Read transcript of Ep 7: Heresies

Old Turkik Handwriting (Manichean Sermon)

Alternatively, follow this link to hear the episode & read the show notes. Transcription by Amy Carpenter.

[Buddhist chanting. Starting with musical percussion sounds – tapping and small cymbals. Then a Buddhist begins to chant, then a large group join in.]

Ian McDonald:

Two blocks north of the shoppers in London’s bustling Oxford Street, Chinese Buddhists make offerings of vegan food as they have for centuries. Afterwards, they will gather downstairs for a veggie meal.

But when Buddhism entered China, it faced a set of Confucian family values that absolutely opposed the very idea – central to Buddhism – of monasticism.

In the middle ages, across Eurasia, from Marseilles to Kyoto, there are different religions led by monastic orders who abstain from flesh and hope to escape from the cycle of reincarnation. European heretics who reject this sinful world, the abstemious Elect of the lost Manichaeans, following the same path as the Buddhists, east into central Asia.

In Europe and the Middle East, these face the great monotheistic religions of Christianity and Islam. There, abstention from flesh itself can be grounds for suspicion – whether you happen to be a famed Islamic preacher in Basra or a peasant refusing to kill a chicken in 13th Century France.

So across medieval Eurasia, it’s a challenging few centuries for vegetarianism. We’ll come across lost kingdoms of the silk road, mock meat, and the inquisition. In the middle ages, the battle of ideas is not a metaphor.

[Theme starts – music with sound of gongs]

Ian:

Vegetarianism. The Story So Far with Ian McDonald. Episode seven: Heresies.

[Theme ends]

Ian:

After the offerings service and a vegan communal meal, the deputy abbess sat down with me in the temple library.

[echoey chatter in background]

Ian [to Chueh Yun]:

Can I ask you to pronounce your name so that I’m…

Chueh Yun:

Chueh Yun [sounds similar to “Jai Uin”]

Ian:

Chueh Yun.

Yun:

Chueh Yun.

Ian:

Jai-a?

Yun:

Chueh

Ian:

Chueh

Yun:

Yun.

Ian:

Yun.

Yun:

Yeah.

Ian:

Both syllables rise in pitch … I.

Yun:

Yes.

Ian:

I’m… you see… my own memory.

Yun:

[laughs]

Ian:

So, you’re the venerable abbess of…

Yun:

I’m from the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order.

Ian [as narrator]:

Buddhism reaches China in the first couple of centuries of the common era, at the same time as Christianity is spreading in Europe. Like India or pagan Europe, China has myriad local gods, most of whom expect animal sacrifice. They’re seen through a philosophical system, called Confucianism, that finds meaning in playing your part for family and society. The opposite of monasticism.

Yun:

To be ordained as monk, to shave your head, actually at that time it was quite shocking for the Chinese. Because according to our traditional idea, from the Confucianism, we cannot hurt or do any harm to our own body, including our hair. How dare you are to shave your head? Even for your parents, it mean that you show disrespect to your parents. For the Chinese, it very important to have children, to have next generations. So if want to be ordained as a monk or as nun, it shows you do not show any respect to your family.

Ian [as narrator]:

In Confucian China, even the gods have to fit into the social order. This is Vincent Goossaert.

Dr. Vincent Goossaert:

Yes, most gods are part of a bureaucratic system. They have higher-ups. These gods usually eat meat.

Ian [as narrator]:

When I was in Paris doing interviews about philosophers you’ll hear in later episodes, I cycled up a couple of hills to get to the neighbourhood of Épinettes, where the humanities division of Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique is based.

Goossaert:

So, I’m Vincent Goossaert. I’m an historian of Chinese religions, especially Taoism.

Taoism developed out of a much earlier traditions, as an organised religion around the 2nd Century of the Common Era. And one the things they did was reacting against the official religion of the empire, that organised massive amount of state rituals involving sacrificing animals. And so Taoism reacted against that, saying that the pure gods of heaven don’t eat meat, and as a matter of fact they don’t eat any food at all. They can be offered incense or maybe tea, flowers, pure things. But certainly not food and even less meat.

Ian [as narrator]:

Pure, or Jai, is another helpful concept: without meat, sex, and alcohol. To address the gods, you need to be Jai. And everyone addresses the gods.

Goosaeart:

Everybody who took part in the annual village offering to thank the god for their protection and the good crops, had to abstain for three days, and be pure just to approach. Because if you had, like, 3000 pure people and one people who just smell bad, smell of meat, then the god will still be angry and not come. So this notion has been there for many centuries before Taoism was organised as a religion, and before Buddhism arrived.

Ian [as narrator]:

So although the motive is purity, rather than Buddhist ahimsa, non-violence, there are Chinese concepts the Buddhists can leverage.

