Korean Temple Food
With Gratitude for Life and Prayers for Peace

History of
Korean Temple Food

Buddhism and
Sanctity of labor

Produce grown by monks, food prepared by monks

When Buddhism was first introduced in China, the royal court and wealthy
patrons provided for the temples’ needs. Construction of Buddhist temples
was undertaken as a national project and enormous land grants from the
government and sumptuous gifts from the nobles eliminated any need for
alms collection.

However, the Chan schools of Buddhism, which emerged in the later period,
refused to follow such trend. The leader behind this movement was Baizhang
Huaihai (720 ~ 814). He was one of Dharma disciples of Mazu Daoyi and he
established the pure monastic codes (or the holy rules of Baizhang) in which
communal work was required and the system of supporting the monastery
through working in the fields was established. The so called “Pure Rules” still
remain the most distinctive characteristic of northern Buddhism
(or Mahayana). Monastic communal work was called wulryeok and members of
the temple community must attend the daily services, practice Buddha-dharma
and participate in wulryeok.

Baizhang Huaihai faithfully adhered to the principle he himself had established
even in his 90s. Every day, he went out to the field and worked with his plow and
a hoe. His students were worried about the health of their elderly teacher and
they decided to hide the teacher’s farming tools.
When Baizhang Huaihai noticed that his tools were gone, he realized what
happened and quietly returned to his room.

His students rejoiced thinking their old
teacher finally made concession to their
However, Baizhang Huaihai did not attend
the meal service. Because he did not fulfill
his daily work, he refused to eat for the day.
The students begged for his forgiveness and
returned the old teacher’s tools.

Even during the times when Buddhism was oppressed, Seon Buddhism continued
to receive supports as the monk’s humble life style and strong work ethics
inspired respect and trust in lay people. Seon temples eventually developed a
unique temple food which uses vegetables and crops which monks cultivate and
harvest on their own.

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)