27 December 2009
Instructions to the Cook
From Glassman and Field's Instructions to the Cook ...
"At its deepest, most basic level, Zen -- or any spiritual path, for that matter -- is much more than a list of what we can get from it. t fact, Zen is the realization of the oneness of life in all its aspects, It's not just the pure or the "spiritual" life: it's the whole thing. It's flowers, mountains, rivers, streams, and the inner city and homeless children on Forty-second Street. It's the empty sky and the cloudy sky and the smoggy sky, too. It's the pigeon flying in the empty sky, the pigeons shitting in the empty sky, and walking through the pigeon droppings on the sidewalk. It's the rose growing in the garden, the cut rose shining in the vasein the living room, the garbage where we throw away the rose, and the compost where we throw away the garbage.
Zen is life -- our life. It's coming to realization that all things are nothing but expressions of myself. And myself is nothing but the full expression of all things. It's a life without limits.
There are many different metaphors for such a life. But the one that I have found the most useful, and the most meaningful, comes from the kitchen. Zen masters call a life that is lived fully and completely, with nothing held back, "the supreme meal." And a person who knows how to plan, cook, appreciate, serve, and offer the supreme meal of life, is called a Zen cook.
The position of the cook is one of the highest and most important in the Zen monastery. During the thirteenth century, Dogen, the founder of the largest Zen Buddhist school in Japan, wrote a famous manual called "Instructions to the Cook." It was the Zen cook's duty, he wrote, to make the best most sumptuous meal possible out of whatever ingredients were available -- even if he had only rice and water. The Zen cook used what he had rather than complaining or making excuses about what he didn't have.
On one level, Dogen's "Instructions to the Cook" is about the proper way to prepare and serve meals for the monks. But on the other level it is about the supreme meal -- our own life -- which is both the greatest gift we can receive and the greatest offering we can make."