“Wanton noodles without wanton, please?” : My vegetarian journey

3 mins read
Published on May 10, 2024

TLDR: Join Venerable Jian Xin on a journey of compassion as she shares how a simple book transformed her into a dedicated vegetarian, shaping her life for over three decades.

Discovering Vegetarianism 

I was seventeen, studying in my first year at Junior College. I had developed an interest in Buddhism after chancing upon a Buddhist book two years earlier.

In those days, I had no contact with Buddhists, so my only way to learn more about the Dharma was to visit the National Library and borrow books on Buddhism It was a particular Chinese book with a chapter titled “Starting from the Dining Table” that caught my attention.

I wondered, “What could be related to Buddhism that starts from the dining table?”

As I started to read the chapter, the answer became clear – Compassion.

Yes, Compassion can start from the dining table. It was about vegetarianism. It explained how we can cultivate compassion by not eating the flesh of sentient beings.

By the time I finished reading the chapter, I had made my decision: From now on, I am going to be a vegetarian.

Being a Vegetarian in the 1980s

Now, this was in the 1980s when vegetarianism was quite unheard of. Imagine the shock that swept through all the members of my large, extended family (as we were all living together), especially my mother who was the cook of the family, when I announced my decision.

“No worries, Mum. In the future, I will have all my meals in my school canteen,” I assured her. 

So, I started by approaching the stall holder at the canteen of my Junior College and asking, “Auntie, can I have wanton noodles without wanton? Just noodles and vegetables?” You can imagine the surprised look on her face! 

Slowly, my mother got used to the idea of me being a vegetarian and out of motherly love, during off-school days, she started preparing healthy vegetarian dishes for me. Subsequently, she also became a vegetarian! 

Cultivating and Practising Compassion Through Vegetarianism

Above is a personal account of how I became a vegetarian overnight in my teens. It has been more than thirty years and I would say, that was one of the best life-changing decisions I have ever made.

A “by-product” of being a vegetarian for me is better health. I recently went for my routine health screening and the doctor remarked, “Your results are generally good. Based on your current and past medical records, I don’t think you will suffer from a heart attack for another ten years!” 

I credit my favourable health screening results to my healthy vegetarian diet. Maintaining a healthy physical body is beneficial for my Buddhist practice.

Adopting a vegetarian lifestyle also aligns with the Buddhist practice of compassion towards all living beings. The quality of compassion led me to become a counsellor and a Buddhist nun and still guides me today. 

It really pains me to see any being suffer, including even a small insect. My aspiration has always been to do my utmost to relieve the sufferings of all sentient beings.

Some years back, one of my Venerable Teachers in Taiwan contracted the H1N1 swine flu virus and ended up in the Intensive Care Unit, almost losing his life. He was humbled by the whole experience. He often half-jokingly says, “Until today, I still don’t know how that little thing (referring to the virus) that almost killed me, looks like!”

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Until the day we humans truly show mercy for all other animals, I do not know how much more repercussions there will be.

Are you ready to start your practice of Compassion from the dining table?

Wise Steps:

  1. Integrating the Buddhist value of compassion into our daily lives, particularly through food, involves acknowledging the conditions that enable us to practise better. Can we incorporate mindfulness into our dining table experiences and discover compassion in this aspect of life? 
  2. Contemplate the link between compassion, vegetarianism, and your personal growth over the years.
  3. Explore the health benefits derived from maintaining a vegetarian diet and how it may cotribute to your overall well-being.

HOL’s Film recommendations to watch on being vegetarian:

  1. Seaspiracy: Documentary on the fishing industry
  2. Game Changer: Athletes who follow a plant base diet
  3. Food INC: America’s corporate controlled food industry and its trickle-down effects on
  4. Okja: A young girl risks everything to prevent a company from kidnapping her best friend – a fascinating beast named Okja.
  5. Cowspiracy: Explores the impact of animal agriculture on the environment—examining such environmental concerns
Venerable Jian Xin , an NUS alum with a Master's in Buddhist Studies from the University of London, embraced the Bodhisattva path at 15. Former counsellor turned monastic, she guides others with wisdom and compassion towards the path of awakening.

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