Lord Buddha said, "Those who keep close company with me, must not eat meat... Eating meat destroys the attitude of great compassion." —Mahaparinirvana sutra
For the past month, I've been obsessed with bacon. It's all I want to eat. A crispy BLT, a few strips crossing the heart of a burger, a plateful of the thick-cut stuff, still sizzling from the grill. When a friend told me how his brother ate a pound of bacon at one sitting, my mouth started watering. I realized it was time for an intervention.
As a former vegetarian, I needed to reclaim the joy I once took in partaking only of the nonsentient produce of the earth. I needed to clear my mind, which was cluttered with desire for bacon, and remember the doctrine of nonattachment. Then I could rejoin the moral minority who sleep soundly each night, dreams unhaunted by delicious pork.
And so I traveled to Wallingford on a bright, clear evening, and found a parking spot directly across the street (karma, perhaps?) from Jhanjay Vegetarian Thai Cuisine. Its subdued lighting flickered like prayer candles as my also-ex-vegetarian wife and I crossed the threshold from the material world to something a bit more ethereal. High ceilings, tasteful art, clean lines on the tables and chairs—a cheerful space for meditation on the extensive menu, which is entirely free of bacon.
At first, I was flummoxed, but I soon remembered the joys of the days when alluring pork products didn't wink enticingly from every darkened doorway. There's a certain liberty achieved by the simple act of saying "no." I renounce thee, bacon. Go, and trouble me no more.
We embarked on this journey of rebirth with a plate of appetizers ($9.95), all fried in a light, tempura-like batter. Slightly hot chili sauce brought out the sweetness in the golden-kernel-studded corn fritters. The spring rolls were fresh and guilt-free, the fried tofu not tasting like much, but the bean sprouts were crisp and clean as a scrubbed conscience. The deep-fried cream cheese baskets dipped in a smoky peanut sauce were perhaps more Puyallup Fair than Phuket, but their richness comforted me in a deeply satisfying way.
I followed my stir-fried broccoli, carrots, and bok choy ($7.95) farther down this path of healing. Doused with that same smoky peanut sauce (I'm a sucker for all things peanut), they provided the satisfying crunch of truly fresh produce. The chewy tofu was a bit disappointing, flopping around in my mouth and then disintegrating between my teeth without much of a fight, more like mozzarella than mutton. But my plate was soon clean and I felt a strange contentment suffusing me.
My wife stuck even closer to the righteous path at Jhanjay. The Buddha's Basket ($12.95) consisted of a pile of fresh beans, peppers, and broccoli, with taro, cashews, and mushroom cooked in a mildly spicy soy sauce and served in a nest of crunchy noodles. It's the kind of dish that devout monks might devour after spending 12 hours in meditation. Its myriad flavors and textures demanded a joyful mindfulness not always found in Seattle's ubiquitous Thai food.
Attentive service (and welcoming smiles) throughout the meal made the experience of dining at this temple to vegetarianism that much more enjoyable. As we walked out into the newly dark street, I beheld a buzzing streetlight and its lunar halo, meditating for a moment on the Saddharmasmrityupasthana sutra, which concerns those unlucky souls who end up in hell for the sin of killing living beings for the sake of enjoying their meat.
The hounds of hell will overtake and devour them whole: sinews and flesh, joint and bone, leaving nothing, not even a fragment the size of a mustard seed! Body and limbs will be completely eaten up. And this experience of being devoured by dogs will occur again and again.
A cautionary tale indeed. So on this quiet, end-of-summer evening, I returned home with my heart pure, unpursued by the hounds of hell, and not even thinking about a BLT.