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basket of fresh fruitThere are many variations of the prayers that the Buddhist communities use before they eat to bless their food.  This is the one we use at the Southern Palm Zen Group.  I like it a lot as it is simple and to the point.

“Earth, water, fire, air and space combine to make this food, numberless beings gave their lives and labors so that we may eat, may we be nourished so that we may nourish life.”

Thus we focus not on the “food” but the reason that we eat: to nourish our bodies and minds.  It’s really that simple.  As humans became more social beings we began to eat for pleasure and times of sharing, fun, and celebration with our families and friends. We created reasons to eat and to give thanks before the meal to show our gratitude for the food, our families, and our friends.

Brown encourages us to do a little less “picking and choosing” when it comes to food.  He says, “So instead of picking and choosing, as students of life we might at times choose to practice acceptance, gratitude, enjoyment, thanksgiving (page 145-6).” That is easy to do by always blessing your food before you eat.

I used to teach the kids in Sunday school when we had snack time to say, “Ruba dub dub thank you God for the grub.” Some of the parents did not like it but the kids loved it and it started them off on a great practice of giving thanks for the food they had been given–even if they disliked it.  It can also be a time when you can share with them that many children have no food to eat and to be grateful and happy that they have food on their table.  To value the food that they have will help them have compassion for those who have none.

Giving thanks is something we all do at Thanksgiving with our families and friends sitting around the table, but I hope you’re doing it every day not just one or two days out of the year.  You’ll be surprised how much better the food will taste, and how much less Pepto-Bismol you’ll have to take after the meal.  Regardless of who cooked it–the  worst or the best cook in your family–giving thanks will make it go down easily!

Just remember what Mary Poppins said: Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down or Uncle Joe’s chili…well maybe not Uncle Joe’s chili…but giving thanks may help!

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round white and blue ceramic bowl with cooked ball soup and brown wooden chopsticks

Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels.com

I really believe that first I eat with my nose!  Yes, with my nose.  Whether I am doing the cooking or someone else is doing the cooking when I get near the kitchen or the dinning room or the restaurant the first sense that inspires me is the things that I smell.  When I walked into my house as a kid if my dad was making a big pot of stuffed cabbage I could smell that great aroma all the way from the front door.  If mom was cooking a batch of cookies, we’d run down stairs to get the first hot cookie that came out of the oven.  These are wonderful memories triggered by smell. I’m sure you have hundreds of them in your life that you respond to without even thinking about it.

Jan Chozen Bays in her book How to Train A Wild Elephant writes a whole section #31 titled “Notice Smells.”  She says that “…smell can evoke emotion, desire, and aversion (page 130).[1] Chozen reminds us that not all smells bring happy feelings and thus some remind us of painful life experiences like a fire in your home, or the burnt smell of your first and last batch of cookies that you ever made.  For some it could be the smell of a perfume or aftershave of a person that was either a light in your life or darkness.  So when you encounter a particular smell the visual begins to appear right along with the smell.

Chozen goes on to write: “One reason incense is used in meditation halls is that over time a strong link is forged between the fragrance of incense and a quiet concentrated state of mind.  As you enter the scented hall, your mind automatically settles (page 132).”[2]

Foods are famous for having wonderful smells and bringing wonderful memories.  Let’s stop for a moment and take a deep breath.  Close your eyes and think of some wonderful smell that has made you happy, or giddy, or glad.  What comes to mind for me is our family dinners when growing up.

On Sunday we would have a special family outing—going to the Chinese restaurant for dinner.  Dad would choose one item from column A and two from column B and we all waited with great expectations for the food to begin to arrive. I just loved the smell of the wonton soup and the fried rice. But most of all I loved those almond fortune cookies that I used as an edible spoon to scoop up the delicious chocolate ice cream!  What a great ending to a great food adventure—I experienced a beautiful harmony of fantastic smells indeed! How about you….

 

[1] Bays MD, Jan Chozen. How to Train a Wild and Other Adventures in Mindfulness Elephant. Shambhala, Boston & London, 2011

[2] Ibid.

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tea and typewriterWhen I was growing up my mother would never allow us to have coffee, not sure why, but she said not until we were in high school? Hmmmm

So we could have water, milk, juice, soda, and yes tea!  Hot tea or cold tea and Lipton tea, of course.  I learned a lot about tea, as I’ve said, from Aaron Fisher’s book The Way of Tea Reflections on a Life with Tea.  Thus this blog post…

Once I was allowed to drink coffee, I decided that I would try it.  Mom had an old metal coffee pot with a glass window in the top so you could see the coffee perking.  Not sure why that was there but it was fun watching the coffee going up and down in the pot.  Kept me out of trouble for a few minutes anyway!

