Food and Buddhism

Food and Buddhism

Tenzo kyokun: Instructions for the Tenzo  (1) (excerpt)

Although the Buddha’s teachings have been heard for a long time in Japan, I have never heard of anyone speaking or writing about how food should be prepared within the monastic community as an expression of the teachings.

Care for the monastery’s materials as if they were your eyes.  The tenzo handles all food with respect, as if it were for the emperor; both cooked and uncooked food should be cared for in this way.

In preparing food, it is essential to be sincere and to respect each ingredient regardless of how coarse or fine it is.  Do not be careless with poor ingredients and do not depend on fine ingredients to do your work for you but work with everything with the same sincerity.

Do not just leave washing the rice or preparing the vegetables to others but use your own hands, your own eyes, your own sincerity.  Do not fragment your attention but see what each moment calls for.

A “motherly heart” is a heart which maintains the Three Jewels (1) as a parent cares for a child. A parent raises a child with deep love, regardless of poverty or difficulties. Their hearts cannot be understood by another; only a parent can understand it. A parent protects their child from heat or cold before worrying about whether they themselves are hot or cold. This kind of care can only be understood by those who have given rise to it and realised only by those who practice it. This, brought to its fullest, is how you must care for water and rice, as though they were your own children.
(written in the spring of 1237)

(1)  The Tenzo or head cook, is one of six senior office holders in the Ch’an monastery, the role given to the most senior and realised monk.
(2)  The Three Jewels  (also known as the Three Treasures) refers to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.  The Buddha is the awakened one the Dharma, the Buddha’s teachings; the Sangha, the practising community, and more widely, all sentient and non-sentient beings.