Goossaert:

There was already from very early on the idea of purification which was there, and which was used by the Buddhists and Taoists, to say, “let’s not just be pure just on certain days but let’s be pure all the time”.

The Buddhists were extremely instrumental in expanding it widely, and bringing new arguments toward the discourse against killing animals and eating meat. But the most important one, of course, is the idea that to kill an animal is a sin that you are going to be accounted for.

And we have graphic descriptions of this in Buddhist texts. But then they very quickly spread around. And we also have Taoists texts that talk about this, and we have pictorial records, and we have popular literature. And in that whole, huge, body of discourse on what happens to souls of people who have just died…

Ian [to Goossaert]:

Souls of people who have died.

Goossaert:

Yeah. We do have descriptions of animals coming just to lodge complaints about the people who have killed them just to eat them. And lots of stories about this.

Ian [as narrator]:

This story is a vision experienced by an official who hunts and fishes, of the gruesome punishment that awaits him in the afterlife. And I warn you, it is not subtle.

[Unearthly drone fades in. Chanting.]

Story narrator [from Miracle Tale of Zhizong – actress reading]:

A hundred-odd people bound Zhizong, and led him away. After many miles they arrived at a stupa to which an assembly of monks was presenting offerings, just as in this world.

Buddhist monk [actor reading]:

You enjoy hunting and fishing. Now you will receive the retribution!

Story narrator:

Zhizong was flayed in exactly the same manner in which animals are butchered. He was then thrown into deep water, hooked in the mouth, pulled out, sliced open, and minced, as sashimi is prepared.

[Zhizong’s screams continue under the narration]

Then he was thrown into a hot cauldron and cooked, turned over three times.

The pain was unbearable.

Buddhist monk:

Do you want to live?

Zhizong [actor reading]:

Help! Please!

Buddhist monk:

Crouch down.

[Splashes of water]

Story narrator:

The monk poured water over him, saying …

Buddhist monk:

One ablution will remove five hundred sins.

Zhizong:

Please. Remove more. Remove more.

Buddhist monk:

Three is enough.

Zhizong:

[Gasps]

Story narrator:

The Monk pointed to some ants:

Buddhist monk:

Even these tiny creatures may not be killed. Of fish and meat, you may eat only from those animals that have died naturally. And on days of abstinence ceremonies, you must wear fresh clothes.

Story narrator:

At this point Zhizong revived. Henceforth he gave up fishing and hunting.

Ian:

And after all that, Zhizhong wasn’t told to be vegetarian. He’s not a monk, and in any case, the Buddhism that entered China still tolerated meat.

Yun:

Monks and nuns were not vegetarian. Who stay in the temple who are ordained, they are not vegetarian. They are not vegetarian. They can have meat, they cook in the temple.

Ian [as narrator]:

So what happens to change this? Firstly, there’s the stuff that happened to Indian Buddhism in the last episode.

[Soft Buddhist chanting fades in and continues in background]

Ian:

Mahāyāna Buddhism cohered. Buddhist universities like Nalanda opened. Texts emerge with an explicitly vegetarian message, like the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. And they get carried by Buddhist monks from Nalanda to China. And secondly, there are people like Emperor Wu.

[Chanting continues in background]

Emperor Wu [from Liang of Wu – actor reading]:

From now on, after you have returned to your monasteries, each and every one of you shall restrain themselves in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings.

Should you still drink wine and eat meat, and act contradictory to the dharma, I shall have you punished according to imperial law. All those monks and nuns who wear the Buddha’s robes but do not act according to the Buddha’s path are falsely assuming the title of monk and differ not from thieves or brigands.

Ian:

In the late 5th and early 6th Centuries, Emperor Wu of Liang is a devout Buddhist. He patronises Buddhism, he gives pro-vegetarian talks and writes an essay, he gathers senior monks and nuns to councils where he cites pro-vegetarian sutras like Laṅkāvatāra and asks awkward questions about vegetarianism.

I like him.

[Chanting ends. Echoey chatter in background]

Yun:

So there is the Emperor Wu, of the Liang dynasty. He was in Chinese Buddhism. He was regarded as “Bodhisattva Emperor”.

Ian:

He helps popularise the Bodhisattva precepts, minor versions of the monastic vows aimed at laypeople.

He takes them himself in 519.

And with more laypeople taking the precepts, and going vegetarian, that increases the pressure on monks and nuns. Imperial patronage can come and go, but when Buddhists and critics alike expect it, the expectation that monks will be vegetarian ratchets up century by century.

By the end of the millennium, yes, the meat-eating Buddhists monk is a fictional trope. But Buddhist hagiographies have gone from celebrating vegetarianism as an exceptional virtue, to taking it for granted. By that time other groups have arrived in China. And to understand them, we have to go back west.

[Muezzin call – male vocalist chants. Continues in background.]

