Tesshin used his talk this week to discuss the practice of food. He started by pointing out that this is the week of spring holidays including Passover and Easter. Passover is a holiday about liberation and hope. It is very centered on god and how god interacted with the Hebrews and their enemies. Easter is completely different as it focuses on Jesus, rebirth, and faith. God is present, but the focus is really on mankind, its fall, and its redemption.
So what ties these two holidays together? FOOD! In the practice and celebration of both holidays food plays a huge role. Jews conduct the Seder meal where the liberation from Egypt is recounted. Christians have the traditional Easter dinner. It is also interesting to add that a key part of the Easter story is the “Last Supper” which is actually a Passover Seder meal.
Tesshin asked the group why food and eating play such large part in these religious holidays. If we think carefully, it is because there is nothing which ties us closer to reality than making and eating food. We all do this, and like the breath, these are activities which tie all humanity together. This is why the acts of eating and preparing food can be spiritual things.
In Zen temples the Tenzo or head cook is only second to the abbot in authority. Tesshin joked that he much preferred the role to Tenzo to abbot as it allowed him to get “elbows deep” in the reality of food. There is nothing academic or theoretical about cutting carrots and cooking rice. You are presented food and it is your job to bring the most out of it. It is your offering and the recipients know immediately whether the food was prepared with care and love or prepared carelessly and mechanically. Food prepared with the present mind and with love for all sentient beings can be sacred. Food prepared mindlessly is simply physical matter to be consumed and expelled. Do you see the difference? Tesshin reminded us that the state of our mind comes out clearly in the food that we produce – whether it is just for ourselves, our family, or a large group.
The act of eating can also be sacred. In Japanese monasteries there is the practice of Oryoki. This refers to a meditative form of eating which emphasizes careful attention to each action and particle of food. It is eating with the mind fully engaged and actively cherishing each morsel of food. Imagine a meal totally “in the state of grace.”
Tesshin wrapped up the talk encouraging everyone to enjoy the holidays and reminded us to actively pursue the practice of food – whether eating or preparing!