"How is your food?" "Not bad. I’m a vegetarian.’”
In the Food chapter of the upcoming book Shwe Lan Ga Lay, we take a look at some of the great Burmese meditation teachers and monks who abstained from meat.
While Sayagyi U Ba Khin ate fish and fowl during this life, he did take a temporary vow to abstain entirely from meat from Sayadaw U Tejawontha at Shwe Mok Htaw Pagoda in Pathein in the 1930s for a time. In addition to ensuring that his International Meditation Centre kitchen served only vegetarian food, he also prohibited the use of all pesticides and insecticides on center land. Although Maha Gandayone Sayadaw U Janaka sometimes ate meat, he proclaimed to prefer a vegetarian diet. The venerable monk also provided this memorable commentary indicating such preferences: “On 14 December 1977 I had another medical check-up and they said: ‘All’s well.’ If one asks ‘How is your food’ I would say ‘Not bad. I’m a vegetarian.’”
There are other highly respected monks of the past who were known to subsist on only one portion of simple vegetarian food daily. And the tradition continues today, as two of the most venerated contemporary monks are vegetarian: Yaw Sayadaw, the eldest living Tipiṭakadhara whose Dhamma talks are attended by large numbers, and Pa Auk Sayadaw, one of the most popular and revered meditation teacher. Sayagyi U Goenka, who passed away in 2013, was also a lifelong vegetarian. In his case, however, this was not due to any Burmese or Buddhist reason, but rather his Hindu family background. In fact, U Goenka oversaw the “vegetarian line” during the 1954-56 Buddhist Synod held at Kaba Aye Pagoda.