Ian:

In the 7th Century, Islam quickly spreads from North Africa to Persia. Because Islam’s fasting tradition, Ramadan, is all-or-nothing, it has got no connection with vegetarianism. Unlike its Eastern Christian citizens who, then as now, have periodic vegetarian and sometimes even vegan fasts. So to early Muslims, abstention from flesh, along with monasticism, is something other religions do.

For example, this is the first account I can find of a Muslim being vegetarian. It’s the 650s, barely 20 years after the death of the prophet Muhammed, and it’s being used to imply that Basra’s most respected preacher is dodgy.

Al-Tabari [narrator from the Histories of al-Tabari – actor reading]:

Humran came before the Caliph in Medina with a band of men who slandered Amir, saying he did not approve of marriage, eat meat, or attend Friday prayer.

Ian:

Amir denies the rumours, except he’ll admit to a compassionate vegetarian phase.

Mu’awiyah [actor reading]:

The Caliph was informed that you would not eat meat – but I have seen you do so and know that people have lied about you.

Amir [actor reading]:

As for meat, you have seen for yourself, but I was a man who would not eat animals killed by butchers ever since I saw a butcher dragging a sheep to be slaughtered. Then he placed a knife on its throat and repeated over and over “For sale! For sale!” until it dropped dead.

Ian:

The Christian hermits of the Middle East from a couple of episodes ago do inspire some Muslim ascetics. A very few of them, like Ziyad in the 8th Century, are vegetarian though. The ascetics will evolve into mystics called Sufis, who will evolve into orders, some of whom will be vegetarian, but that waits another episode.

In southern Iraq, there are a few interesting groups. You may also remember the Manichaeans, their vegan clergy called Elects. How their European proselytizing lost out to what became mainstream Christianity. They follow the 3rd Century Persian prophet Mani, who claimed to follow on from Jesus and Buddha, and the ancient Persian Zoroaster.

Prof. Jason Be Duhn:

So for Christians, they’re heretical Christians. For Zoroastrians, they’re heretical Zoroastrians. And so the Manichaeans were very much an underground movement at the beginning of the 7th Century, and having a quite difficult time.

But Islam actually brings a fundamental change for the Manichaeans, because at least initially, for the first 100 years or so of Islamic rule, Muslims were very tolerant of religious diversity under the Umayyads. And the Manichaeans were basically allowed to operate openly for the first time in centuries.

Ian [as narrator]:

Several Manichaeanism experts pointed me to Professor Jason Be Duhn of Northern Arizona University, as the authority on Manichaean diet. So I broke one of my own rules and interviewed him via Skype. Like the Buddhist clergy, the Elect hope their lifestyle will help them escape the cycle of reincarnation.

Be Duhn:

The Elect committed themselves to be without any kind of personal property. So they didn’t have a home. They were celibate. And they were sworn to non-harm, so they could not kill, and in terms of their diet they were vegans.

Ian [to Be Duhn]:

Why do the Elect follow a vegan diet? I mean, is it as simple as, they believe in non-harm?

Be Duhn:

The rule of non-harm is a very fundamental rule for the Elect. But it’s connected to an ideology underlying the whole religion, which is the sacredness of life. And what that means is, that all things have a sacred, divine energy in them, animals and plant both. And for the Manichaeans, then, animal life is sacred, not because of any treasuring of the animal-form, but because of the life within it.

The Manichaeans actually had a very interesting detailed metabolic theory about how we take in life-energy when we eat, and then we channel that energy into our actions.

Ian:

And, calories and light-particles and life-energy are the same thing?

Be Duhn:

They’re all exactly the same thing for the Manichaeans. But the job of the Elect, the primary function of the Elect, was to channel as much of this sacred light-particles as possible out of the universe.

And they can do that by eating plants, because the plant does not immediately die. It retains the light particles, and the Elect can eat it, and through their disciplined bodies, channel this light to liberation.

Ian:

Presumably to heaven?

Be Duhn:

Yes, that’s… all the light-particles return to their source, which is god in heaven.

Ian [as narrator]:

This idea really reminds me of how some of today’s raw foodists talk about, quote “living food”.

The Elect completely depend on lay Manichaeans. And in return, they absolve the lay folk of their sins, including the sins committed supporting the Elect. Most lay Manichaeans eat meat. It’s permitted as long as they don’t slaughter it themselves.

Be Duhn:

In around 750, this new Islamic regime takes over, which is much less tolerant of religious diversity, and begins to persecute the Manichaeans as dualists.

Ian [as narrator]:

Instead of one benevolent all-powerful creator, dualists believe in competing powers of light and dark. For Manicheans, the world is just a flawed product of the struggle between good and evil – the proverbial Manichaean conflict.

