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Buddhadharma : Fall 2011
69 fall 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly It was the last day of sesshin, and something about the teacher’s dharma talk puzzled one of the members of my kitchen crew. “If we are sup- posed to avoid picking and choosing, and not have opinions, how can we go to the grocery store?” he asked. As the tenzo (head cook), I was in charge of food practice for the sesshin, and I had, in fact, been to town for provisions only the day before. Shopping for twenty-eight people living and practicing together was not a quick trip to the corner market. The nearest grocery stores of any appreciable size were about forty-five minutes away. Two overloaded shopping carts of food took time to fill but would only hold us for a couple of days. Then, if the other officers needed things, there might be a detour to the hardware store for drill bits or gardening supplies. All in all, it took about half a day, with myriad choices to be made and fairly immediate consequences to be accepted. Although the grocery store was merely a handy example of daily activity, my work group member had raised an impor- tant question. Leaving the quiet restraint of sesshin at the rural practice facility, which operated in accordance with the natu- ral world surrounding it, and going into an environment filled with golden oldies radio, blazing orange signs, the smell of roast chicken from the deli and bright lights that turn the great gray sky of a drizzly morning into cloudless fluorescent sun- shine could be a shock. It was a real test of practice to main- tain focus while serving the sangha in this way. Before long, I was singing along with Frankie Vallee and dancing down the aisle behind the shopping cart. Every box of Snappy Snax or Sugardoodles tugged at my samue sleeve and begged to be justified as tea-break food. Sure, I’ve already got plenty of fruit, but those shiny deep red cherries look incredibly good. Stop. Wait. What am I doing? These things are not evil, tainted, or undharmic in some way, but they are distractions. Fortunately, I don’t need to have personal opinions about any of this. I certainly don’t need to rely on my own prefer- ences for decision-making. I have a much more dependable set of tools for making choices: the concept of nyoho, Dogen’s teachings about menu planning, and my dharma grandfather’s advice about sangha life. Armed with these things, I can eas- ily go to the grocery store without picking and choosing, and without opinions, and still come back with groceries. Nyoho: The Dharma of Thusness Many of us are first introduced to the idea of nyoho, or the dharma of thusness, when we sew rakusus. We are taught about the nyoho of tai (material), shiki (color) and ryo (size). Our robes are made from cast-off material to which no one has any attachment. The color is a blended shade that does not excite any feeling of greed or jealousy. The size is just right for the particular wearer—neither so large that fabric is wasted nor too small to cover the body. But nyoho describes more than just the robe—the three nyohos cover our entire lives. As human beings, we need three things—clothing (our rakusa or okesa), shelter (the sodo or zendo in which we live and practice), and food (our oryoki and the food we eat from them)—and they should all be nyoho, or representations of the Buddha’s teaching. Our zendo is simple and clean, without elaborate decoration or fancy building materials, but sturdy and containing all the things we need to function there. Our oryoki are not made of brightly colored porcelain or exotic wood, but neither are they rough or cracked or too small to hold enough to nourish our bodies. Likewise, our food follows these guidelines. As I explained to the kitchen crew, nyoho forms a sort of window of align- ment with Buddha’s teaching. One morning, our second bowl was boiled vegetables lightly flavored with a little soy sauce— lightly flavored because we were nearly out of soy sauce alto- gether. We cooked the vegetables until they were crisp-tender, added what little soy sauce we had, and sent them over to the zendo with the usual nine bows—but we were barely inside the nyoho window. The vegetables seemed undercooked and tasteless to some of the practitioners, and we had not taken proper care of them. It’s also possible to make food too complex to be nyoho. Halfway through the sesshin, with weather so hot and humid that practitioners were feeling lightheaded, I served hiyayakko (chilled plain soft tofu). On a scorching summer day, chilled tofu is a real relief, and I was concerned about practitioners’ health. Getting a cold protein dish into people seemed like a very good idea. Problem is, serving fragile soft tofu from a pot in the usual way of zendo gyohatsu (practice with bowls in the zendo) would be difficult for the servers and would make the food somewhat unappealing in the eater’s bowl. I decided to make it betsuzara, literally a “special dish,” that we would prepare in the kitchen and serve on individual plates in the zendo. The finished product was lovely—twenty-eight little dishes, each with a square of tofu in the middle, with yellow and white vegetables along the sides, a small nest of finely grated cucumber on top, finished with a dab of fresh grated ginger and drizzled with a little soy sauce. People loved it.