This morning I skipped breakfast because I was late for my meeting Monk Sun-jae; so I had to hurry to school. Today is the last class of Monk Sun-jae's "Temple Food Special Lecture," and I had promised before to cover it.
Monk Sun-jae is a famous expert in Temple food chef. She has had several of her own documentary programs broadcasted. Now she is in charge of Sun-jae Temple Food Research Organization, and lectures on Temple Food as a guest professor in the Dept. of Home Economics Education at Dongguk University (DU).
When I entered the classroom kitchen at Haklim Hall, monk Sun-jae was busy guiding her lecture's participants.
"Ah, you've come. This is good because today is the last class and we are having a cooking contest. Wait a minute."
Our interview was started before long at a corner of the kitchen. At first, I asked her that what, exactly, was "Temple Food" and what did she teach.
"Simply, all the food we eat in Buddhist temples is Temple food. But, it differs from common food. The Buddha's teachings are on each dish; so one needs to understand certain precepts somewhat. I teach not only foods, but also Buddha's teachings and how harmonize traditional Temple food with modern meals."
She added that food is able to influence one's temper; so it is important what one eats. And she stressed that food should be environmentally friendly.
"Nowadays, many peoples don't care about their foods. They choose instant food, and take their meals irregularly."
It was as if she were talking about my eating habits. Choosing instant food and taking meals irregularly is my lifestyle. I skipped breakfast even this morning.
"Is there any special reason why you chose to become a Buddhist chef?"
"I started my Buddhist life at a youth novitiate. There, I took charge of guiding the young minds."
She continued her story.
"I used to meet some problem juveniles. So, I thought Temple food might help their minds. It changed many of them; so I studied Temple food seriously. I entered college again and studied food science. Finally, I submitted a paper about Temple food and its effects," said the monk modestly. Her passions for Temple food inspired her to establish a Temple food research institute and to lecture at schools, and many places. Since 2000, she has been lecturing at DU.
"Maybe my mother influenced me. My maternal grandmother had been a cook at court at the end of Chosun period. Grandmother then left the palace and married and taught my mother, her eldest daughter, how to cook. My mother, in turn, taught to me."
Before she become a monk, she was a revenue official and had studied social welfare. One day, she heard a lecture by chance.
"The lecture was held by a Buddhist temple. Its theme was 'filial piety.' After the lecture, I felt many indescribable distresses. I worried for a long times. At last, I decide to become a monk. I want to practice true filial piety."
She said her mother was strongly against her decision. But she really wanted to become a monk and teach the Buddha's teaching. So, she finally persuade her mother and become a monk.
"What is your basic principle about Temple food?" I asked.
"I used to advise people that food is a remedy. Please be aware of its importance, and thank nature for it. In my own case, my body had been seriously in danger for a time. A doctor told me to prepare for my death. But I started to adjust my meals and improve my health habits. Now, my condition has improved considerably. I believe foods can be everyone's remedy; it can cure many diseases," Sun-jae stressed.
I asked about her plans for the future.
"What will I do for the future? Currently, I'm planning a meal menu for patients at the DU International Hospital in Ilsan. I need to study about food science more. And I want to give more information about Temple food. So I'm trying to systemize Temple food now."
Of course, she will continue to give lectures at DU.
"I feel happy when participants say my lecture was very useful. One day, there was a student who studied oriental medical science at DU. At the end of lecture, he gave me herb remedies as a thank you. Perhaps, there is karma between this work and me."
The interview ended. Students called Monk Sun-jae. The monk got up to help them. Maybe remedy for Everyone is not only her Temple food but also Monk Sun-jae.