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Dogen How to Cook Your LifeIn Buddhism one of the major positions in the monastery is the person called the Tenzo.  The Tenzo is in charge of the food. Dogen in his book, How to Cook Your life: From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment, gave specific directions for those who would become the Tenzo.

He wrote this about the Tenzo: Use your way-seeking mind carefully to vary the menus from time to time and offer the great assembly ease and comfort (page 53).”[1] He goes on to say that the Tenzo is not the same as an ordinary cook or waiter.” Thus they are asked to “respect the food as though it were for the emperor (page 54).”[2]

When you are cooking for yourself or your family do you really focus on the task of cooking, on the food itself, how it is prepared, how it is handled?  Or do you simply throw something together as fast as you can, so it can be eaten quickly? Then you rush to clean up the dishes and pots and pans, so you can get to those “more important” things on your To-do List?

Dogen encourages us this way, “When you wash rice and prepare vegetables, you must do it with your own hands, and with your own eyes, making sincere effort. Do not be careful about one thing and careless about another (page 54).”[3]

To me this is such a beautiful way to see everything in life, not just the big things like the birth of a child, or graduation from college, or a great promotion at work.  It is the little everyday things that grow into a life filled with good memories.  My ideal life is filled with good friends, a happy family, a fulfilling job, two adorable little doggies, and a life lived with few regrets.  How about you?

Are you living one moment at a time mindful of your thoughts, actions, and deeds. Really being there, really being present in mind, body, and spirit.  Or is your mind wandering into the past or the future with thoughts of fear, anger, and pain?

Either way when your focus is off the task at hand your rice will be over cooked or underdone or tasteless because your focus and passion and love have gone elsewhere.  Or your anger and fear will have gone into the food.  Yes, it does go into the food and it gets burned through neglect or tossed with anger.  Which food would you prefer to eat? The one prepared with love and focused attention or the one prepared with anger and animus?  The choice, of course, is up to you…

[1]Tanahashi, K. (1985) Moon in a Dewdrop Writings of Zen Master Dogen North Point Press: New York

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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Now that’s a silly name for this chapter when I’ve just spent the last 5 chapters talking about “how to practice Zen!”  Kaz  Tanahashi has a great chapter entitled “Guidelines for Studying the Way.” In it there is a DO NOT DO LIST for students:

imagesStudents! Do not practice buddha-dharma [teachings] for your own sake. Do not practice buddha-dharma for name and gain. Do not practice buddha-dharma to attain blissful reward. Do not practice buddha-dharma to attain miraculous effects.  Practice buddha-dharma solely for the sake of buddha-dharma.  This is the way (page 13). [1]

I am sure you are asking yourself then why am I practicing?  I like to think it is to follow the dharma [teachings] so beautifully shared in the four vows of Buddhism.  I really love the translation that my friends at the Wet Mountain Sangha in Pueblo, Colorado use:

The Four Boundless Vows

I vow to wake the Beings of the world
I vow to set endless heartaches to rest
I vow to walk through every wisdom gate
I vow to live the great Buddha way. [2]

Practice is neither easy nor hard it depends on how you are feeling and what you are thinking in each moment. That’s why they call it practice.  They don’t call it “done” or “finished” or “fulfilled.” As a Buddhist everything we do, every thought we think, every word we speak is “practice.”  So what are you practicing: fear, anger, and animosity or peace, love, and compassion? How about some simplicity of thoughts and words and deeds?

Our practice isn’t just sitting on a cushion with our eyes lowered in the cross-legged position or on a chair, or at the top of a mountain or by a beautiful lake or stream.  It is when we are in the midst of the chaos and noise, traffic and confusion of the “real world” that our practice comes alive through our focus, our breath, and keeping our dharma-eye on the Buddha way. Begin by realizing that we are all one: the moon, the stars, the earth and the people around us are one. When we do this it is so much easier to live the life of the Buddha through peace, love, and compassion for all beings and for our planet.  There are too many preaching it and not enough living it!  Which one are you?

[1] Tanahashi, K. (1985) Moon in a Dewdrop Writings of Zen Master Dogen North Point Press: New York

[2] http://wetmountainsangha.org/

Kaz Tanahashi writes: “He [Dogen] repeatedly emphasizes the interpenetration of practice and enlightenment. “Practice” here means ongoing daily activity centered in zazen. “Enlightenment” is actualization of Buddha nature through practice (page 19).”[1]

Thus Dogen img_9740believed there could be no separation between practice and enlightenment.  Enlightenment is practice and practice is enlightenment.  So if you are thinking that enlightenment is when you’re meditating, and you get the great AH HA or a bolt of lightening flashes through your brain, or you can walk on water or elevate yourself while sitting on the cushion yes it is and no it isn’t. Thus he called this “practice-enlightenment.”  And yet he kept on sitting and meditating and cooking rice while at the same time experiencing enlightenment.

He remained “non-attached” to the outcome, he held on to no particular aim he just went about doing what came before him.  Washing dishes, cooking, sitting, writing poetry, and making his bed. With each motion and action and thought he was there fully aware that this was his practice-enlightenment.  Still he stayed non-attached to whatever it was he was doing.  If the rice got burned or the flower died he did not ruminate over it, he simply let it go and started a new pot of rice and planted a new flower.

When was the last time you were able to do that?  Kaz writes, “Once a person is entirely free from attachment he experiences all things without any preconceptions. This experience is itself realization (page 19).”  This experience is not easy, but it is powerful! Once I am free of my attachments and my preconceptions I am in the field of practice-enlightenment where peace lives and grows.

