White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 114: Receiving Fine Food

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, October 1st, 2011


Wow, still alive!


chance to practise. 

Best to do it while that breath is still going on,

given that feeling the breath is vital to mindfulness of breath and body. 

So feel the breath,

sit up straight,

open the eye gaze,

practise the whole bodymind in this whole moment,
as people have been doing for, 
some say 2600 years,

but it was probably before that that this was started,

then lost in time,

but fortunately,

the instruction,
the information has been passed down to us, not directly, of course,

nothing every happens totally directly,

there are many influences that come into play. 

Today's verse: 

Receiving fine food,

"May all beings

Fulfill their aspirations

And be free from envy and craving." 

"Well where do I get some of that food?"
someone who might be being eaten up by envy and craving might ask.
Well, we know what we're talking about... 

The next verse which we will be talking about is "Receiving Poor Food".
So fine food and poor food.
Bottom line is that in Dogen's Zen,
both fine and poor should be recognized as being food and being equal,
and being intimate with that fact. 

When we enter into the kuin, or kitchen,
when we enter into eating and cooking in this practice,
this fact of giving careful attention to whatever it is we're doing
is repeated over and over and over again and we learn it more and more completely. 

"Cooking Zen: Zen Master Dogen's instructions to the Kitchen Master and On How to Use Your Bowls"
was published by Great Matter Publications in 1995.
It was edited by Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi, at the time,
and translated by Anzan Hoshin roshi and Yasuda Joshu Dainen roshi.

Now, at the time that this was published,
I was the tenzo,
having taken up the duty of tenzo from the Roshi.
And at that time, Jinmyo sensei, now tenzo,
was shuso, both of us helped in proofreading this little text.
Now, the question becomes, and I'm sorry,
I don't like to use the word "little", I'm not demeaning it in any way,
it's a smell text, it's small in size and it's very light in weight
but it's heavy with information for you to use to mature and ferment your practice. 

Now "Cooking Zen" came from Zen Master Dogen's experiences.
He, in the 1220s, I believe,
became somewhat dissatisfied with the way practice
and the understanding of practice was being carried out and taught in Japan.
He was, of course, already a monk.
So he set off to go back to the source to find out what was really going on.
He and a fellow monk who was also a friend and a Teacher of Dogen's,
took off and they went to China. 

Now, at that time,
you can appreciate that this may have been a very difficult bit of travel,
certainly not like today.
Travelling was fraught with perils,
including bandits and so on, w
ell there's a resurgence of bandits now, apparently... 

Anyway, Dogen went off to find out more.
He was incredibly affected by an old monk that he met in the port of Ningbo,
or near the port of Ningbo.
This elderly monk, who it is said had been a monk for 69 years,
was out in the midday sun drying mushrooms.
He was the tenzo,
he was responsible for the nutrition of the monks who were practising
and he did not take this lightly.
He was laying out the mushrooms,
they were drying in the sun,
and Dogen asked why he didn't have an assistant,
because he was pretty old,
why wasn't someone else doing this? 

And the monk, whose name was Lu, said:
"Other people are not me". 

So you know, if you want something done, what do you do?
You want it done properly what do you do?
You do it yourself, right? [Shikai O-sensei laughs]
So he took his responsibilities very seriously. 

And Dogen said: "Venerable Sir, I can see how you follow the Way through your work, but still, 
why do this now when the sun is so hot?" 
The tenzo said: "If not now, when?" 

Dogen zenji spent time at Tiantong Shu
because he recognized there something very different was going on in this monastery,
that the practice of Zen,
which is the practice of your life,
was being practised with the life of the practitioners.
He spent a great deal of time finding out what the practices were around cooking food,
taking care of very important aspects of monastic life. 

Out of his experiences came the essays which you will find in "Cooking Zen". 

Okay, so, how come in Japan there was no attention, at that time,
to monastic cooking and feeding and so on,
and there was in China?
Apparently, Dogen zenji came across, and was again, very affected by,
a book of Zen Monastic Standards by Chan Yang Chin Qi, published in 1102 or 1103.
So that would make the book some 110 or 120 years old at the time that Dogen came across it. 

And where did that one come from?
Well, in the Vimalakirti Sutra, the Recorded Teachings of Vimalakirti,
who was a lay monk, it was said:
"When we are intimate with food, we eat.
There is intimacy with all things.
When we are intimate with all things, we are intimate with the food we eat." 

So what was he talking about?
What was being talked about by Vimalakirti?
And what was considered to be so important
that it affected deeply the monk who wrote Zen Monastic Standards,
and from that, affected Dogen zenji's approach to practice,
and affected the way we do things here today? 

A lot of this comes down to, and a lot of understandings come down to,
how things are translated,
because there is no one word that will cover Pali, Sanskrit, various Indian dialects,
Chinese-various dialects, Japanese, and then English.
So we have people who are doing their very best to bring information
from various sources to the people that they come in contact with.
This has always been the case. This is how people transmit information. 

Now, the Vimalakirti Sutra, Vimalakirti lived in India,
so the first translation of this sutra apparently happened around 188 C.E.
and this was a monk from Kusana, which was part of Afghanistan, northern Pakistan,
in around the Peshawar Valley,
and he went to China, he went from there to China. 

