Upaya and Tofu Scramble

Like many people in my particular Buddhist tradition, I adopted a vegetarian diet. Doing so took some time, patience, and a little negotiation with myself. That negotiation would often come int the form of a non-meat food dressed up like an animal product.

Lately, I had a craving for scrambled eggs but I was not willing to go buy actual eggs. I remembered a tofu scramble I had from a vegan diner in Baltimore which was quite good. Confident that I would find the recipe online, I looked it up.

What I found was nearly as simple as scrambled eggs themselves. According to the recipe, all I needed was firm tofu, salt, pepper and turmeric. The turmeric is in the recipe to make the tofu yellow so that it looks more like scrambled eggs. It doesn’t really serve any other purpose.

Some foodies dislike a veggie equivalent to certain animal products, finding that it’s much better to just eat non-meat foods as is. Essentially, one should be trying not to eat stuff that mimics meat because the point of vegetarian/vegan lifestyles is to avoid those things. I imagine some of them might even question using the turmeric.

However, sometimes we need some upaya (skillful means) in order to make a change, whether that change is on a culinary level, or a spiritual level. The Buddha is famous for using skillful means to teach the Dharma. For Shakyamuni, it was important to meet a person where they were and teach in a way that they would understand.

Some of the most famous examples of upaya are in the Lotus Sutra. In one parable, the Buddha tells the story of the leader and his band of travelers. These travelers were exhausted from a long journey and were ready to give up. In order to encourage them to go on, the leader conjured the illusion of a spectacular city. After the group took some time to rest in the city, the leader told them that it’s all an illusion and that a better treasure was at the end of the journey.

Sometimes one needs to conjure a spectacular illusion. Sometimes one just needs to sprinkle some turmeric on tofu. The yellow in my tofu scramble may cast an illusion but it helps me stay on my journey.

Namo Amida Bu

P.S. Tofu Scramble is delicious. If you haven’t tried it, here’s the recipe I mentioned.

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