The day finally came, and I got the coffee cup and the hot pot of coffee off the stove and poured some into the cup.  I saw mom put cream and sugar in her coffee so I figured that was how it was to be fixed before drinking it.  It was very hot and so I figured I’d better blow on it a little before taking my first sip and finally I jumped into the coffee with great expectations.  Yikes!  Was I shocked it was awful, it tasted like mud to me.  It was not light and flavorful like the tea or transparent enough to see to the bottom of the cup. It’s kind of like life our “great expectations” don’t always turn out as we had expected…

Thus I did not drink coffee until I was grown up…I mean really grown up!  I was working in the Emergency Room in the local hospital as a Unit Secretary.  My shift was 3-11 PM on weekends and holidays.  Thus the cafeteria closed at 7 pm and if I wanted a hot drink, I had to drink what was in the nurse’s lounge.  Yes, you guessed it!  A giant old coffee pot filled with that nasty dark concoction!

Such is life and how it affects our eating, drinking, and way of living.  Fisher writes, “The Chinese, always so fond of making lists—of virtues, of bests and worsts, and even of benefits—made a list of the ten virtues of tea and it became common knowledge:

  1. Tea is beneficial to health, as the “Qi” clears all blockages and cures ailments.
  2. Tea helps refresh one after a night of drinking alcohol.
  3. Tea, mixed with other things like nuts or even milk can provide nourishment.
  4. Tea can cool one off in the heat of summer.
  5. Tea helps one slough off all fatigue and drowsiness, promoting an awakened mindset.
  6. Tea purifies the spirit, removes anxiety and nervousness and brings ease and comfort, conducive to meditation.
  7. Tea aids in the digestion of food.
  8. Tea removes all toxins from the body, flushing out the blood and urinary system.
  9. Tea is conducive to longevity, promoting longer, healthier life.
  10. Tea invigorates the body and inspires the mind to creativity (page 54).”[1]

So for me I’m going to drink more TEA!  Can’t wait to see if the benefits of tea can make me healthier, live longer, be more creative and inspired by life!  How about you? Care to join me!?

 

[1] Fisher, Arron, The Way of Tea Reflections on a Life with Tea, Tuttle Publishing, North Clarendon, Vermont, 2010

[2] Picture is from Pixabay website

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Once again I opened up this wonderful book “Teachings of Zen” getting ready to write the next section of my newest blog.  It is the first week of our new year 2019 and I was thinking about what I accomplished in 2018 and what I might accomplish in 2019 and then I read these words:

book cover Teachings of Zen Thomas Cleary“You do not plunge into sentiments of the ordinary, nor do you fall into the understanding of the sage. Empty and spiritual, serene and sublime, you do not tarry anywhere but attain fulfillment everywhere.

At this time you should know there is a final statement; only then are you a mature person. Completing the task of the mature person is called transcending the world in the midst of the world, highest of all. Hai-yin (page 142).”[1]

The first paragraph resonated with me as I thought about the juxtaposition of these two ideas. The ideas that we hold in Zen Buddhism are just exactly as Hai-yin describes: empty and yet spiritual, serene and at the same time sublime.  It is exactly like all of our lives the opposites that seem to attract each other, the time on the cushion when we attempt to “empty” the mind and yet think of our spiritual character and that being the reason we are trying to “empty” the mind.  Yikes!  The juxtaposition of the conundrum of the teachings of Buddhism.

And yet Hai-yin ends these thoughts saying: Empty and spiritual, serene and sublime, you do not tarry anywhere but attain fulfillment everywhere…. Completing the task of the mature person is called transcending the world in the midst of the world, highest of all (page 142).”[2]

Your challenge of this year will be transcending the world while being in the midst of it.  Let’s not be bogged down in this process and adding to our troubles and woes.  Let us just be aware of the juxtaposition of life and stroll through it with ease, peace, and compassion for self.  Let’s look down on our selves as if we were out of our bodies simply watching and listening without judgment.  Let’s transcend our fears, likes, and dislikes and remember it’s “just this” and nothing more and nothing less.

[1] Cleary, T. (1998)   Teachings of Zen. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc

[2] Ibid.

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ying and yangIn Part 8 we talked about True Speech and once we’ve mastered that we can move on to what Pei-chien (1185-1246) calls “Action and Stillness.”  Cleary quotes him as saying “Let your actions be like clouds going by; the clouds going by are mindless.  Let your stillness be as the valley spirit; the valley spirit is undying.  When action accompanies stillness and stillness combines with action, then the duality of action and stillness no longer arises (page 116).”

I just love the visual of the clouds floating by with ease and grace not caring in which direction they go as things out of their “control” move them through the sky or cause them to disappear without worry or frustration.  They simply have no clinging and once in a while they may shed a “tear” or block the sun but before we know it things will change.  Another cloud may have taken its place, or the cloud will have moved so we can see the sun shining once again. Such is life as we realize, “and this too shall pass” like the movement of the clouds and the sun in our lives.

