Saturday, October 18, 2014

Gutter Oil, by Shang Rinpoche

The British Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution were era-marking events in Europe and brought about immense changes to the people and society of the time. With the industrial use of steam that started in 19th century, low-temperature sterilization methods opened the door to related industries. The industrialized development in the food industry created additional possibilities for food processing. To introduce new flavors to the populace, food products brought about yet another revolution. At around the same time, many merchants began chasing after bigger profits and mixed shoddy quality oil into their oil stock in order to bring down costs. People began using oil in the Middle Ages, originally as a means of keeping warm and additional caloric intake in cold climates. The first was animal fat, which was used in some religious offerings which required flame to symbolize divine light. In India, where cows are worshiped alongside deities, oil was squeezed from plants such as fruits or sesame seeds and there are no records of animal fat used. However, there are written accounts of villages in ancient China extracting pig fat, and the common folk pervasively use natural, edible pig fat in their cooking. However, historical records show that starting in the Sui and Tang Dynasties, plant-based oil started to be used in baking. These were pressed from soybeans and sesame seeds.

A recent episode that still has people reeling in shock is the scandal over some abominable behavior by businessmen who were so greedy for profit that they cast their conscience aside and caring nothing for their fellow humans’ life/health or the risk of causing cancer, mixed in dangerous additives to cooking oil. For example, one despicable factory added sodium copper chlorophyllin to olive oil. Industry professionals were well aware that exposed to high temperatures, it would create toxins the body cannot easily metabolise, posing a serious risk to the liver and kidneys. Unfortunately, it was not an isolated case. More recently, in an even more abhorrent move, a conglomerate mixed recycled waste oil with animal feed oil and selling it as a cooking oil, completely compromising people’s health. This has truly earned them unrepentable heavy karma that will mean continuous rebirths in hell. To act this way for the sake of exploiting earnings, unheedful of the karmic retribution they are incurring that will send them down to the three lower realms, solely focused on plotting their get-rich-quick schemes! The sutras say over and over again that if one is dishonest and greedy in business, cheating others, it will lead them to be crushed by mountains, boiled in vats of hot oil and life after life suffer from mental illness, living in torment until death. Those who use wealth only for personal gain will in future lives meet with very serious karmic retributions, because to gain easy money they swindled, told lies, stole and even harmed life. The burden of sin they’ve accumulated is so unfathomable and unrepentable that I deeply feel sorry for the future suffering they have heaped on themselves.

I’ve also contemplated recently how people’s greed often brings themselves and those around them inescapable afflictions and suffering. Originally it was quite a straightforward business undertaking: entrepreneurs provide services and products as promised, follow the proper means to give consumers something healthy, safe; that would in fact be an accumulation of merits. These recent developments also call for some common sense that needs to become part of the education system. Three thousand years ago during the Zhou Dynasty in China, people were already making their own sauces and oils and extracting oils from foodstuffs that could be used as seasoning elements. During that period, hundreds of options were available. During the Warring States period, almost every household knew how to make soy sauce from soybeans and wheat; later on Japanese traders who visited China learned the skills and perfected it into making miso, still very much in use today. Miso originally became trendy during the Kamakura period, when a monk named Juexin first came up with it while studying Chan in China. Later on, soybeans were processed into oil, even becoming key ingredients in the making of kaiseki. Delicious food that is made out of this kind of of pure and unselfish intentions will give later generations much to enjoy and compliment. That is an example of true accumulation of merits.

This is the humble opinion of I, Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche, regarding the recent “gutter oil” scandal.

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