Been having a slightly better time of it lately. Body acceptance is still a challenge, but I'm trying to be kind to myself about this. Going to try a walk today while it's sunny. That may be a bit of a challenge, as I spent all day yesterday on my feet cooking a meal for about 25 people at the Intro to Zen Practice class. The food was hugely successful, and I received many thoughtful and enthusiastic compliments, which is always nice and gratifying. But I find it so queer; I can feed others so well, but when it comes time to feed myself I don't take as much care. Why is that?
Just so's you know, this blog will be delving (or devolving, depending on how one looks at it) into Zen as well. So, you've been warned.
Dogen-zenji, in his Tenzo Kyokun (or "Instructions to the Cook"), takes special care to reinforce the importance of the inter-related nature of food, mindfulness, and service. Of all the writings of Dogen, this one I affilate with the most. Admittedly, if you were to ask me a year from now, after my practice has yet deepened even further, it may be something else, but the Tenzo Kyokun really jumped out and grabbed me.
From ancient times communities of the practice of the Way of Awake Awareness have had six office holders who, as disciples of the Buddha, guide the activities of Awakening the community. Amongst these, the tenzo bears the responsibility of caring for the community's meals. The Zen Monastic Standards states, "The tenzo functions as the one who makes offerings with reverence to the monks."
Since ancient times this office has been held by realized monks who have the mind of the Way or by senior disciples who have roused the Way-seeking mind. This work requires exerting the Way. Those entrusted with this work but who lack the Way-seeking mind will only cause and endure hardship despite all their efforts. The Zen Monastic Standards states, "Putting the mind of the Way to work, serve carefully varied meals appropriate to each occasion and thus allow everyone to practice without hindrance."
Well, I'm certainly no realized monk. I guess I get close to "senior disciple". I had tea with one of our most senior students and sangha leaders this past Friday afternoon, and she said "Welcome to the roll of Senior Student!" I guess that's how that happens here in PDX. You find out over coffee at a little funky hole-in-the-wall that you're suddenly farther down the path than you yourself thought. Hrm. Anyway. [/digression]
But it does strike me how very important this food practice is. It may very well be the most important part of my personal practice. I really can't ignore these inter-twining issues any longer (which is why this is a double-blog post here and at SOTW). As Dogen-zenji clearly states: "Those entrusted with this work but who lack the Way-seeking mind will only cause and endure hardship despite all their efforts." If you take that from the broader context of sangha service and simply turn it towards a service of a sangha of one--me--it still holds completely true. If I entrust myself to my own care, but lack (or forgo) the Way-Seeking Mind, I will only wind up hurting myself and my progress in all areas.
This morning I laid in bed and practiced taking my final breath. I felt the clinging arise. Taking a deeper breath than I normally would, and exhaling more slowly. It wasn't a rellishment of the breath so much as a drowning man grasping futilely at straws. I thought about how many years it would be before this practice would be put to the test. Will I still be grasping?
I then thought about all the people yesterday that came to me, that took time and effort to tell me just how much they enjoyed the food, the flavors, the colors, the creativity, the obvious care and effort. Even my fellow students and friends took special care to express what a joy the food was for them.
I believe it was Ven. Thich Nhat Hahn that said--in essence--that the two most important practices are breathing and eating. After that, everything else. I think maybe it's breathing, eating and dying. Somehow, these three things are the most important things in our lives. I really want to understand better how they are interconnected...