At Dharma Drum Mountain, communal meals are provided by the monastics. So the food is prepared in accordance with monastic rules. It’s two salient features are that it is vegetarian and does not contain ingredients likely to incite passions (like garlic or onions). I have mentioned before that people warned me that the food would be bland. Still, I find it to my liking. One colleague who asked for my opinion about the food looked surprised when I told him I liked it. I’m not sure whether it is because he does not like it or because he did not think someone like me (i.e. a Westerner who has come to Taiwan for the first time) would like that kind of food.
The other major aspect of the meals here is that morning and evening meals are performed in a semi-formal fashion. Previously, I’ve participated in meals which were formal: we would use four bowls, setting down the bowls and chopsticks was done according to a specific order, food was passed around according to specific rules, we had to wash our bowls very carefully, bowing was prescribed at designated points during the meal, silence had to be maintained, etc. The communal meals at Dharma Drum Mountain are formal but not to that degree. Silence must be maintained and the guests typically bow to the Buddha before and after their meal. (There’s no bowing police.)
Friday evening, Hsiu-Lan and Youru took me to visit Jinshan, the township closest to Dharma Drum Mountain. (Why it is a township and not a town is a mystery to me.) We walked down what used to be the main street of the township. The current main street is a multi-lane street with state-of-the art traffic lights. The old main street is barely wide enough for one lane. Judging by the traffic yesterday, it seems to be now closed to everything except pedestrians and scooters. I learned that the sweet potato is cultivated quite intensively around the Jinshan area. We went to a store which sold sweet potato chips, candied sweet potato (yummy!) and also some sort of frozen sweet potato treat. I presume the potato is first baked but a customer gets it frozen. It thaws out pretty quickly and can be eaten in a fashion similar to an ice cream cone except that there is no cream and no cone. My guides suggested that I try one. It was quite tasty. I with my wife had been here. She would have enjoyed the old street and the sweet potatoes.
Tomorrow I may start meditating with the monks at Dharma Drum Mountain. Nothing is set in stone yet but Hsiu-Lan set the ball rolling for it to happen. I just want to know ahead of time what the local rules are so as to avoid disturbing the peace.
I’m hoping to post pictures soon. I’ve spent a good deal of the day today upgrading my blog software. I figured if I was going to put pictures up I’d need an actual gallery and figured I should upgrade rather than use the old software.