The European heretics we’ll come to later, are also dualists. But staying in southern Iraq, in the 10th Century a whole dissident Islamic community gets nicknamed al-Baqliyyah, “the Greengrocers”. And that’s down to just a single preacher with a message that’s familiar to us from India – don’t kill animals or eat pungent vegetables like onions. The historic record doesn’t even tell us if he won them over.

And southern Iraq’s port city of Basra boasts a secret band of philosophers – the Brethren of Purity. They’re inspired by Pythagoras and neo-platonism, and they create an encyclopedia of all knowledge, that includes in it a Fable about other animals putting mankind on trial. The story’s set on an Eden-like island where animals live in peace until humans arrive.

Brethren of Purity [from Trial of Humans At the Court of the Djinn – actor reading]:

The men pursued and hunted them, using all manner of devices to take them, convinced that the animals were their runaway and rebellious slaves.

When the cattle and beasts learned of this belief, their spokesmen and leaders gathered and came before Biiwaraasp the Wise, King of the Genies, to complain of the injustice and wrongs of mankind against them and to protest the human notions about them.

Ian:

It’s a closely-fought case. Different manuscripts have different, mostly ambiguous, endings. And as amazing as it is, I can’t say it’s an explicit case for vegetarianism.

But what of the Manichaeans? By the 10th Century, their position is untenable in their southern Iraq homeland, and they flee. And thanks to their centuries of proselytising, they have somewhere to flee to.

[Ancient instrumental music begins playing in background]

Be Duhn:

It was a very fortuitous turn of events, that exactly when they begin to be persecuted in their homeland in southern Iraq, within a decade or so of that beginning, their religion is adopted by the leaders of the Uighur Steppe empire, in central Asia.

[Background music continues with female singer introduced]

Their prince who goes onto become their Khagan is converted to Manichaeism. And so that turn of events is quite dramatic for the Manichaeans.

Ian [to Be Duhn]:

And he has this very firm pronouncement about how he’s changing his society.

Be Duhn:

There’s a couple of very interesting texts around this conversion of the Uighurs, that involve a commitment that in effect the Manichaean leadership extracts from him. So we have this fascinating text which refers to “a land in which the air was formerly filled with the smell of blood”, becoming a land where everyone eats vegetables.

If you can picture in your mind Mongolia, and the difficulty of raising vegetables in Mongolia, you understand just what a commitment this was. And in fact the Uighur leadership does get a lot of resistance and the government is overthrown. But then there are counter-revolutions where the Manichaeans came back in. So this went back and forth several times.

Ian [as narrator]:

We’ll catch up with Manichaeanism in Asia later.

[Man reads rhythmic Arabic poetry]

Ian:

This poem advocates ethical veganism. It even reminds the hearer that bees do not make honey for humans. In Syria, Abul ‘ala Al-Ma’arri is one of the greatest poets of the early 11th Century. He’s a sceptic, an anti-natalist who thinks the world is too cruel to bring children into, and most remarkably, an ethical vegan in pretty much the modern mold.

I could go on about him for a whole show, and in fact, I did, back in 2012, with a bit of help from Benjamin Zephaniah. You can listen to it at the vegan option dot org.

[Christian monastic chanting]

Ian:

Meanwhile, Christianity faces heresies that remind it of the Manichaeans; more abstemious monastic-style groups that promise an escape from reincarnation.

Remember, early Christian monks and nuns were close to vegan. But by the 6th Century, the Roman Catholic monks and nuns only abstain from red meat. And as time goes by, there are exceptions and excuses from even that – for meat broth, or the Abbot’s table, or meals in the infirmary.

Prof. John Arnold:

What we do find is some ordinary people, when they’re angry with the establishment, denouncing priests and monks and friars, and so on, for the richness of their diets.

Ian [as narrator]:

John Arnold lectures in Medieval History, particularly heresy, at Birkbeck in the University of London. We talked in a book-lined basement office with the traffic from Russell Square in the background. And I asked him about these itinerant ascetics who were putting the church to shame.

[to Arnold] Taking Europe as a whole, how do you sum up these dualist heretical movements, the Bogomils and the Cathars?

Arnold:

They’ve got this core belief that there are two gods. So, a good god who creates all the spiritual things, and a bad god who creates the physical world. They’re arising not from existing religious institutions, but from an enthusiasm for an apostolic form of life. And they are a threat, or at least they are perceived as a threat, by the orthodox authorities in all places.

Ian [as narrator]:

In the 10th Century, in the Byzantine empire’s Slavic frontier, a priest called Cosmas rails against the Bogomils.

Cosmas [actor reading]:

They appear pale from their hypocritical fasting. They do not utter vain words. They present themselves so that they may not be told apart from orthodox Christians.

Ian:

We don’t get details of their diet until the 12th Century.

Euthysmius Zigabenus [actor reading]:

They say that their righteousness exceeds ours because they teach what is truer and share a lifestyle which is more austere and pure, abstaining from meat and cheese and marriage and everything like that.

