Korean Temple Food
With Gratitude for Life and Prayers for Peace

History of
Korean Temple Food

Life of

The sutras describe in detail how Buddha
and his disciples received alms for their daily
subsistence. The practitioners devoted their
life entirely to spiritual attainment instead
of partaking in food production and
therefore replied on people’s donations to
survive. Once a day, the practitioners would
visit nearby villages. Sometimes they formed
a single file; other times, they went separate
ways to ask for food.

Monks had absolutely no say in what to receive and what not to. There were days when no
gift of food was forthcoming. Then, they simply had to starve. If a monk was too sick to
go out and collect alms, fellow monks would share food with him. Everyone equally
shared the daily collection of donated food which had to be consumed at once.

Eating past noon time was not permitted.
Monks were required to live a life of extreme poverty, with only the minimum of clothing,
a begging bowl and a small amount of medicine. As practitioners of this period depended
solely on mendicancy for food, there was no need for a separate cuisine for monastics.

Still, we can catch some glimpse of future temple food-to-be in
the food of Buddhist monastics of this period.

First, it was the food the locals ate every day. The lack of advanced transportation and
food storage technology means that the food was prepared using predominantly fresh
local produce available in the given season.

Second, since people wanted to earn merits and improve their karma by offering alms to
monastics, food for monks must have been prepared and cooked with great care.
Following Buddha’s precept of no killing, vegetables and grains must have been main
ingredients, while too pungent spices would have been avoided.

When your knees are frozen like ice, do not think about resting in warmth
When your stomach is pierced by pain of hunger, do not think of eating

Balsim suhaeng jang (An Essay on Arising the Aspiration for Enlishtenment),
by Wonhyo (617-686, Buddhist Master from the Silla period)