Barugongyang – the traditional Buddhist meal where nothing is wasted
Barugongyang is a traditional Buddhist method of eating meals where rice, soup, a side dish, and water are each placed in a set of four bowls (“baru”) of different sizes following a tradition started when the Buddha was offered a stone bowl from each of the four heavenly kings for his first meal following his awakening.
On occasion, a fifth bowl, the smallest, is also used for offering meals to beings in hell and hungry ghosts.
When visiting the Hwagyesa Temple in Seoul, Swedish linguist and environmental activist Helena Norberg Hodge described Barugongyang as “the world's greenest, cleanest, and most energy-saving way of eating.”
The key philosophy behind Barugonyang’s eco-friendliness is that of taking only as much food as one needs, and pairing just the right amount of salty side dishes with the rice to ensure one leaves no leftovers or waste. Cleanliness is maintained by washing the bowls and utensils with clean water immediately after eating, and drying them using the heat of the sun rather than damp towels.
Regardless of one’s rank or status, everyone eats the same meal shared equally from the same pot, together at the same time, affirming a sense of community. Great Council meetings often follow Barugongyang, where they discuss both big and small affairs concerning the temple in a fully democratic setting.
Once the meal is finished, even the tiniest speck of seasoning should not be left behind, to the point that any leftover particles of food are consumed through drinking a small amount of the water used to clean out the bowl, before they are rinsed again in clean water.
Keeping one’s own baru bowls clean and only taking as much as one can eat is the definition of pure Barugongyang, with each step completed to the sound of a bamboo clapper, imitating a refreshing breeze blowing from a virgin forest in the mountain.
Before tucking in, monks are also required to take a moment to express their deep gratitude for the people whose hard work produced their meal, and vow to continue their commitment and dedication to save all beings:
Where has this food come from?
My virtues are so few that I am hardly worthy to receive it.
I will take it as medicine to get rid of greed in my mind and to maintain my
physical being in order to achieve enlightenment.