(Kenneth Kraft. Eloquent Zen: Daitō and Early Japanese Zen. Honolulu 1992, p. 83.)
To deal with food in a conscious and careful manner is of tantamount importance to the good life in the Buddhist view of things. As do other religions, Buddhism holds that to eat and to drink means more than to merely nourish and sustain bodily existence. Rather, spiritual, soteriological, and social dimensions are ascribed to food and drink, and these perform essential roles within the religious system of meaning.
Some few examples from the history of Buddhism may suffice as illustration: In the formative period of the Buddhist community monks and nuns depended solely on laypersons for food, and almsfood manifested the close relation between the monastic and secular contexts. Sacrificial offerings such as fruit and rice wine at Buddhist altars in Japan form a link between the transcendent and immanent realms. In many cases, the communal consumption of food and drink symbolizes the coherence of the saṃgha and ensures the continuity of the Buddhist tradition as a social institution.
As the “Regulations for Purity” in East Asian Chan/Zen monasteries point out, the production and preparation of foodstuffs provides a paradigmatic opportunity for the cultivation of mindfulness and for the transformation of the most everyday activities into religious praxis. And to abstain from eating and drinking certain things — be it in principle as in the case of monastic regulations or temporarily as when undergoing ascetic self-mortification — further demonstrates the significance of nourishment for the religious and cultural consciousness.
The Numata Center for Buddhist Studies’ lecture series “Buddhist Perspectives on Food and Drink. Issues from Ethics, Soteriology, and Cultural History” during the summer semester of 2016 will discuss Buddhist conceptions of food and drink with respect to the tension, among others, between social norms and the individual quest for salvation, normative dogmatics and ritual efficacy.
In his opening lecture, Prof. em. Dr. Lambert Schmithausen (Hamburg) addresses the question which ethical, ascetic, spiritual, and social considerations in Indian Buddhism led to the regulation of meat consumption and subsequently to a consistently vegetarian interpretation. Prof. Dr. Ann Heirman (Gent) charts the structures that led to certain foodstuffs being prohibited not only by the monastic regulations of Chinese Buddhism but also by general penal law, highlighting the complex relation between secular and sacerdotal authorities. The assessment of tea ceremony as a highly aestheticized and proverbially Buddhist exercise is called into question by Prof. Dr. Kristin Surak (London); her analyses reveal its rituals as elements in the construction of a unique Japanese national identity. The closing lecture by Prof. Dr. Klaus Vollmer (Munich) on meat consumption in Japan past and present ties together issues of ethical responsibility, religious ideals and social practices with the importance of food and drink in the formation of identities.
All lectures are held on Mondays, 6 to 8 pm in room 221 at the Asien-Afrika-Institut, Edmund-Siemers-Allee 1, East Wing.18.04.2016
Fleischverzehr und Vegetarismus im indischen BuddhismusProf. em. Dr. Lambert Schmithausen (Hamburg)
The Consumption of Forbidden Food in Chinese BuddhismProf. Dr. Ann Heirman (Ghent)
Consuming Japaneseness in the Tea Room. Between the Ordinary and Extra-Ordinary
Prof. Kristin Surak, PhD. (London)
Tötungsverbot und Fleischgenuss in JapanProf. Dr. Klaus Vollmer (Munich)