Korean Temple Food
With Gratitude for Life and Prayers for Peace


History of
Korean Temple Food

Dissemination of
Buddhism and
geographical expansion

Diverse weather conditions and food items

As the religious orders following the
Buddha’s teaching expanded, the boundary
of the spiritual community needed to be
more clearly defined. At the end,
any sincere practitioner of Buddhism who
stayed and participated in the temple’s
ceremonies came to be recognized as a
member of the community. All the visitors
to the temple were provided with minimal
but necessary food, clothes, medicine and
boarding.

Once a practitioner stepped into the set boundary of a community, he would be granted
same rights and treatments that long time residents of the temple were entitled to. This
tradition of universal brotherhood served as an essential foundation for Buddhism to
become a religion beyond any particular region or a period of time.

This spirit of equality and hospitality, by which all Buddhists were accepted as a family,
facilitated a lively exchange and propagation. It was against this backdrop that Xuanzan
went to study in Nalanda University in India and brought with him numerous invaluable
Buddhist texts to China, and that Hyecho seunim from Silla travelled many kingdoms in
India and wrote his famous book the Records of Travel to Five States of India.

As Buddhism spread to many different regions with distinctive geographical and climate
characteristics, food for Buddhist practitioners started to adapt to local conditions.
For prosperous agricultural regions, a greater variety of ingredients were available.
On the other hands, food supply could be severely limited in desert and mountain areas.
Sometimes, it means bare minimum for survival. However, propagation of Buddhism
continued throughout the world overcoming all these challenges.

As temples grew in size and number, sourcing of food for monastics became more
structured. Some temples continued to follow the practice of alms collection, but many
began to depend on the donation by local sponsors and laity. The tradition of temple
food was finally born as the monks were allowed to purchase ingredients not banned by
the precept and prepare their own meals.

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)