Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Monday, December 12, 2005

Instructions for the cook

The following is a commentary on the Tenzo Kyokun, or instructions for the cook, written by the Zen Master Dogen. It appears at If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the article there. At that site is a wealth of information on Zen, and various Zen practices. Please pay them a visit. Enjoy.
Tenzo Kyokun is the first section of the Eihei Shingi, written by Dogen Zenji Sama, and completed in 1237. Although on the surface it consists of instructions for Dogen's cooks living with him in the monastery more than 760 years ago in the Kamakura period, the question is why this text is important for everybody living nowadays.

But it is not only a cook-book, but a book that instructs us how to "cook" our everyday life, that is how to prepare and manage our own personal lives. This text deals not only with handling of food, but also with our attitude towards all matters and people we encounter in our every-day live.

So we have to ask us: what is the basic ingredient of our live? For Dogen Zenj Samai, it is Zazen. Zazen is the base of our live. We have to ask us how we can live Zazen in our everyday live.

Zazen is not a ecstatic experience, it should guide our lives, letting go off ideas of good-bad, white-black, right-wrong. The Tenzo Kyokun calls this "daishin". But of course "dai" does not mean "big" compared to small. The Tenzo Kyokun says that having a daishin means being unprejudiced and refusing to take sides. In the "Fukan-Zazen-Gi" DogenZenji Sama writes to drop off all relationships, set aside all activities, which means that Zazen equals (is) daishin. Zazen makes the mind like a big mountain and a great ocean, without distinctions.

The Tenzo Kyokun teaches us not to consider expensive foods precious and not to treat cheap foods roughly. It states that we should make NO difference at all and treat everything with he same respect. But this is not only limited to ingredients for cooking. We can go one step further and say that we should not feel happy when spring comes nor feel sad when autumn comes, we should not be excited when we have good circumstances in our life, or be sad when a misfortune happens. Whatever we encounter is our life, and we must live it to the fullest. The Tenzo Kyokun says that there is no such distinction as "delicious" or "plain" foods, and the Tenzo should not be happy when he receives food of high quality, nor complain when he received food of inferior quality. The many rivers which flow into the ocean become the one great taste of the ocean.

Zazen is a true religion because Dogen Zenji taught us that it must function in our everyday lives. We should put all our energy into our work, as the Tenzo does.

The Tenzo Kyokun tells us to handle all utensils with equal care and put them back to where they belong and from where we have taken them. The same applies in our everyday life of course, and if somebody closes the sliding door banging with a big sound, we wonder why he can't hear the door cry. But what the Tenzo Kyokun states should not be limited to things, it should apply to people as well. We should treat everybody with good care and without distinction of a "high" or "Low" person, rich or poor. We are all vut one big family of Buddha.

In the Tenzo Kyokun Dogen Zenji Sama writes about the incident when he met an old Tenzo who worked drying Shiitake in the heat of the sun. Asked why he did this work himself, he answered "If I don't do it now, when else can I do it". Later, he writes about meeting a Tenzo on his ship who came to buy shiitake, and, although Dogen wanted to talk more with him, he said that he needed to go back to the temple in order to prepare food. We see how Dogen stresses the importance of "Now". Do what you need to do now. We don't know what comes tomorrow, maybe we will become ill, have an accident, maybe we will die tonight, we need to do now what we have to do. The Japanese greeting comes into my mind: "konnichi wa". The signs are now and day. Such greeting exists only in Japanese, no other language has anything similar.

Yesterday is already gone, tomorrow is not there yet, only the now counts. Now is important. Not only for the Tenzo, but for everybody in our everyday life. We must thing about what is really important for us and give our life a clear direction, a clear goal - now, based on Dogen's Zazen, Shikantaza.

1 comment:

Rick Matz said...

Thanks for the encouragement.