Ian:

The word just translated “meat” is ambiguous about fish. Given what else we know, their clergy were probably either vegan or pescetarian. And out of purity rather than concern for animals.

Arnold:

The point about having a belief in two gods, a bad god who made this world, is that you don’t believe in hell, because this is hell. You already live in it. And particularly amongst the bad things that the bad world produces, is anything that sex is involved in. So if you have meat, or if indeed you have milk products, these are the product of sex. And for that reason, you might then say, “well, we mustn’t eat any of these things, because they link us more strongly to the bad”. Well, you’re corrupted in that sense.

Ian [as narrator]:

Over in the west, in Rheims, in 991, a new archbishop makes an very specific declaration endorsing meat, marriage, and everything like that as if he was denying being a Bogomil. An exchange of pastoral letters in the 11th Century suggest continuing concerns over this heresy.

Arnold:

And he says in particular, “don’t rush around going overboard, prosecuting people for heresy, like some of those French people who accuse people of being heretics just because they look rather pale”. And they take their pallour to indicate that they’ve been fasting, and the fasting to indicate that they are heretics.

Bishop Anselm [from Gest Episcoporum Leodensium – actor reading]:

Given this, anyone can see how reprehensibly they behaved at Goslar, when some members of this sect were captured. They were rightly excommunicated, after much discussion of their beliefs, for their stubbornness in heresy.

But they were sentenced to be hanged as well. I have most diligently tried to find out what passed at this discussion, and can discover no justification for the sentence, except that the heretics refused to obey the order of the bishop to kill a chicken.

Ian [as narrator]:

Compare this to the Caliphate, who rooted out Manichaeans by challenging suspects to kill ants.

By the 12th Century, the people we now call the Cathars are an organised popular movement. Their wandering clergy capitalise on anti-clerical feeling.

Arnold:

They look like the Apostles. You know, we are meeting people who look like what they imagine what Jesus and the Apostles to have looked like. And the diet is one part of that. The ones called the Cathars fast for three 40-day periods in the year, and fast three times a week, and basically make it a big part of how they present themselves to the world.

Ian [as narrator]:

Add their fasts together and they follow a vegan diet most days of the year. But, rather weirdly, the rest of the time, they eat fish.

Arnold:

The flesh of fish is different because it is spontaneously generated in water. That apparently rather odd belief is actually fairly widely held in the Middle Ages. It goes back, I believe, to Aristotle, who thought that certain kinds of animals were spontaneously generated from the environment they lived in, and that this was true of fish.

So they are enjoying real success and visibility in the early 13th Century. And then, Pope Innocent III calls a crusade against them. The crusade involves knights, primarily from northern France – which we are saying northern and southern France, these are really two different countries in this period. It involves knights from northern France coming to the south, fighting knights and townspeople in the area, killing quite large numbers of them, and eventually subduing and dominating the south.

So they capture Béziers, the city of Béziers, and they slaughter almost everybody there. And a slightly later text says that, asked, “how are we gonna tell who are the heretics and who are the Christians?” Arnold Amery the papal legate, says, “Kill them all, God will know his own.” So, just get rid of everybody, but them all to the sword, and, you know, God will sort it out afterwards. He may not actually have said that, but it’s certainly the case that very large numbers were killed there.

Ian [as narrator]:

The conquest enables an inquisition that tracks down the last Cathars. Like these two fugitive women, recorded in the registry of the inquisition.

Jack Fournier [from his Le Registre d’Inquisition – actor reading]:

Arriving in a hotel, the hostess wanted to know whether they were heretics, and gave them some live chickens, asking them to prepare them, because she had stuff to do in town, and left the house.

At her return, she found the chickens still living and asked them why they hadn’t prepared them. They answered that if the hostess would kill them, they would prepare the chicken well, but they wouldn’t kill it. The hostess hearing this, went and told the inquisitors that two heretics were at her place. They were arrested and burned.

Ian:

The inquisition sees these heresies through the filter of the Manichaeans.

Arnold:

One of the things that the church writers do is that they look back to Augustin. And in Augustin, you find this set of ideas about Manichaeans and so on and so forth.

Ian [as narrator]:

The Bogomils persist in the Balkans until the Ottoman Empire takes over in the 14th Century. But let’s catch up with the real Manichaeans, in 8th Century central Asia.

[Song from Uighur plays in background]

Be Duhn:

Uighurs had such influence over the Chinese government at the time, because they basically saved the Chinese government from being overthrown. And so they extracted a lot of concessions from the government, including setting up Uighur garrisons throughout China. And so that century of Uighur dominance of China was very central for spreading Manichaeism into China, in a way it hadn’t been before.

Ian [as narrator]:

In the 840s, the Uighur state fell to an invader. And shortly afterwards, the emperor of China banned foreign religions including Buddhism and Manichaeanism.

