Saturday, January 05, 2008

Tashi delek

Too busy a day to post much: 40 minutes on the elliptical, moved a harpsichord, produced a radio program, practiced 2 hours, taught a 90-minute slow session, and tried a recipe I've never made before.

Years ago, in Bloomington, Dharmonia and I were privileged to become good friends with a community of Tibetan monks, about whom I've written elsewhere. In addition to everything else they taught us (and continue to teach us), we also got to eat, and learn to cook, an awful lot of great Tibetan food.

Though these monks are very devout observers of the Precepts, those precepts were modified in Tibet just as the Dharma has been modified to fit all the local cultures into which it has moved: India, Tibet, China, Japan, Burma, and so forth. In the case of Tibet, the Precepts were modified to let the monks eat meat (provided someone else did the actual killing). This may seem like a fundamental violation of the "don't kill" Precept, but it was also very practical: most Tibetans live above 7000 feet, and it's damned difficult to grow enough high-protein grains to be able to be strictly vegetarian. That's why they lived on barley (a high-altitude grain), dairy, and meat--typically beef.

In the West, those whose basis for vegetarianism is ethical (e.g., "don't kill") tend to presume that the lower down the food-chain the animal, the less the sin: e.g., eating fish is less ethically problematic than eating beef. The Tibetans neatly invert this: regarding all live as sacred, as they do, they prefer to take as few lives as possible: the Tibetans would say "one yak can feed ten people for a month," and that is one life sacrificed to nourish ten--whereas a chicken, or fish, feeds fewer people for less time. I don't regard this as righter-or-wronger than any other position--but it does illustrate the way that every decision in a Buddhist's life can be seen as an opportunity to think about how to realize the Dharma in a flawed world.

Anyway--to tonight's dinner. There are a lot of restaurants here, but not a Tibetan one. Dharmonia and I ate at a great place in Northampton Mass over the holidays, and were reminded how much we love that food, and how much the mere smell of their food reminds us of our friends who we miss so much.

So I got this bee in my bonnet that I was going to learn to make mo-mo's. These are the fundamental staple of Tibetan cuisine: steamed flour dumplings, filled with vegetables, beef, or potatoes, made and consumed in staggering large quantities by Tibetan monks worldwide. Our friend and teacher Geshe-La would typically make 200 mo-mo's or more at a time, and his monks and guests would regularly put away all of them. Like peasant food all over the world, they're a way of stretching a little bit of protein a long way: just like dim sum, or tacos, or capelletti, and so forth. I'd never made them, but God knows I've watched them being made (and eaten hundreds).

So I told Dharmonia, "you know, I think I'll try to teach myself to make mo-mo's this weekend. But I guess I'll have to get one of those steamer pans like Geshe-La has." Two days later, one appeared on the back seat of the car. I used to joke with Geshe-La that I would have made a very bad monk--unless I could be the Tenzo.

It's nice to be married to someone who knows me--and likes my cooking!

More shots below the jump.


masbrow said...

That looks and sounds delicious, Chris. Also as for vegetarianism in Buddhism, Though it's always been preferred, eating meat dates back to the Buddha himself, who according to sutra, died from eating bad meat(some translations say mushrooms). This is because of the begging ethic which was part of the Bhikshu's lifestyle, which holds that "beggars can't be choosers" and anything that is offered must be gratefully accepted.
I love your blog
Chris and am a regular reader.
Say "hey" to Ang

CJS said...

Yes, that's what I was taught too. There is a good Ed Brown (Zen priest and author of "Tassajara Bread Book") story in which, during an interview with Vegetarian Times, he was asked "so what do you do in those awkward situations when you're at a dinner party and the host, not knowing better, offers you meat?" Brown said, very unexpectedly "Oh, well, I figure in a situation like that, it's more egotistical of me to make a big deal out of it--so I eat it." You could imagine the interviewer clutching at his/her breast, and then Brown, compounding the "don't get attached to your purity" lesson, adds "and I like bacon--so sometimes I make myself bacon."

Thanks for reading.