Friday 12/9/2016: Talk by Robban Toleno, "Skillful Eating: Reading Shi 食 (Food) in a Tenth-Century Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia"

The Columbia University Buddhist Studies Seminar, the Center for Buddhism and East Asian Religion and the Columbia University Seminars would like to invite you to the following talk:

Skillful Eating: Reading Shi 食 (Food) in a Tenth-Century Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia

A Talk by Robban Toleno (Columbia University)

Friday, December 9th, 2016, 6:00 PM
Columbia University, Faculty House (room TBA)

Robban Toleno holds a PhD in Asian Studies from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. A historian of Chinese religion and society, he researches premodern approaches to food and nourishment in Chinese Buddhism. His recent project uses a tenth-century Buddhist encyclopedia, Yichu's Shishi liutie, to investigate how religious attitudes influenced cultural patterns of eating in China, and vice versa. He also has projects on Buddhist involvement in premodern medicine and on questions surrounding the relative longevity of premodern Chinese Buddhists in comparison with the base population. He is in residence at Columbia University as Sheng Yen Postdoctoral Fellow in Chinese Buddhism.
Scholars writing on the dietary history of Chinese Buddhists have observed how the rising influence of Mahāyāna teachings combined with social and political forces from about the sixth century to gradually establish food prohibitions as normative practice for tonsured Buddhists. By the end of the Tang dynasty, members of the Buddhist clergy were generally expected to adhere to a vegetarian diet, abstain from alcohol, and avoid consumption of garlic, onion, and other pungent alliums (Mather 1981; Kieschnick 2005; Heirman and De Rauw 2006). Nonetheless, in the tenth century when a monk named Yichu 義楚 produced an encyclopedic anthology of Buddhist knowledge called the Shishi liutie 釋氏六帖, his citations on food (食) depicted early Buddhists eating meat dishes and included an anecdote on the futility of making food restrictions the basis for ritual purity. How can we explain the discrepancy between the rising emphasis on Buddhist food taboos in Chinese social history and Yichu’s apparent position that protecting ritual purity through food restrictions is a wrongheaded endeavor? I will argue that the tension between these positions is present in the historical record as a fault line between competing visions of how to manage the morality of eating. By suggesting that eating can be skillful (shan 善) or unskillful (bushan 不善), Yichu promoted a doctrinally coherent position that nonetheless became overshadowed by a socially driven discourse of materially contingent ritual purity.
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