I must confess the place I’m living now is a shack by the infamous Chungking Mansion, Tsim Sha Tsui. But this isn’t the place where I grown up. I used to live in an absolute dump past the outskirts of Varanasi, you know, a shithole close to the Ganges River. I fled this stinky town of mine and came to HK exactly 5 years, 4 months and 23 days ago when I knocked up my neighbor's daughter, who's 14, 1 months and 5 days old then.
Good luck to her!
Oh, the pronunciation. Don't worry about this for a second, my friend if you can't pronounce any of the names I've just mentioned right. Most of my Chinese shithead friends can't either. For the Mandarins they usually mimed my name into 假波 "fake ball," while it’s always been easier for the Cantonese to go with 揸波 "squeeze the ball".
Quite some farting buzzes I know. Yet to be honest, I ain't upset by all this. To tell you the truth, none of these balls can beat the smelly droppings from dogs and cows that I was forced to duck into when I was taken to the Ganges River as a kid. That I know for sure. Besides, they just don't know what I’ve amounted to after the big big financial meltdown.
I’m the AIG, actually.
Hold on my friend, by AIG I mean "Anti-Immorality Guru,” not the sinking insurance business. You see, my daytime job as a tea boy cowering at the chachaanteng is just a cover for my real ID.
As the Chosen One. I knew the answers.
My expertise, as a AIG from the ghetto, is all about enlightenment on the cheap, as you'll see very soon.
Why is that Buddhist monks in China are the only vegetarians in the world of Buddhism even though they are living in a food culture whose historical antiquity and pluralism that few, if any, from any other part of the world can rival?
Cases in point, monks of Thailand and Japan, bhikkhus of Korea, lamas in Tibet, whether they are Mahayanists (the school of great vehicle), Theravadists (small vehicle) or even Vajrayanists (diamond vehicle or secret mantra), none of them has any monastic rules that inextricably linked to a strict vegetarian diet now being adopted by the Buddhist monks in China.
But before the reasons for such treachery are unfolded, let me first mark the fine line between vegetarianism as a monastic or ritualistic rules, zhai cai (齋菜) and vegetarianism as a dietary behavior, su cai (素菜). The distinction between the two is well worthwhile to point out to save confusion as we move onwards.
First and foremost, zhai cai is a dietary discretion affiliated to the practice of zhai jie (齋戒), which denotes the desistance (of something, e.g. meat, wine, sex or gamble) before a ceremony or rite. Similar to the practice of fasting in the West, it is meant to be strict and to serve mainly for religious and spiritual grounds. It should be noted however, the existence of zhai jie, and hence, eating zhai cai as a ritual has rooted in China well prior to the introduction of Buddhism. The abstinence of meat and wine before an ancestral veneration, as well as during the mourning period to manifest filial fidelity and respect has been a way of life ever since the Zhou dynasty (1045 - 256 BC).
Second, the dietary restrictions between the two is also different in the way that a herbivorous monk or nun must also avoid the consumption of the five acrid and pungent foods, as stated in Shurangama Sutra. They are, namely, onions, leeks, garlics, Chinese chives and shallots. The fetid five, also known in ancient times as the wu hun (五葷) are forbidden because their undesirable ability to arouse senses and temperament. Look closer and you will see that the character hun (葷) is a word with the radical "艸" atop, which suggest explicitly the vegetal origin of it. Taoist adepts of yore also try their best to avoid in contact with these five vegetables for a rather varied reason -- for them, anything provocative is undesirable for the physical well-being and spiritual development, and hence impedes their attainment of immortality.
Third, zhai jie can also be viewed to be a periodical fast, as in the case where Buddhist monks restrict their diet only in the morning. This shows another purpose of zhai jie: a discipline regimen aiding in meditation.
Vegetarianism as a diet, su cai on the other hand, aims to achieve benevolence and ahimsa (Sanskrit for non-violence) in a more liberal and flexible way than zhai cai does. The word "su" itself means plain, pure and simple so in its original sense it means to eat to modesty. This has proved to be popular among lay Buddhists and it is the concept used by vegetarian restaurants in general. One way or the other, it is inaccurate to label vegetarianism in China as simply as Buddhist cuisine since it can be a favored diet for Taoist and Confucianist too. (Edit: equally unfair for hippies and legion of PETA fans living in China as well).
Now that I've illustrated the difference between zhai cai and su cai, we're ready to survey the why question, that is, why vegetarianism has become the characteristic of Chinese Buddhism.