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Why Mt. Yudono's Shôjin Ryôri is NOT vegan

Updated: May 14, 2019

Yudonosan Sanrôjo 湯殿山参篭所's shôjin ryôri 精進料理

Last day, when I was taking part to Mt. Yudono's Fire Prayer for Well-Being (April 25th), I had the chance to be served shôjin ryôri (the Buddhist food for "devotion"), but how big was my surprise at the sight of the lunch served at Yudonosan sanrôjo (the pilgrim lodge at Yudonosan Senninzawa). I have always been told that shôjin ryôri 精進料理 was 100% vegan, as it was commended by Gautama Buddha (shakamuni 釈迦牟尼 in Japanese) in the Lankavatara Sutra (ryôgakyô 楞伽経 in Japanese) who said that eating meat prevented people from reaching enlightenment.

Extract of the sutra (source) :

   The Buddha told Mahamati: "Meat eating has countless offences. All Bodhisattvas should cultivate their great mercy and compassion so that they should not eat meat. Now I am telling you in brief the merits of not eating meat, and the offences of meat eating, please listen attentively."
   "Mahamati, I see that from the beginningless time, because of the habit of meat eating and the greed for flavors of meats, living beings kill and hurt each others in never ending cycles, thus they are apart from sages and suffering from births and deaths."
   "Those who renounce the flavor of meat can taste the flavors of the true Dharmas, truthfully practice the Bhumi(stage)s of Bodhisattva, and attain Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi quickly. They can then make all living beings enter the resting-place of Sravaka(voice-hearer) and pratyeka-buddha(self-enlightened one), and after that make them enter the stage of Tathagata."
   "Mahamati, these benefits are based on the merciful heart. People who eat meat are destroying the great merciful seed of their own, then how could they get these great benefits?"
   "Mahamati, I see that living beings are in the transmigration of the six paths, being together in births and deaths, they give birth to and foster each others, and cyclically become fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters of each others; They may be men or women, may be the direct line of descent, may be cousins, affinities, uncles, aunts, sons, daughters, grandsons, and other various relatives of each others; They may also be born in other paths(of animal, ghost, god, and so on.), whether virtuous or evil, they frequently become the relatives of each others. Because of these relationships, I see that all meats eaten by living beings are of their own relatives. Due to the greed for flavors of meats, the living beings circularly eat each others, then they always have the thoughts of hurting each others. Their painful karmas are always increasing, so they are wandering in cycles of births and deaths and unable to escape.

The word "meat" refers to any kind of animal tissue.

But as you can see on the pictures, Yudono's shôjin ryôri uses fish in its dishes: as sashimi, as grilled salmon, as soup broth, and sometimes use eggs for desserts.

Tuna sashimi, grilled salmon, and edamame pudding

Eggs are also supposed to be forbidden in shôijnryôri since later in Lankavatara sutra, Gautama says:

"Further more, Mahamati, Bodhisattvas should discern that all meats are from the filthy bodies, which are combined by pus, blood, dirtiness, red-bindu(Bright Drop)s, white-bindus of the parents. Thus, discerning the dirtiness of meat, Bodhisattvas should not eat meat."

But then why does Mt. Yudono's shôjin ryôri include fish and (sometimes) egg-based desserts?

Shôjin ryôri might have been present on Mt. Yudono since its opening. The mountain's main religion has always been Shingon Buddhism 真言宗 (a branch of Japanese esoteric Buddhism). This is this exact religion that led to the Sokushinbutsu mummies culture, spread by three major temples: Dainichibô temple 大日坊, Chûrenji 注連寺, and Honmyôji 本明寺. But at the same time, shintô was also existing on the territory (chronologically shintô is more ancient than Shingon). The two religions were practiced together, and when shugendô, a religion that puts Nature at the center of its beliefs, arrived, the three religions fused together in an undiscernible mass.

Shintô religion and shugendô came to add their spiritual view on food to the concept of shôjin ryôri, and the original purpose of that food was blurred more and more through time.

Now, shôjin ryôri is not consumed to follow a diet free of animal tissues, but is eaten in order to make all the blessings of the 4 "aspects" of nature: mountains (through sansai 山菜: mountain vegetables), plains (through rice), sea (through seaweeds and fish), river (through freshwater fish) penetrate the body, to reconnect the body with its original state: created by nature, linked to nature. This is the reason why unlike the food served in Buddhist Temples, the food in Mt Yudono (directed by a shintô shrine by the way) is not vegan. It is ovo-pescetarian at the most.

So don't be surprised to see some sashimi in your shôjin ryôri when you come to Dewa Sanzan!

Mt. Yudono's lodge (Yudonosan sanrôjo) behind the big torii

Where to eat vegan Shôjin Ryôri?

Go to a Buddhist temple that serves food to make sure your shôjin ryôri is 100% vegan.

In Tsuruoka, you can reserve shôjin ryôri at the following temples:

To make a reservation, call the following number: +81-235-33-3303

Or ask a question by filling this form

Some English speaking staff & multilingual brochures available.

You can also stay in the temple, try zazen.

To go to Zenpôji by bus from Tsuruoka Station, take the bus at the bus stop ② bound for Yunohama Onsen 湯野浜温泉 via Zenpôji 善宝寺 (careful! there are two lines for Yunohama Onsen, one through Kamo Aquarium and one through Zenpôji). Get off at Zenpôji 善宝寺.

To make a reservation, call the following number: +81-235-62-2746

Or ask a question by filling this form

Multilingual brochures available.

You can try zazen and maccha tea.

To go to Gyokusenji by bus from Tsuruoka Station, take the bus at the bus stop ① bound for Mt Haguro (Hagurosan) 羽黒山. Get off at Ootorii 大鳥居. After getting off, take the road at the right of the bus stop. Follow straight for about 1 km. You will see a road turning left, with a sign indicating Gyokusenji 玉川寺. Take it.

Bon appétit!


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Address: 3-1 Suehiromachi, MARICA East Building, 2nd floor, Tsuruoka, Yamagata 997-0015, JAPAN

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