What is it about?

This article presents one Buddhist response to that age-old question, "What's for dinner?" The translated essay at the center of this article describes in vivid detail what happens to women who butcher, boil, skin,or otherwise prepare fish and meat for dinner. Needless to say there are negative karmic consequences for such actions. What is of interest is that this sixteenth-century essay was published in early twentieth-century Buddhist journals. Thus despite the rapidly changing roles of women in society, meal preparation was still largely under their control and one activity with the potential to generate bad karma.

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Why is it important?

This article is important for what it says about the early twentieth-century attention to female Buddhist practice and for how cooking is certainly part of Buddhist practice. The specific Buddhist references to female exemplars and to stories of women who suffered karmic consequences are not well known, yet they should be. Additionally, this article offers one area of Buddhist concern that did not change, despite the introduction of Western ideas, push toward modernism, and most significantly the increase in female mobility and education. Women were more visible in Buddhist halls and other public spaces, yet it was women who needed to decide that all important question, What's for dinner?


At first, I thought this article would present an obscure Chinese essay of limited interest, but then as the work progressed, I realized that such mundane, repetitive tasks like cooking can have a profound effect on how one understands karma. This article weds the concrete actions of food preparation to the more abstract ideas of Buddhist karma to demonstrate that compassion and mercy should play a profound role in such simple everyday activities as grocery shopping, cooking, and eating.

Jennifer Eichman

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Women and Animals: Culinary Dilemmas and Karmic Entanglements, NAN Nü, June 2022, Brill,
DOI: 10.1163/15685268-02410038.
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