The Veggiyana

“No one has ever written about the preparation  and serving of meals as an expression of buddhaharma, nor have any teachers taught concerning these matters. ...Why must it be so?”

                                                    --Dogen Zenji in 1237



Almost 775 years ago, the Zen Buddhist patriarch Dogen Zenji wrote in one of his most important teachings, Instructions to the Monastery Cook, that taking diligent care in the kitchen enables all members of the Dharma community to practice in the most stable way. Hunger, fatigue and sickness, he noted, are unbeatable distractions. Consequently, and accidentally, the Veggiyana evolved as a way to overcome them. The noble truth of this new vehicle is that strong bodies make strong minds. Its primary practice is Dogen Zenji’s teaching to maintain an attitude that tries to build great temples from ordinary greens.

With right aspiration, the impact of a few peanuts or a peach tree turns out to be immeasurable. Ten years ago, I spontaneously barged into the no water, no electricity, dirt floor kitchen of Thrangu Rinpoche’s Kathmandu boarding school simply to cook that day three meals for 250 undernourished kids. Somehow, with the magic of those Biblical loaves and fishes, those meals provoked huge changes in food shopping, that led to cooking classes, gardens, compost, nutrition education—and inevitably a stream of “help us too” pleas from others who saw the children’s energy and immunity blossom. So the eat goes on.

In less than a decade in fact, the Veggiyana has spread from that kitchen of Shri Mangal Dvip boarding school across the mandala of the very venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche to gardens and orchards at Namo Buddha monastery, to the grounds and kitchen of Tara Abbey nunnery and the surround of Thrangu Monastery in Vancouver. It has entered Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s Kathmandu Valley sangha, and is sought by Lama Sherab for the high mountain villages of Tsum where malnutrition is rampant and by the Nangchen nuns of  Gebchak gompa. It has stretched from affecting 250 young bodies and minds in one day to thousands of minds and bodies every day--and in a culture whose common Hello is: Have you eaten rice yet?  it is turning into a mahayana.

The Veggiyana has three interconnected realms: kitchen, garden, classroom. This last has been necessary because Himalayan people tend to develop diabetes, high blood pressure and bad hearts from their traditional diet: either fatty meat and dairy only, or all white food: noodles, rice, bread, potatoes, daikon and cauliflower. The children, monks and nuns learn by education and experience with better health what a difference colorful and fruitful foods can make, learn how these foods are cheaper and purer if grown on the grounds, and that the exercise involved in gardening strengthens their bodies and minds. They are active participants in the process, just like in dharma practice.

“Extra” money is also provided for nutritious foods like eggs, raisins and yogurt maybe once a week. Adding these to the diet reduces the cost of infirmaries, infirmities and medicines. It strengthens bodies for the extra effort to garden, which reduces not only the cost of food itself but also the higher cost of driving a truck long distance to procure it, which reduces stress on the planet. It strengthens minds not only for meditation but the extra curricular classes in cooking and nutrition that empower students and monks to return to their mountain villages ready to reduce the rampant malnutrition there and break the ongoing cycle of physical suffering.

His Holiness Karmapa recently released his list of 108 ways to save the planet and green the earth. One is to have a vegetable garden, one to plant fruit trees, one to be vegetarian. But before getting to these, he lists making offerings that represent the gift of good health: fruit instead of sweets, plants instead of flowers, planting trees to grant long human life. He says to set up composting for monastery kitchens and invest in training and education the younger generation about the environment and health.  Happily, these are the very practices of the Veggiyana.

This site is a feast of facts, faces and features of this new vehicle to end suffering.  Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche says “as Buddhists, we can make strong aspirations for positive change to come about, within a time frame that is not too late. Thinking negatively, blaming anyone or feeling hopeless will not help. Taking hope and taking action is what will transform things.” So please consider entering into the Veggiyana where giving peanuts is truly a big deal. You can learn how to participate on the Skillful Means page of Sending and Taking. “How fortunate we are,” Dogen Zenji said, “to have been born as human beings given the opportunity to prepare meals for the Three Jewels. Our attitude should be truly one of joy and gratitude.” Om mani padme hung.

Yours in the dharma,

Sandy Garson

aka Hayong Trukhen Lakpa (that’s “dishpan hands” in Tibetan)