Dogen wrote this beautiful poem which for me is all about practice-enlightenment:

Unusual Expression

Flowers in spring
Cuckoos in summer
Moon in autumn
Snow in winter
Serene and cool

What a beautiful picture of practice-enlightenment yet so powerfully simple. It reminds me of the famous Zen Proverb: “Before enlightenment chop wood-carry water. After enlightenment chop wood, carry water.”

 

[1] Tanahashi, K. (1985) Moon in a Dewdrop Writings of Zen Master Dogen North Point Press: New York

Philosophers throughout time have tried to describe, discover, and analyze the “self.”  Buddhists are no different.  From the moment the Buddha began his journey toward his awakening until today we are still writing and thinking and talking about this thing we call the “self.”

Sensei Kaz TanahashiKaz Tanahashi writes about it so clearly. What an “original face” he has! Filled with joy for sure!

“A further irony is that only when a person is completely detached from himself does he find himself and realize what is common to himself and others, ‘self’ immediately opens into selflessness.  This selflessness is called ‘true self’ or ‘original face.’  It is also described as ‘something close’ or ‘what is intimate (page 17).’[1]

We talk to ourselves often and I wonder sometimes when I catch myself doing it who the heck am I talking to? Am I having a conversation with my higher self, my lower self, my giving and kind self or my grouchy and self-centered self? How can I have so many selves!? What face am I showing to others?

Which self is the real me?  You must discover that for yourself!  Yikes are you kidding?! Buddhists have been debating this forever, or so it seems.  So what do you think?  How do people see you?  What self do you show to others?  Do you pick and chose and show one self at work, one self at home, one self on the golf course, and yet another in the zendo, mosque, church or synagogue?

Do you have a list of attributes that you hold dear and hope that in even the most confusing or frightening moments that self will appear just when you need it?  Can you change yourself?  Or do you believe that it’s all baked in and are using the excuse: “That’s just the way I am! I’ve always been that way and I’m too old to change now!”

If that self is hindering you and harming others do you think you can change that idea of “self?”  Are you willing and able to look at yourself honestly and find those things that are harming you and others and change that part of yourself to someone that no longer desires to live a negative harmful life.  You can, if you want to. Why not become that loving, peaceful, compassionate, friendly, and most of all fun person to be around! It’s all up to you!  Your family and friends and your pets will be glad you are finally showing your “original face!”

 

[1] Tanahashi, K. (1985) Moon in a Dewdrop Writings of Zen Master Dogen North Point Press: New York

buddha-pictureA young mother lived in a cabin in the woods.  When she journeyed to town she would take different paths so her views might be varied.  One day she walked down a path she hadn’t traveled on before and there in the middle of the road was a large boulder. This bothered her and seemed out of place.  So she tried hard to move it.  But it was too large.  So she walked around it and went on her way.  Some time later she came down that trail again where the boulder was.  This time she brought some colorful chalks with her and tried to disguise the rock with bright colors.  It looked better, but it was still there.  One summer many years later she happened down that road again, where the disturbing bolder lay. The years of rain and sun had washed away the chalk.  A fine layer of dust coated the surface now. As she looked down into its depth more closely, she noticed it had both smooth and rough places.  It was actually not an unattractive object. She brushed the dust from it with her hands and noticed some glints of quartz. She sat down on it and rested in silence and realized she really didn’t need to do anything about it.  It was and so was she. There was just being with it and that was, or it should be.

Joan Hunt

Lebanon, OR

 

Picture of Wilbur Mushin May my guide and teacher at the Southern Palm Zen Group at Morikami Zen Gardens in Delray Beach, FL https://morikami.org/

Kermit_the_FrogHaiku for you all to enjoy from one of our Zen students studying “behind the fence.”

Happy is the frog
that has been quenched by the rain.
it’s been a long drought.

Hard rain fell last night
A hot sun rose this morning
bringing rain lillies.
–Wes

timelessness

“Each moment carries all of time (page 13),”[1] writes Kaz Tanahashi in the section of Moon in a Dew Drop entitled “Timelessness of a Moment.”

Wow!  Now that’s a powerful thought for sure.

Yet throughout the  day we depend on time to be the arbiters of our life. We consider each minute, hour, day, week, and month and think and plan as to how it will go.  We have our daily, weekly, and monthly planners on line for instant access.  The new Google calendar now lets you have today’s view on the right side of your google email also! Some of us even have a paper one as well.  Okay, I confess that is me!

We are always looking toward something in the future: the next promotion at work, the birth of a child, the next vacation or holiday, our next meal, or the results of that final exam.  When we are doing this we have missed this very NOW moment.

Why is it when we are having fun time flies and when we are bored it drags on forever?  Remember that endless date or college class where the teacher just droned on and on.  I had a teacher once in college who read her lectures from a yellow legal pad and interjected 125 “ums” in there as well. How do I know?  I got so bored one day I simply made a hash tag in my notebook every time she said one and then I counted them up at the end of the class!

That teacher was my first real life experience of Taz’s quote…there was an eternity in every second of her lecture! He goes on to write, “But to one who is awakened, spring is just spring; it is not expected to turn into anything else (page 14).” [2]

Dogen illustrates it beautifully with one of his poems (page 14).[3]

 As usual
Cherry blossoms bloom
In my native place,
Their color unchanged—
Spring

So let us not fret over time or lack thereof.  Let’s bask in the joy of the timelessness of this moment, right here, right now—for now is all that really exists. I bet I just caught you looking at your watch or calendar!?

[1] Tanahashi, K. (1985) Moon in a Dewdrop Writings of Zen Master Dogen North Point Press: New York
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid