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Eat Sleep Sit
by Kaoru Nonomura completed: 20 Oct 2018

view meta | in 1 collections | 25 highlights | 0 responses

referenced in

journal winnielim.org
on cooking, emptiness, and creativity
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highlights (25)

  • But anyone who has received a modern education with emphasis on the concept of “freedom” cannot help entertaining grave doubts about an environment where deciding how to live one’s own life is not allowed, where one’s only choice is to renounce all for the sake of family tradition.

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  • discipline at Eiheiji has nothing to do with attaining supernatural powers or doing special meditation, nor does it entail harsh penance or mortification of the flesh. Rather, it is to be found in the everyday practice of Zen rules. There is no differentiation between means and end. Monastic discipline is not something done in order to gain enlightenment; rather, the faithful observance of monastic discipline is enlightenment, in and of itself.

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  • In Zen monasteries, the practice of eating is done according to strict rules, not to satisfy hunger or appetite, but to carry out the teachings of Buddha. The act of eating is itself a Zen discipline.

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  • Sitting this way, you become immovable. Surpassing existence and nonexistence, you free yourself from constrictions of thought. This is the way of Zen sitting.

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  • But here at Eiheiji, eating was a major undertaking. It was not a question of hunger or satiety, or of food tasting good or bad. The point lay in the act of eating itself. Eating was the Dharma, the essence of Buddhist teaching, and vice versa. In his text Rules for Eating Gruel Dogen wrote out detailed instructions for how to eat:

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  • Zen, it has been said, aims to compress human physical needs to the barest minimum and to direct the human spirit to a higher sphere of activity.

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  • Monks take the human capacity for desire and turn it around so that, by observing the self that remains unsatisfied, that seeks no satisfaction, another, different self can obtain fulfillment in a different dimension. What convolution! Perhaps it’s a kind of instinctual thought process unique to our species, one that comes into play precisely because we are so proficient at using every possible means to satisfy our longings that we don’t know when to stop. Of all the creatures on the planet, we are capable of the most convoluted thought processes, a piece of good fortune that is perhaps also our misfortune.

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  • From the beginning, self-annihilation has been an important task imposed on Zen monks in everyday discipline. To cast aside the ego means to cast aside your selfhood, determinedly reducing yourself to nothing, all the while revering and obeying your seniors and carrying out your daily chores in perfect silence.

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  • I learned that when one’s self-respect and modesty are wiped out and all the things one cannot relinquish are blown to smithereens, life can be apprehended much more calmly. As my days at Eiheiji piled up, I generally cared less and less about all that I’d previously agonized over; I marveled that I’d ever let so many little things cause me mental stress. Problems that had loomed before me as a great wall against which I could only bash my head seemed now, on cooler inspection, so flimsy that I could blow them over with one puff if I chose. Or, if I looked a little to one side, I could spot an easy escape.

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  • In other words, whoever prepares food in a monastery kitchen should do so in a spirit of seeking the way of Buddha; he should use ingredients appropriate to the season and cooking techniques appropriate to the ingredients, in order to give variety to the daily menu and ensure that everyone who partakes can do so with enjoyment.

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  • In fact, society is full of people who spend so much energy pursuing the means of doing something that they lose all sight of purpose. Rather than thinking about purpose, people are more attracted by, and more proficient at, having various methods at their disposal. But methods that are devoid of purpose or detached from ultimate meaning will often—like war, and like development in the name of progress—lead only to disaster.

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  • Zen discipline is not a staircase or a means of getting somewhere; it is rather about the successive moments of life—of existence itself. It means being fully aware in body and spirit of the fact of your life, and continuing to cultivate and practice the best way to live as a human being. This is the meaning of Dogen’s words, “Dignity is itself the Dharma. Propriety is itself the essence of the house.”

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  • That’s the great thing about cleaning at Eiheiji: it isn’t done on special days or in special places, but takes place energetically every single day, whether or not there’s any dirt to speak of.

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  • On finding myself back in this place where everything had begun, I pondered the lapse of time—and realized that the stream of days at Eiheiji was working a transformation of some sort in me.

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  • Many Japanese unconsciously regard the renunciation of the world to take Buddhist vows as inherently tragic. I myself had largely subscribed to this view. But after coming to Eiheiji, it struck me that there wasn’t necessarily anything tragic about it at all. People like Keikou, who’d chosen the monastic life for positive reasons, altered my thinking and inspired me. A serious, sober young man who devoted himself quietly to Zen practice, he had fully earned the honor and responsibility of being named head monk, and all of us held him in high regard.

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  • Modern civilization has continually sought to eliminate hard labor from people’s lives through economic advances. Work that people used to do on their own is now done quickly and efficiently by gas and electricity, with a minimum of human effort. But at Eiheiji, the point is not to avoid work but to embrace it and do it all on one’s own. In a sense it is a life of true independence and self-reliance—a style of life that establishes confidence in one’s strengths and abilities, mental and physical alike.

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  • The Zen precept to “live as you are” means not to live as you wish but to follow the laws of nature.

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  • We have to become better acquainted with nature. At the same time, we have to realize that we ourselves are intrinsically part of nature. It has to sink in that the environment we live in on this earth is not our creation, but a gift. All beings whose life has arisen from nature, including us, can only survive in and with nature. This awareness needs to underlie all our progress and development.

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  • True, the longer I sat, the more my legs hurt, but in time I came to grasp the importance of this and of all else that happens in the course of sitting. Devoting oneself to sitting, getting used to sitting, and conquering the pain of sitting are all equally pointless. The only point of sitting is to accept unconditionally each moment as it occurs. This is the lesson of “just sitting” that I had absorbed after one year.

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  • I found great freedom in this way. Freedom in Zen means liberation from self-interest, from the insistent voice that says “I, me, my.” Liberation not from any external circumstance but from a host of internal mental or psychological states, including desire: herein lies genuine, untrammeled freedom. This insight is nothing I stumbled on myself, but a truth that has been transmitted ceaselessly down the ages from ancient India, the cradle of Buddhism.

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  • Wrapped up in the routines of our daily lives, we let them slide by unnoticed. But I believe that hidden in these ordinary, unremarkable routines of life is a great truth that requires our attention.

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  • By contemplating life as it is, stripped of all extraneous added value, I found I could let go of a myriad of things that had been gnawing at my mind. Through the prosaic repetition of Eiheiji’s exacting daily routines for washing the face, eating, defecating, and sleeping, this is the answer that I felt in my bones: accept unconditionally the fact of your life and treasure each moment of each day.

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  • When packing to come to Eiheiji, the cloths were overlapped to form the character for “enter” (入), but on leaving they were reversed to form the character for “person” (人). As I wrapped the packs I wondered: had I at last become a person?

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  • As I stood there with my two feet planted on the ground and looked around, a thought came to my mind: zero. I had nothing. But it was a wonderfully refreshing feeling. This was a zero that would turn into a one, then a two. Beyond that, I could see it turning into a three, a four, a five, even a six. I embraced the sensation of zero and took a deep breath, rejoicing physically in the liberation of being stone broke.

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  • At that moment I understood the meaning of spring for the very first time. I had been alive for thirty years, and all that time I’d been caught up in an urgent search for meaning. Now, here, finally, I knew the meaning of spring. That was enough. I didn’t need anything else.

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