Thus to focus our attention on the stillness, as Pei-chien says, when the action and the stillness combine, they negate each other and neither arises and both arise simultaneously as one.  We can not have success without an action.  We may have finished our college classes and graduated and got hired by a great company.

We may have married the one we love and created a wonderful life partnership.  To be successful there will be times of actions together and actions alone. There will be stillness when all you do is sit quietly in each other’s arms or in each other’s memories if you are far apart. The duality no longer arises, and we are one.

Regardless of how long the new job lasts or the relationship lasts the stillness and the actions will continue in your life. It is how we see them that determines our life course. It is how we deal with them that makes us who we are. It is where we put our focus on the actions or the stillness or both that can make all the difference.

[1] Cleary, T. (1998)   Teachings of Zen. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc

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upaya-gold-buddha-DoshinYueh-lin (thirteenth century) is to have said, “What is true speech? Ninety percent accuracy is not as good as silence (page 104).”[1]

Wow!  I agree with Yueh-lin! There is way too much speech in our world today.  Even though I make my living by speaking and writing even I know that there is too much talking and not enough doing, or meditating, or wondering, or feeding the homeless.  All of which take little or no talking.

I’ve always known that my students learned more by doing then by listening to me flap my jaws for an hour in the seminar.  Thus, I give them time to play a game, watch a YouTube video, or figure out a “what if” scenario, or discover a new way to make something better.  I’ve got them doing a three-breath exercise before each class and before they begin writing, or before they begin that job interview. And most importantly before they say something they will regret.   To say LESS and do MORE…that’s the key to life.  Often the person who talks a big game is simply talking and not doing!  I’m sure we all know that person…I just hope it isn’t you!

The proof is in the pudding?  What the heck does that mean?  The person who is making the pudding or pie or soup is usually thinking quietly of what ingredients are needed to make this wonderful recipe.  It’s not cooked to long or to short, it’s cooked just right!

If we spend more of our time meditating and contemplating, then doing—our life will turn out just right!   Remember true speech should not only be accurate and truthful, but it should be restrained, kind, thoughtful, and sometimes not spoken at all.  And at that note I think I’ll end right here.

[1]

Cleary, T. (1998)   Teachings of Zen. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc

Photo by Mitch Doshin Cantor, Southern Palm Zen Group.

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Ying-an (d. 1163) is quoted as saying, “The way the old adepts of ancient times asked about the path was not competitive or contentious; they would inquire of anyone with some strength, even a child.  Only thus may people be called students of the way (page 96).”[1]

It is a very difficult thing to be noncompetitive in life today with the push at work to do more and make more than the person sitting in the office or cubical next to us. How about the competition of who made the best dish at the potluck supper?! It sure makes it hard to be noncompetitive!  It is almost impossible to feel comfortable asking someone for help or advice today. But Ying-an was right—it is not the way of the Buddha to look outside of ourselves for validation or even inside us for validation.  The point is simply to be living the life of the Buddha way. To be open to learning new things and growing through that process.

As an ancient Zen story goes:

After winning several archery contests, the young and rather boastful champion challenged a Zen master who was renowned for his skill as an archer. The young man demonstrated remarkable technical proficiency when he hit a distant bull’s eye on his first try, and then split that arrow with his second shot.  “There,” he said to the old man, “see if you can match that!” Undisturbed, the master did not draw his bow, but rather motioned for the young archer to follow him up the mountain.  Curious about the old fellows’ intentions, the champion followed him high into the mountain until they reached a deep chasm spanned by a rather flimsy and shaky log.  Calmly stepping out onto the middle of the unsteady and certainly perilous bridge, the old master picked a far away tree as a target, drew his bow, and fired a clean, direct hit. “Now it is your turn, “he said as he gracefully stepped back onto the safe ground.  Staring with terror into the seemingly bottomless and beckoning abyss, the young man could not force himself to step out onto the log, no less shoot at a target.  “You have much skill with your bow,” the master said, sensing his challenger’s predicament, “but you have little skill with the mind that lets loose the shot.”[2]

The young champion did not use his “Buddha Mind” that’s for sure.  Thus life is not always about competition with our coworkers or friends trying to “one-up them.”  Life is best lived when we recognize our skills and talents and use them rightly.  It is best lived when we recognize that we need help and ask for it, when courage appears miraculously right when we need it, and when we take more time to meditate/sit.  It is best lived when we allow ourselves to go deep within where all the answers really exist.  I’ve often found that when I quit looking for the answer—it pops up while I’m doing the dishes or walking the dogs. It comes when I drop my competitiveness, my panic, and my egocentric ways.  It comes when I simply focus my attention fully on the task at hand and leave the rest to my Buddha mind!  How about you?

 

[1] Cleary, T. (1998)   Teachings of Zen. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc

[2] http://jhvonline.com/the-perfect-story-its-about-where-you-draw-the-target-p10650-147.htm

picture: Archer Fantasy Bow Free image PX edited

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