Be Duhn:

And at that time, then, Elect are rounded up, and either exiled or executed. But at that moment, one of the Elect manages to flee the Chinese capital and go into the south. And he manages to basically re-group the survivors and reorganise in southern China, and give Chinese Manichaeism a whole second life.

Ian [to Be Duhn]:

That’s one impressive Elect.

Be Duhn:

It certainly is. And it is just one individual who guides that whole re-organisation and re-establishment of Manichaeism.

Ian [as narrator]:

Buddhism recovers in China; by the end of the 9th Century, it is part of the orthodoxy.

Goossaert:

From the late Tang onward, the dominant ideology is San Jiao [三教], three teachings: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. They are all recognised by the imperial state as good, orthodox teachings. Confucianism is given pride of place.

Ian [as narrator]:

Manichaeanism becomes one of China’s many sects: outside those three orthodoxies but heavily influenced by them.

Be Duhn:

So, more Buddhist influence, more Taoist influence. A lot of parallels are seen. The Taoists very interested in the metabolism of the body, and diet and things like that. And so there’s a lot of interconnections that just naturally form.

Ian [as narrator]:

In China, the prophet Mani is called the “Buddha of light”.

Be Duhn:

The connection to other lands is more or less forgotten, or relegated to legend. And it becomes very much a part of the Chinese religious landscape.

Ian [as narrator]:

By the 12th and 13th Centuries, authorities see vegetarian sects like Manichaeans as rabble rousers. They label them:

Angry Chinese People [actors shouting in unison]:

Vegetarian Demon Worshippers!

Be Duhn:

For ordinary peasants, their diet was mostly vegetarian anyway. And so the idea that they could be a kind of spiritual elite, as a commoner, if they followed these more restricted dietary practices that didn’t really alter their life all that dramatically, was a very inviting idea.

And the demon worship part comes from the fact that these are not recognised, accepted deities, according to the, you know, the main establishment.

Ian [as narrator]:

But supporting abstemious unproductive Elect proves more of a challenge.

Be Duhn:

And gradually we see a shift towards lay control of the religion, lay control of the community. And the Elect institution basically disappears. And the Chinese Manichaean lay people are basically doing the religion without the Elect, as much as they possibly can.

Ian [as narrator]:

In the rest of Chinese popular religion, the gods themselves have to decide whether to be vegetarian.

Goossaert:

And there are lots of stories, both in early history and in modern history, and actually in the present as well, where gods are being converted as it were, to vegetarianism. And say that they should be honoured by pure offerings only, and so they would be even more pure and powerful, and higher up the ladders of the divine bureaucracy if they did so.

And then the god protest, they says spirit mediums, and they tell people that that’s not working, and they need blood and meat. So there’s this… this is going on, and unfolding through history.

Ian [as narrator]:

The ethic of being Jai – pure, including vegetarian – for short periods remains. Chueh Yun.

[echoey chatter in background]

Yun:

We have the habit of, for some of the Chinese, they’ll keep vegetarian diet two days a month. New moon, and full moon day.

Goossaert:

Many people who were religious to some extent, would voluntarily, out of face or respect, or whatever you call it, abstain from meat, and also alcohol and sex, and onion and leeks and other things… on certain days.

But also, at a more personal level, people would choose to eat vegetarian, and in some cases they would go to a vegetarian restaurant on certain days, like your own birthday, or the birthday of your parents, out of respect for your parents. On the birthdays of certain gods, as well. For instance, bodhisattva Quan Yin, who is one of the most widely worshipped deities, or technically she is a bodhisattva, we can call her.

Ian [to Goossaert]:

Bodhisattva of compassion.

Goossaert:

Yeah. The more devout people would, like, extend that, like for one week before. And then it’s really your choice.

And the very interesting thing in this background theme that runs through whole of Chinese history – maybe not all but at least over the last two thousand years – is that, on the one hand, the very vocabulary of purity is accepted by pretty much everyone. The idea that being vegetarian is pure, it’s better, it’s more meritorious. You are not tainted by the sins of killing animals, or having animals killed for you.

But then, there are forces that are playing against this. And one of the sources is that you need commensality, you need to eat with people, you need to share food with people, that means sharing meat and wine.

So it was respected, but also considered as a kind of un-social practice. Whereas abstaining just on certain days was the norm, it’s been the norm until the 20th Century.

Ian [as narrator]:

It influences surrounding cultures – Korea and then Japan.

The first Japanese imperial edict against meat-eating is in 675. It’s far from a blanket ban, addressing certain traps, certain farm animals during certain busy months. And it needs to be repeated, suggesting it was honoured more in the breach. Later edicts extend to all domestic land animals.

As often happens when a vegetarian ethic meets a fishing culture, Japan makes an exception for eating fish and also whales. But by the end of the middle ages, Japan seems to be mainly pescetarian.

