Protein supplements in my dinner: or, The unhappy fate of rice bugs

Technically, those gray specks in my rice weren’t supposed to be there. Perhaps if they’d been millet, added to give the rice a nice multi-grain taste. Or maybe a little wild sesame. Alas, they were neither.

Tongdo Temple, where we were undertaking our ordination training, is beautiful.  Ancient and sprawling, it is one of the few large temples to survive the destruction of the Korean War. 
    Situated in a green valley with a soaring mountain range behind, Tongdo Temple is truly a treasure of Korean Buddhism.  It also has the worst food of any large temple in Korea!

    Normally, Korean housewives will soak and wash rice before boiling it.  This ensures the rice is clean and also rinses away any rice weevils that may have been enjoying a meal before they were interrupted. With an extra 300 mouths to feed for our training session, it appeared the kitchen monk had skipped this step.

    Picking the steamed weevils out of the rice wasn’t even an option: every last morsel had to be consumed, down to a single flake of red pepper or sesame seed. We would wash our bowls afterwards, and if even the tiniest bit of food was found in the bucket that collected the water, the twenty postulants in my row would have to drink the entire bucket of wash water.

    “Well,” I thought, as I looked at the gray specks in my rice, “eating these won’t kill me. And actually, it won’t even kill them.”

    With that I began to eat, letting go, as best I could, of my fixed ideas of right and wrong, which are more often than not manifestations of ego.

    Daehaeng Kun Sunim had once gently confronted my vegetarian moral superiority, saying about the beings whose cooked flesh was sometimes served to me, “Don’t hate them because they are poor and unfortunate. Become one with them and let them experience the human level of consciousness.”


Bugs in my rice! (at the Dharma Folk blog)

7 thoughts on “Protein supplements in my dinner: or, The unhappy fate of rice bugs”

  1. This reminds me of the story of the worm soup from My Heart is a Golden Buddha.

    It’s a good story!

    TongDoSa is amazing, isn’t it?? I’d like to visit it again someday.

      1. Oh, it was a few!
        You’d really be working hard at making sure absolutely no food particles made it into the bucket of wash water, and then someone down the line would screw up, and everybody was drinking! But I suppose after the first week or so, everyone had finally figured out a system that worked for them, so it wasn’t so bad. (usually this involved dividing up the wash water, so by the time the bucket came around, your bowls had already been rinsed three times, and you less than a quarter cup of water to add to the bucket.)

        It’s funny, because that training was 23 days, and so tough that for five years whenever I was driving by and someone would offer to take me, I’d shake my head from side to side as fast as I could. Then I had to go back for Bhikku ordination, and it really struck me what a beautiful place it is.

  2. i remember a nyinthün in Cologne when a sangha member had brought his girlfriend for the first time. she sat between us during the meal and everything went fine until we started cleaning the bowls. suddenly she stopped when she saw the first one drinking the water from his bowl (you only have to drink your own bowl’s water there). she was stunned and i heard her whisper to her friend: I cannot do that! and he whispered back: you needn’t, darling, but maybe there’ll be a little problem with the next step…
    finally i saw him drinking her water,too;)

  3. LOL, Zen Master Seung Sahn sometimes threatened to make retreatants drink the rinse water. And I’ve seen some unbelievable water come around the line….

    I deeply appreciate at how practice helps us confront our ideas and attachments to food. During Kyol Che at Hwa Gye Sa, the monks would always get served first, of course, before the food would make its way down the line to us layfolk. By that time all the tofu had been plucked out of the bean sprout soup – and most of the sprouts, for that matter. So I lost lots of weight on those retreats, not that I had much to loose…

    And I also lost (or loosened up) some of my attachments to food.

    Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say, “You eat good food all your life, and then you die!” And he’d laugh quite loudly.

    1. We would drink our own rinse water two or three times, in order to make sure that the water that went into the bucket was immaculate! Every once in a while at the beginning, you’d see someone trying to filter any particles using the lip of the bowl. They’d soon slip and a whole bunch of stuff would go in the bucket, and everyone would groan. Very quietly!
      I never really thought about this before, but all of the side dishes and soups were equally divided up for each row, so that they never got too “stretched out” by the time they reached the last people. Isn’t that interesting, when everything is working well, you never notice!

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