So what Dogen had encountered from Vimalakirti's writings
about attention to and equality or intimacy of reality went with him.
He thought it was a good idea. 

Then there was another translation by Kumarajiva, 400 C.E.
Now we're getting to about the point where there's a meeting of information and so on
that results in and affects the verses in the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Practice of Purity, which we're reading today. 

I'm going to read to you Anzan Hoshin roshi's brief notes on translation:

The Vimalakirti Sutra said... 

...forgive me, you've heard it, I said it just a few moments ago,
but if you're anything like me, once, twice or two hundred times can only help you retain the information.... 

When we are intimate with the food we eat, there is intimacy with all things. When we are intimate with all things, we are intimate with the food we eat. 

The Roshi's notes: 

In The Recorded Teachings of Vimalakirti, I translate this passage as:

"Subuti, you can have this food if you can understand the equality of all that is through the equality of forms, and if you can understand the sameness of all the  qualities of Awakening through the equality of all that is." 

In the Vimalakirti, the passage specifically concerns freeing Subuti from an understanding of practice and realization that depends upon a series of categorizations through which experiences are sifted into wholesome and unwholesome thoughts and behaviours... 

So store the "sifter"! 

...into the continuous recognition of all experiences as inherently unthinkable and as the display of the radiance of experiencing. 

Dogen's use of the passage requires a different approach to translation.
For example, in order to make clear the particular nuances of its use here,
I used the word "intimacy", rather than the phrase "equality of"
despite the play with the term "equal" that continues to develop in the next paragraph.

One of the reasons for this is that the playfulness does not seem to be apparent to most readers,
the term "equal" immediately summoning a sense of abstraction.
I hope the relationship between "intimacy" and "equality" as used in this translation are evident. 

So even today, and I do mean even today,
information is transmitted from one person to another using different words and different experiences.
I emphasize "today" because just this morning,
we received an email from Tettsu, who is in residence at Harrow.
Well, "in residence", actually the Zendo is in his house,
has been for some years,
and that's where Saigyo ino started,
no you didn't start there, did you?
It was before that, the other road,
but you sat there and did a lot of work there. Anyway... 

So we get an email,
thanking Jinmyo sensei for the eMirror and how useful it is to students who are at a distance
as well as those who are near,
and saying in response to the information about what to do with colds and coughs and so on,
that in the Zen Centre of San Francisco,
Shunryu Suzuki roshi recommended that students bury their face in the crook of their arm when they're going to sneeze
because that then muffles the sound as well as taking away bacteria and germs from the hands.
He also says, and I quote: "This form may have come from Eihei-ji". 

So we see, people exchange information.
Is there any way which we can absolutely nail it down
and say that those who wrote the verses for the Avatamsaka sutra, The Practice of Purity,
were affected by what they had come across in the book Zen Monastic Standards by Chin Qi?
We can't say for sure,
but you know if I were a betting monk,
and if there were any way of going back to check on it, I bet that's how it happened. 

You know, someone says:
"Did you hear what they're doing at such-and-such?
You hear what they're saying at such-and-such?" 

So that's responsible for a lot of misinformation
as well as for a lot of valuable, clear, precise information.
This is what we do as human beings
and why would a thousand years ago be any different?

So I present that to you just as something to bear in mind when you're coming across the Teachings.
Don't fall for a word and say that this is the only word,
especially if it gets into being logos,
because we all know what that might lead to.
And if we don't know,
I'm not going to tell any stories right now about...
no I won't, I won't! We'll just leave it at that. 

Dogen's was a very radical guy
with a very non-dualistic approach to the Dharma and to issues of gender and socialization,
and he was devoted to practising what is true without compromise,
moment after moment after moment,
day in, day out,
and he was therefore a big threat to... 
I think the Roshi had a lovely word... what was it? [looking through her notes] 

..."ecclesiastical monoliths". 

So some of his supporters,
some of his fans gave him a piece of land up in the mountains.
He literally had to get out of town
and he founded Eihei-ji way up in the mountains,
where, should you have the fortune to go there,
you will be presented with a small town where you can buy, as souvenirs,
all sorts of things such as bamboo pickle forks.
There's also paintings of Dogen zenji and Bodhidharma on black velvet,
but we wouldn't want those...
But pickle forks because "a monk's mouth is a furnace",
and as you know from having done oryoki,
that third bowl, which is the pickle bowl,
is also useful when you are cleaning your oryoki set. 

Now, in Dogen's time,
the pickle that was in that third bowl was picked up with the hashi
and used to clean the other bowls,
so the pickle was actually used to clean.
There's also a little saying about pickles that refers to practitioners:
if you as the pickle practitioner are dropped in a barrel of brine,
despite your struggle,
you are going to get pickled... [students laugh, Shikai O-sensei laughs] 

...so if you keep showing up! [more laughter] 

So yes, food plays a very important part
and the way that food is taken care of is the responsibility of the tenzo
who is responsible for filling those furnaces of monk's mouths.
One of Dogen zenji's advices to the tenzo
was that each thing be treated carefully,
no discrimination,
thus receiving fine foods was no better or no worse than receiving poor foods. 

The verse again: 

Receiving fine food,

"May all beings

Fulfill their aspirations

And be free from envy and craving." 

Thank you for listening.