Friday, 7 November 2014

"Can I give a purely vegetarian Sangha Dana?"

The vegetarian favorite Tofu Salad


One yogi recently sent us a question asking if it was appropriate to give a purely vegetarian Sangha Dana. Following is our answer. For more questions about Dhamma in Burma to be answered on this blog, shoot us an email at burmadhamma(at)gmail.

Today, whenever and wherever Bamar food is being served, it is customary for there to be at least a few purely vegetarian dishes. Interestingly, Burma provided a “vegetarian line” during the 1954-56 Buddhist Synod held at Kaba Aye Pagoda, and it was S.N Goenka (a life-long vegetarian due to his Hindu caste) who oversaw the vegetarian food distribution during the event. In Burma, single vegetarian dishes may not be a balanced meal on their own, but with advance warning from foreign meditators residing at monasteries, arrangements can be made to prepare more options and this is usually not difficult. For example U Agga, a Dutch monk who came to Yangon for a short period found that he was given whatever vegetarian fare happened to be available on his alms rounds, with promises offered by the well-wishers that on future days they would cook something more substantial ahead of time when they knew he was coming.

A common question that comes from vegetarian yogis wishing to sponsor Sangha Dana, is whether they can stipulate that their financial dana can only go towards serving vegetarian food. This will depend largely on the meditation center or monastery. Some may already be pure vegetarian, or vegetarian-friendly, and such a request will be understood. In other sites, however, the monks and yogis have come to expect meat and fish as part of their diet, and it may not be appropriate to demand which food can be served them, and which cannot. In these cases, practicing renunciation when giving the dana may be the best practice, and one can do this by inquiring of the monastery trustees or senior monks what is possible and what would not be in line with their particular tradition.

Finally, in Burmese vegetarian dishes, there will likely be fresh vegetables and herbs, and maybe beans, tofu, or other soy products. There are three kinds of commonly-used tofu: a Chinese kind that is firm and white, a jelly-like brand from Kachin state, and yellowish tofu from Shan state made from chick peas. Sometimes a generous dose of turmeric will be mixed in, giving the tofu a yellow color. Also note that while there are more vegetarian dishes in Shan cuisine, they are often prepared in the same pots as the meat dishes, in contrast to Bamar cuisine, which though having fewer vegetarian dishes, usually prepares them entirely separately.


Hta Min War Yellow T