian food when they abstained from eating meat in offering sacrifices to their Gods or ancestors.

The Imperial Kitchen had a special section that prepared vegetarian food using such raw materials as gluten, bean curd, skin of soy bean milk, dried bean curd cream, fresh bamboo, mushrooms, water chestnuts, Chinese yam, day lily, fungi, and fruits. The vegetarian cooks used these materials to prepare hundreds of differently flavored delicacies.

When discussing vegetarian food, it is necessary to mention the rice porridge with nuts and dried fruits that was eaten in the Buddhist temples on the 8th day of the 12th moon. Legend says Sakyamuni ate very simple food in the six years that he practiced Buddhism before he became the Buddha and founded Buddhism. He became enlightened on the 8th day of the 12th moon; to honor this day, later generations began eating rice porridge with nuts and dried fruits. When Buddhist temples fed pilgrims or tourists the porridge, they usually cooked rice with peanuts, dates, chestnuts, longan, lotus seeds, walnuts, red beans, ginkgo, and soy beans. Because it contains so many ingredients, the porridge is very nutritious. In ancient times it was called “Good Fortune and Virtue Porridge” or “Good Fortune and longevity Porridge” because the porridge can help prolong life and improve health.

From a modern, scientific viewpoint, diet should emphasize vegetarian food but contain a combination of vegetarian and meat dishes. This is because vegetarian food promotes the normal movement of the stomach and intestines. Zhu Danxi (1281 - 1358), a noted medical scientist in the Yuan Dynasty, said: “If grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits naturally taste mild, they will nourish the human body and improve the male organs.”

The Nei Jing says, “Vegetables are prescribed for a fear of hunger or if there is too much worry, which hurts the stomach. Vegetables are used to help dredge the stomach and intestines, and improve digestion. This is the benevolence of the Heaven, Earth, and living matters.” This passage says vegetarian foods cleanse the stomach and intestines, and their cellulose aids digestion, promotes intestinal peristalsis, and relieves constipation.

The cellulose in vegetable expands in water to form a close network that absorbs inorganic salts, organic acids, and water. This simple process adjusts the digestive and absorptive functions of the intestines, affects the metabolism of the human body, and helps prevent disease. Scientists believe that eating more cellulose – rich foods, such as coarse grains, beans, corn, celery, cabbage, chives, and Chinese cabbage, can help prevent enteritis and intestinal cancers. Some people spit out the “residue” when they eat vegetables, but this is a mistake because that residue is the cellulose that is indispensable to the human body.

Foreign research shows that Europeans and Americans have more than ten times the incidence of intestinal cancer than do Africans. The reason is believed to be diet. Europeans and Americans eat only a fraction of the cellulose that Africans do. Science shows that meat and vegetable dishes should be well blended, preferably with the total quantity of vegetables being two or more times that of meat.

Vegetables have five advantages: They contain vitamins that aid digestion, they prevent nutritional deficiencies, they help prevent obesity, they improve blood circulation, and they prevent and help cure cancers.

Cow’s milk, black sesame seeds, and bee honey are also highly nutritious foods. Sun Simiao (581 -682), a noted medical scientist in the Sui and Tang Dynasties, noted: “They are far better than meats.” The menus form the Ming and Qing palaces show the emperors’ daily diets included fruits, vegetables, milk, and foods made of coarse corn flour. All of these have been described in earlier chapters of this book.

It can thus be seen that the imperial foods were very effective in building health through diet. Both the Ming and Qing Palace banned the drinking of strong liquor and greediness, which can negatively affect health.

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