Cooking with the Moon


As interpreted by 冷门道士 - Copyright 2006, Creative Commons 3.0 SA-BY-NC.



sitting beneath the moon


We are sitting here, beneath the moon, so that you may learn to cook. Or rather, you are sitting and I am talking--and laughing.

I am only the Tenzo, not the Master of Monks. But you must sit as you always do. And you should breathe correctly, if you are going to breathe at all. But you may laugh with me as we learn to cook. You may even laugh at me. I will talk to you about working in the kitchen and my talk is only words that will bang about your ears. But -- look! -- the moon is more than words. And so is our laughter. And so is our food.

It has always been our way, among those of us who live together to follow the Buddha, to govern ourselves with the six offices. There is the abbot who rules over our community. There is the prior, the master of accounts, and the master of the grounds. There is the master of monks who keeps you from sleeping in the Great Hall. And then there is me -- the cook, the tenzo.

Oh, goodness! In that old, old book, Regulations for Communities of Monks, it says my responsibility is to see that all the monks are fed. No small task for a hall full of roly-polys like you. I must feed you every day and feed all the guests as well and then see to the welfare of the kitchen and its cleanliness and to the buying of fresh food. But the Abbot has only to thump you to see that I have done my work well.

This duty of feeding chubby monks has always fallen to those who are comfortable in the Way. Comfortable means that the cook should not be struggling with his monkness -- or do I mean monkeyness. He has seen the open door of this life and has entered into it and his monkey-mind no longer dreams at night of going back out into the world he is now rising above. If his sleep is troubled, it is only troubled by the brightness of the moon. Even if he should leave the monastery -- never to return -- he would still be comfortable in the Way because he is now comfortable with himself in it. Being inside these walls is our opportunity to be among those who are in the Way and who love it. They are the door we follow them through.

Being the Tenzo requires great reliance upon the Way! If a cook relies upon his own hard work, he will only endure the long hours and wrinkled hands and bleeding fingers of a cook for nothing. He will fall off the Way. Better he should cook in a nice warm inn. Better he should boil his rice where the company is a jollier one than that of frowning abbots and struggling monks. Even better -- he should learn to cook!

The Regulations also tell us, "Put your spiritual sense to work. Feed the monks from the abundance of this world so that they may sit upon their growing rumps and quiet their minds without the hindrance of rumbling tummies." Or something like that -- I forget the exact words. The joy of good food is part of the Way. No one ever found the Way by fiddling with his diet or by going hungry. Eat when you eat! Eat good food!

There have been great men, full of spiritual force, who have served as tenzo. Begin to see that this work is not just cooking meals and cleaning pots -- this is great prayerful work! Let me show you what I mean.

When I was in China, I talked with every tenzo I could find. I bothered them most thoroughly with my many questions. I was very foolish and they were very kind. From their greatness I learned a little, the little we learn from words, and the more that we learn from work. The best tenzos answered me by putting their hands to work and teaching me to really help them. I will wash dishes on the moon to see a spiritually-minded tenzo at his work! Foolish as I was, I even learned a little. And the little I learned was the marrow of right work, the wisdom of those who gave their life to cooking, to selflessly serving chubby monks -- who complain when the rice is overdone.

I have tried to glean what I could from reading the Regulations for Communities of Monks and from listening to those wonderful tenzos who answered my pushy questions. Ask a pushy question in the Great Hall and the Master of Monks should slap you. Ask me a pushy question and I will show you how to clean the pot! Now listen -- let me tell you what I have learned. And do not listen for the truth shining with holy splendor; listen for the little details of right work. Listen for how the tenzo holds his knife.



a day in the kitchen


Let me tell you what I do in a day of cooking. After the midday meal, the tenzo must know all that he will prepare for the next day. He must gather the food he will need from the monastery's stores and from the markets. Everything - the rice, the vegetables, the spices, the oil - is brought together and there must be plenty for all of his chubby monks--and for the unforeseen guest as well. He must put his mind to the completeness of the next day's meals.

When he has the day's food before him, he must care for it as if it were his own eyes. A great tenzo said this: "Use what you are given to work with as carefully as if you were handling your own eyes." Oh, ho! You must see what you are doing in the kitchen! And by eyes did this tenzo mean these bulging, squishy things in your face. I think not. He meant your spiritual sense , the eyes you see the buddha-nature with. And when we see our food with these eyes, we treat it as if it were intended for the emperor. Each monk, each guest, each stranger at the gate, is the equal of any emperor in these eyes. And does it matter to these eyes if the food is still raw or is cooking in the pot or is ready to eat in the bowl? No, my little buddhas, it does not.

What do you think: does the tenzo have peace and privacy to think these Buddha thoughts of preparation in? Of course he doesn't. Every day the officers gather in his kitchen to decide what is to be prepared for these meals of the next day. And they are nit-pickers, every one: what kind of rice gruel, how many vegetables, just what seasoning. The Abbot does not like carrots. The Master of Monks expects his pickles. Shouldn't they leave the poor tenzo alone to do his work? In the Regulations , you can read: "When selecting the food for each day, the tenzo should consult the other officers. He must ask the abbot, the prior, the master of monks, the master of accounts, and the master of grounds. And when they have chosen the meals together, the menu must be posted on the abbot's door and in the Great Hall." So this interfering nit-pickiness is a requirement of our Way. It is even a virtue! Can you tell me which one? No? It is self-less-ness. We give up our own wisdom for the wisdom that we share.