[Soft chatter in background. Sound of Ian’s footsteps and movements]

Ian [to Anand]:

So, passing more cells. Where would the monks in that cell likely be from?

Dr. Deepak Anand:

Nalanda was a very celebrated university, so, you know, people from all over the Buddhist world would come and study here. China, Korea, Mongolia. Central Asian countries.

Ian [as narrator]:

You might remember last episode, we went to Nalanda University with Deepak Anand. For centuries, the scholar-monks from China and Japan would take teachings back from the great Buddhist universities of North India.

But even as Buddhism becomes part of the orthodoxy in China, Buddhism is declining in its homeland, dissolving into the Hindu sea of faith.

Oxford University Indologist Richard Gombrich.

Prof. Richard Gombrich:

Buddhism seemed to be doing pretty well in India, till about 9th Century or so. Roughly, I mean, getting towards the end of the first millenium A.D.

And then it’s in decline. And there’s a huge amount of controversy about what exactly the reasons were. But they were pushed as much as they left, so to speak. There was a lot of persecution of Buddhists, towards the end. Not only by Muslims, but also by Brahmins.

Anand:

Muslims started coming 11th Century onwards.

Gombrich:

They… Sometimes they were not hostile to other people, most of the time they were.

Anand:

They started coming – the major onslaught was in the 12th Century. When they came with army, and they started attacking all this big establishment. Because monasteries are very huge. And they felt this was the perfect place for them to, you know, set up military base.

So, they find that they could re-use the wood, they could re-use the metal, they could re-use the, you know, bricks, everything. It was surrounded by water bodies, it was very good for, you know, the horses.

So it was a perfect place for, you know, them to settle. And moreover, these monks were all very conspicuous. You know, their heads were shaven and they the colourful robes. So they were easily identified them, and they would kill them.

These monks, when they would see that these Turks were coming, they would go and hide in the jungle. It was all jungle area then. They would go into hiding. And when these raiders would go back, they would come back.

Gombrich:

Certainly, we know that the death-knell for Buddhism in India more or less occurred around 1200 A.D. with a great deal of destruction of great monasteries, libraries et cetera, by the Muslims.

Ian [as narrator]:

So if you travelled the world in the early 13th Century, you might find the last of the Cathars, perhaps the final traces of Manichaeanism in the Uighur Khaganate. Perhaps the last Elect amongst persecuted vegetarian demon worshipers in China, and the last few dozen monks in the ruins of Nalanda.

Anand:

So this process continued for many hundreds of years, and by 14th Century, you know, this process came to its end.

Ian [as narrator]:

In 1341, the famed Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta reports this Chinese request about a Buddhist temple in India.

Ibn Battuta [from his travel writing – actor reading]:

The king of China had sent valuable gifts, with a request to build an idol shrine on the foothills of the Himalayas. It’s at a place called Samhal, to which the Chinese go on pilgrimage. The Muslim army of India had seized, destroyed and sacked it.

The Sultan wrote a reply that under Islamic law the request could not be granted; for permission to build temples was given only to those who accepted the Infidel tax; adding “If you agree to pay it, permission to build the temple can be given.”

Ian:

And the Sultan appoints Ibn Battuta ambassador to China. It’s now China carrying the torch for Mahāyāna Buddhism. And it’s thanks to Chinese scholar monks that the Buddhist sites I visited in North India were not completely forgotten.

And that’s not the only thing for which we have to thank Chinese Buddhist and Daoist vegetarianism.

Yun:

Tofu.

Ian [to Yun]:

Tofu.

Yun:

Tofu.

Ian:

Yes.

Yun:

Tofu.

Ian:

Yes. This is just the most normal thing to you. It’s…

Yun:

Yes, it is normal for us. Because it’s part of Chinese culture. The tofu, or beancurd product.

Neil McLennan:

In China, if I tell people that I make tofu, it causes hilarity.

Ian [as narrator]:

Neil McLennan runs Clean Bean Tofu. He’s my local Tofu maker in Brick Lane in East London.

Neil McLennan:

The idea of a westerner making tofu… The assumption is all westerners should be making lots of money, and making tofu is… it’s what’s you do if you’re a farmer and you move to the city and you need some cash. You make Tofu. In Japan, I get a lot more respect for tofu as a craft. It’s very different.

Ian [as narrator]:

Tofu’s first recorded mention is dated 965 – about an official who only eats it because they can’t afford meat. But there’s an ambiguous carving in a 2nd Century tomb that could make Tofu much older. In his production room, Neil showed me how he makes Tofu – and he finds the carving very familiar.

McLennan:

Each batch will get jugged in from here, into the cooker here.

Ian [to McLennan]:

It doesn’t look like a cooker. It looks like…

McLennan:

It looks like a World War One mine.

