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Buddhadharma : Fall 2011
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 11 70 When I first learned of this guideline, I largely dropped the five pungent herbs from all my sesshin menus. I was a little concerned that the food would no longer be flavorful, but I found that without the heavy blanket of aromatics, one could actually taste carrots and potatoes. Once the meal was done and bowls wrapped, there was no lingering essence of garlic or onions clinging to the palate. People started commenting on the fresh taste of the food I had prepared, as subtle flavors emerged from their covering. I discovered for myself the effect of aromatics when they crept back into the food one day. I had turned preparation of the lunchtime salad over to an assistant after providing a recipe and general direction. The recipe called for scallions, and before I realized that the assistant didn’t know about the guideline, she’d chopped up a handful of green tops and tossed them in. I sent the dish out to the zendo, curious to see what would happen. Since onion omission was my own practice as tenzo and not a policy generally followed at that particular Zen center, I knew the practitioners wouldn’t complain. For myself as an eater, however, I noticed that even before the meal was concluded, I was hoping there was peppermint tea out on the porch to help wash away the lingering taste of the raw onions. Stimulation, attachment, aversion, and distrac- tion were all right there. The Five Colors and Six Tastes Aromatics aren’t the only flavors we’re concerned with at ses- shin. The meal chant says, “The five colors and six tastes of this meal are offered to dharma and sangha.” Those six tastes are sweet, sour, bitter, salty, mild, and spicy, and they all need to be present. Sweet fruit, sour yogurt, salty soup, mild rice and gingery vegetables may all help to fill the bill, as well as bitter tea either used to wash the oryoki or sipped during the break after the meal. The choice of ingredients affects what the dish looks like as well as how it tastes. The nyoho of shiki (color) in traditional vegetarian Buddhist cuisine helps ensure that the meal is nutri- tionally balanced, as well as visually appealing, by including all five color groups: red, white, black, blue, and yellow. If the first bowl contains a pilaf of white and wild rice, the second might have a soup of pureed squash and the third a salad of fresh greens and tomatoes, covering all of the five colors. Standing in the produce department, I need to choose a variety They talked about it for several days afterward. One of my crew asked where it fell in the spectrum of nyoho, and I had to admit that we had come in just under the wire. We had taken good care of the sensibilities of the practitioners, and we had made an appropriate amount of food, but I had created additional work for our own ryo, for the servers who had to make an extra trip around the zendo to pick up the empty betsuzara, and for the dishwashers who had to clean them. We’d also created a fair amount of distracting attachment to the experience that persisted for several days. The Nyoho of Tai: Choosing Ingredients In Dogen’s Tenzo Kyokun, or Instructions to the Cook, he gives us some help in making nyoho choices. With regard to the tai—in this context, the materials chosen to make meals— he writes that whether you’re cooking coarse greens or have the resources to make a cream soup, you should maintain the same state of mind. Of course, it’s possible to become just as attached to the greens as to the soup. The coarse greens can seem to represent “good” or “diligent” practice, while the cream soup can come to represent dissipation and greed. But a steady diet of nothing but coarse greens is not nyoho, just as my bland and undercooked boiled vegetables were barely in accord with Buddha’s teaching. The mark we’re shooting for is appropriateness, not extremes of richness or poverty. The Five Pungent Herbs Dogen further warns, “Do not come into the zendo smelling of onions!” Thus, my grocery list doesn’t include aromatics: onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, or chives. The five pungent herbs are considered by Hindus to be rajasic (expanding) foods that stimulate passion and the intellect, clouding the mind and interfering with meditation, and traditional Zen cooking also avoids them. In the Surangama Sutra, the Buddha explains: Ananda, all beings live if they eat wholesome food and die if they take poison. In their search for samadhi, they should abstain from eating five kinds of pungent roots (i.e. garlic, the three kinds of onions and leeks); if eaten cooked, they are aphrodisiac and if raw, they cause irrita- bility. Although those who eat them may read the twelve divisions of the Mahayana canon, they drive away seers in the ten directions who abhor the bad odor, and attract hungry ghosts who lick their lips. The Brahama Net Sutra reiterates the teaching in the fourth of the secondary precepts: A disciple of the Buddha should not eat the five pungent herbs. This is so even if they are added as flavoring to other main dishes. Hence, if he deliberately does so, he commits a secondary offense. I was concerned that the food would no longer be flavorful, but I found that without the heavy blanket of aromatics, one could actually taste carrots and potatoes. SenryuPaulnichollS