Cooking the Faith: A Buddhist Feast of Nonviolence


Buddhist prays before eating a meal prepared at his temple; photo by Ramaa Raghavan

The Grace Gratitude Buddhist temple on East Broadway in Manhattan’s Chinatown has a nondescript entrance—except for its green pagodas.

The temple is home to a group of about 10 monks and nuns who practice Pure Land Buddhism, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism that is popular throughout East Asia. Every Sunday, as well as on the first and 15th days of each lunar month (and special ceremonial days—like the bodhisattva’s birthday), they open the temple’s doors to the public and serve a free vegetarian meal to all who come. The meatless meal reminds Buddhists to avoid inflicting violence on other living creatures.

On this Sunday, the congregation concludes their prayers and then quietly walks down to the temple’s basement, where lunch is served. The members of the congregation wait patiently in line and then eat together at communal tables.

The food has been prepared before the morning service and is heated by a few female volunteers. The dishes include stir-fried bok choy, Chinese cucumber, bitter melon, noodles, tofu skin, and soup made of Japanese pumpkin and seaweed.

Read Part 4 in this series Cooking the Faith: The Linchpin of Being Jewish

Jingyi Shi, the temple’s Abbess (head nun), heats up one of the huge woks in the temple’s kitchen and demonstrates how the nuns prepare tofu skin, seasoned with the leaves of a Xiang Chun tree growing on the roof of the temple.

Vegetable dishes at Buddhist temple - Photo by Ramaa Raghavan

Vegetarian dishes at Buddhist temple – Photos by Ramaa Raghavan

Shi enjoys cooking and often cooks for the other nuns and monks. Through a translator, she explains that all of the nuns and monks maintain strict vegetarian diets, setting an example for the lay community.

“Eating meat encourages an industry that causes cruelty and death to millions of animals,” Benkong Shi, an elder monk living at the temple, explained in an email. “A truly compassionate person would wish to mitigate all this suffering.”

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, and the Nicholas B. Ottaway Foundation.

AboutRamaa Reddy Raghavan
Ramaa Reddy Raghavan is a freelance journalist who enjoys working in a multimedia landscape that fuses print, audio, video and photography. She is a graduate of Columbia’s Broadcast School of Journalism and can be reached at