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Buddhists Eating Barley. Butter, and Belap

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Religion and Religious Groups and Their Foods

Spring Volume: 2013 Issue: 20(1) page(s): 8, 19, and 34

Buddhists tell us they have three beliefs. These are: Buddha, Dharma or their faith, and Sangha or its order. For lay believers, there are five important things not to do, and these include: Not to take any life large or small, Not to consume intoxicants, Not to steal, Not to lie, and Not to lead an unchaste life. For monks, there are all of these and Not to have intercourse, No false usurpation--that is power over another, and To meditate, and to Learn the sutras, and to Have and use a begging bowl, also a razor, a needle, a strainer, a staff, and a toothpick. Monks must do lots of meditation, lots of prayer, and lots of study of the beliefs of their sect, most often written down as sutras.

Traditionally, one son in every Buddhist family takes on asceticism and becomes a monk, usually at age seven or eight. It is never the oldest son because he must marry and tend to his parents and their property. One of the younger sons makes this spiritual investment. This is the family's investment in the religious community for life on earth and beyond assuring their future after their life on earth.

Every monk's food needs must be met by begging, hence his need for a bowl. He needs to beg for his staple foods including barley and other grains. The begging for roasted barley is to make himself tea from roasted flour called tsampa. Good Tibetan tea is mixed with butter, sometimes with dried cheese, also with sugar, and often lots of that. If a monk does not beg, he will not eat, and therefore, will not survive.

Meat is a luxury, something a monk has very little of. However, it is not unusual for his and other families to give yak, sheep, and dzos,–a hybrid animal that is a cross between a yak and a cow.

Monks live in gompas or monastic organizations where they practice meditation, search for the truth, and live their lives centered on their humanistic beliefs. These places do give out some of the meat they get, a few even sell some when money is in short supply, but the monks rarely eat any meat, and if so, it is only on special occasions.

Monks learn from yogins or teachers who show or teach them 'the way.' This is done in their gompas or monastic homes where they pray for society. Nuns live there or come by daily to tend to those not monks who also live there.

Nuns never turn anyone away, they tend to those who have no other place to live. They do not tend to the monks; they must tend to themselves. The needle mentioned above is to repair their own robes, the staff is to help them should they feel weak as they wander from place to place while begging, etc.

How and where did the religion of most Buddhist monks begin? Prince Siddhartha Guatama, later called 'The Buddha' or 'The Enlightened One' founded the order of Sangha, also known as the 'Holy Buddhist Order.' He was born in the 6th century BCE in Nepal in an area bordering on India. His father was a king, and after he saw a sick man, an old man, a corpse, and a monk, he gave up his family position and his money; it is said that was when he gained enlightenment. This enlightenment is said to have arrived after forty-nine days in a trance under a Ficus tree, also known as a budhai tree. Some say it was under a large bamboo; not everyone agrees on that.

Nowadays, monastic organizations are of many sects, their order or sangha are in many spiritual places. All are extensions of cultural zones and most have recently become tourist attractions. The Dalai Lama is a leader of one of these sects; his is a large one and called the Geluka sect; it is originally from Tibet. Some other famous ones have monasteries known as Guru, Hemis, Kanum. Ki, Lamayura, Likir, Nako, etc.

To be a monk is no small task, nor is it a quick one. It requires many years of learning. For most, there is a thirteen-year curriculum of sutra learning, even more to get the degree called 'Gesha.' In each monastery, the leader is called the Abbott; his training is at least six years more after obtaining his Gesha.

Monasteries accept donations; they also sell things to raise funds needed to survive. One of these can be a sculpture made of bronze or copper, even stone or wood. Many of their larders are well-stocked. Many of their institutions are wealthy even though they need funds to feed those that come by. They never turn them or anyone away, they feed them all. Most of that is vegetarian food.

Hundreds of years ago, some monasteries were involved in the salt trade or in salt protection. Now many do religious paintings, make murals, do manuscript illustrations, thankas and rolled pictures. They use paint or they color butter, or both. They use lots of reds, blues, greens, and gold colors, some use black, too, but their most popular color is blue. They use these colors for all of their Buddhist illustrative materials.

The nuns make tsampa for their 'guests' and they also make belap which is a bread they eat most often at breakfast, also at lunch along with the tsampa. At dinner, they make dumplings called momo's, and on special occasions serve air-dried meat, most often mutton, beef, yak, or dzo.

Flavor and Fortune has published many foods monks would eat or serve. Check the recipe index listings for items such as Lotus Tea in Volume 11(3), Fried Buddhist Bean Curd, Jai, Buddha’s Delight, and still other foods such as Momo’s in this and in other issues. Find many of them are found in the Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods section at the end of recipe listings.
2 cups flour, up to one-quarter of it part can be tsampa
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon oil
1. Mix flour with one cup of cool water and begin kneading.
2. Add the butter and continue to knead until soft and pliant.
3. Divide the dough into six or eight parts, and make each one into a ball, and let the dough rest for half an hour. Then cut each ball into four parts.
4. Roll each one of the four pieces a quarter-of-an-inch thick.
5. Heat a cast iron fry pan and add about one teaspoon of the oil and rub it on the pan with a piece of paper towel. Pan-fry the belap about one to two minutes per side, then eat hot or set aside and eat it cool later.
Numtrak Belap
1 recipe belap
1 cup vegetable oil
1. Prepare the belap recipe, and after rolling out the dough disks, cut three slits through each of them leaving half-inch uncut at the edges.
2. Heat oil in a hot wok fry pan and deep fry the disks. Serve them hot or warm.

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