Ian:

Yes, thank you. [laughs]

[clattering sounds]

Ian:

So this sequence of soaking the beans, cooking them, filtering away the husk, curdling and separating the curds and whey, pressing it – that is the same as it’s been for, one or two thousand years.

McLennan:

Yeah. And in fact, you can actually see a picture from the Han dynasty of people doing exactly that. In that picture that I’m talking about, they use the traditional stones to grind, and they would use a fire to cook. The filtering would be a big cloth that is hung on a frame, and it’s just basically like, like you see people filtering jam. Same kind of process.

Ian [as narrator]:

It might not have started as a meat substitute for mere mortals, but it definitely became one for deities. Vincent Goossaert.

Goossaert:

Even in early modern period, certain families sacrificed to their ancestors with tofu. It’s quite interesting. [laughs] And then tofu in that case if very clearly a substitute.

Ian [as narrator]:

Mock meats, using bean curd and wheat gluten, were mentioned as early as the 6th Century. Neil.

McLennnan:

They often use yuba. Yu-ba is skin of the milk. So if you simmer soy milk, just like with dairy milk you get a skin forming on the surface. And they’ll peel that off and dry it. And that will often be rolled into a, like a tube, and sliced. And that’s supposed to be resembling meat.

You go to… If you go to a… Certainly the Buddhist temple I remember in Chendu, it was in a lovely courtyard in an old temple, and they’d have a huge menu board at the entrance. And it was all meat dishes. The names – it’s all written as meat dishes, but you know, there’s no meat products there at all.

Ian [as narrator]:

There’s a lot of comment about how realistic it is. In this 16th Century novel, it’s a lady’s birthday party, a food break after some Buddhist nuns have just given a recital, and Aunt yang is, at the moment, Jai.

Yueniang (hostess) [from Jin Ping Mei – actress reading]:

Won’t you have a little something to keep our two mentors company?

Aunt Yang [actress reading]:

I mustn’t! I’ve had enough to eat already! And take this dish of pork ribs away. I’m worried I might get some into my mouth by mistake!

[Everyone Laughs]

Yueniang:

My good lady. This is mock non-vegetarian food sent over from the temple just now. Eat as much as you like. It won’t do you any harm.

Aunt Yang:

So long as it’s really vegetarian food. I’ll have some of it. My eyes must really be deceiving me. I was sure it was meat.

Ian:

Every so often, some meat-eating comic proclaims that vegetarians shouldn’t be allowed mock meat. In medieval China, this is a live moral issue.

Goossaert:

There were writers who argued for the fact that if you are going to eat vegetarian, then it should look like what it is. It should be plain, cooked vegetables, not very fancy things that look like duck and taste like duck. That’s… For some of those writers, that beats the moral purpose [laughs] of eating pure food.

[echoey chatter in background]

Yun:

Tofu, we prefer. The fake meat, we do not like at all. But, some of them, sometimes, we will have to use that. Because, for beginners, they prefer the meat [laughs]. So we have to have some dishes with some kind of mock-meat, mock-fish.

[Theme music plays, briefly]

Ian [as narrator]:

By the end of the Middle Ages, both South and East Asia have distinctive vegetarian cultures. But both Christianity and Islam view vegetarianism with a bit of suspicion. And in India, empires and colonies that follow those religions increasingly appear. And neither culture’s ideas about vegetarian are going to remain the same when they are this close and personal.

And next episode, we go back to India to find out how.

With the voices of Sandeep Garcha, Chetan Pathak, Selva Rasalingham, Jeremey Hancock, Guillaume Blanchard, and Yasser Sha’aban. And the music of Robb Masters, Klank Beeld, the London Uighur Ensemble, and others.

Follow on facebook and twitter dot com slash veganoption, and discover more at veghist dot org.

Since the last episode came out, I’ve added an interactive timeline to the main veghist dot org page.

And I’ve written for the Vegan Society to mark the birthday of their founder Donald Watson, a blog post about why it’s so important for us to remember our history, and to record the history that we’re making now.

If you like this series – and I’m guessing you do if you’ve listened this far – please do get the word out. Review on iTunes or your podcast provider, share it on Twitter and Facebook.

[Theme fades in]

Embed the Soundcloud player on your blog, and tell your friends. It’s taking me many months of unpaid work, so please do spread the word if you think it’s worth it. And thank you very much for listening.

[Theme ends]

END OF EPISODE 7.

This transcript was posted March 17th 2018, but dated so that it appears after the show itself in listings. The featured image is of an original Manichaean sermon, in handwritten Old Turkik. Many thanks to Amy Carpenter.

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About Ian McD

I'm a British new media person with a passion for radio, and interested in the kind of stories best told when we see humans as part of the world of animal minds. I blogged about why I'm producing The Vegan Option.

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"The Vegan Option Vegetarianism: The Story So Far - A Radio History