By the time the officers leave him to do his work, the tenzo is watching the sun set. Soon he must begin to prepare the next day's breakfast. His chubby little helpers await his beck and call. Does he order his little helpers to do his work for him? Not if he is a tenzo! You do not leave the washing of rice and the cutting of vegetables to chubby little helpers. You must feed your brothers with the judgment of your own hands. Give your whole mind and both hands to your work. Meet each need as it arises. Embrace each grain of rice -- like this!

You are laughing. Stop that and I will stop embracing the rice. Do not be double-minded in your cooking. Do not lose sight of the larger meal by concentrating on those grains of rice. All must be done well. Do not let one excellent act go undone by relying upon the help of others. The tenzo's spiritual sense is ever growing and he must use it to feed his brother monks with a mountain of goodness.

Each choice affects the balance. Foods are sweet and sour, bitter and salty, hot and mild. The cook must be clean and neat, thoughtful and thorough, free of monotony, unrestricted by the limitations of what he has to work with. These meals are the balance of all these qualities expressed in a form that contributes to the greater balance of us all. What would our day be without good food? But too much good food -- and you are dozing like koala bears in the Great Hall. The Master of Monks is smiling but I have seen him dozing too.

Rice comes with sand. Do I feed you sand? When the tenzo washes the rice, all the sand must go. And do not lose a single grain of rice. Do not wash away the sand and ignore the rice. And do not wash the rice and ignore the sand. Look with all your eyes! Even this washing of the food in the very beginnings of your preparations contributes to the greater harmony of our days.

Listen! Shuafung Yitsun was a great tenzo. One day his teacher found him washing rice.

His teacher asked him, "Do you wash the rice and take out the sand or do you wash the sand and take out the rice?"

"I wash them both out altogether," Shuafung said.

"Then what are you feeding my monks?" asked the master.

Shuafung turned over a rice bucket and sat on it. He was right - his first answer fed the monks.

His master shook his finger at him and said, "One day you will find another master." He was right too. Shuafung was upon the Way--where we rise to find new masters as we progress.

All great teachers wash their own rice. Even if they are not tenzos, they do their own work. It is wrong to let others handle the ingredients of our right work. The old tenzos knew we must show the quality of our minds by rolling up our sleeves. So! We do not lose even a grain of rice--because we pick out the sand with our own eyes and hands. The Regulations say, "Give your whole mind to the preparation of the meal. Let the savour of each part of it be the expression of this attention."

Do not throw throw the water away that you wash the rice in. Do as the old tenzos: run it through a bag of cloth to take away the sand and pour it into the pot. Waste not a drop! Water is water and water is what we cook our rice in. Now put the rice in that pot. And do not let a mouse fall in - we are vegetarians! Keep the fat fingers of idle monks out of your pot as well. They can wait to be served like everyone else. Tell them to mind their own business.

The rice for the morning meal is boiling. Cut up the vegetables that will go with it. Do what can be done in advance. And when all is done, clean up after yourself. Waste nothing. Save what can be saved for your monastery. Feed the hungry at your gates.

Put your whole mind into the cleaning of your kitchen. Wash each dirty pot. Clean every surface. Put everything in its right place. Some things naturally belong in a high place -- little things, things that hang where we can see them. Some things remain in a low place - heavy things, all the big pots and pans and the other things too big to land upon the head when an idle helper knocks them over. Let all of these cooking tools move in a circle: out of their right place, into the cooking, into the cleaning, back into their right place.

And do not merely clean up after yourself. Clean everyone's chopsticks. Clean all the bowls. Every ladle. Every serving dish. You are the tenzo! Give full-minded care to every item, returning all of them to their clean, harmonious places. Be settled and peaceful in all that you do. Don't throw your pots and pans around. Do not break the things you care about.

Next the tenzo will begin to prepare the next day's lunch. Rice again. No bugs, no bran, no little rocks. Clean all the rice. Those helping in the kitchen have heard me tell them to pray to the spirit of the stove. A stove does not have a spirit! So what can this mean? It means to be spiritual ly-minded, even cooking at the stove, even choosing the vegetables, even when washing all the bugs and bran out of the rice.

When the tenzo receives the day's food from the prior, he must never say -- even to himself -- "This is too plain." or "This food is not fresh." or "There is too little here to work with." Nothing could be worse than this spirit of criticism. Criticism is death! You are not working with the food. You are working with the spirit. When is the Buddha insufficient or stale or repetitive? Your buddha-mind is always new and your buddha-nature always sufficient. Cook in this spirit!

In the evening the tenzo gathers the food for the next day. After midnight, he begins to cook the breakfast. After breakfast, he cleans all of his kitchen and begins to cook the lunch. All day and all night the tenzo brings his work into his buddha-mind. How would the food be if the tenzo left his mind outside the kitchen and cooked without it? Let your mind and your work express only the best qualities. The best qualities!

The good tenzo does have spiritually-minded helpers: monks who do not sleep the day away while they are working. When they are washing the rice or when they are measuring the water from the well, the tenzo is there with his eyes open caring for his helpers. Not one grain of rice is lost. Not one drop of water is spilled. The cooking is simple. Wash the rice, put it in a pot, light the fire under it, cook it. Even you can do it!

Cook the rice and the vegetables and the soup all at once. All must be ready together. And take care. Even your mother told you: "The pot is your own head, the water is your own blood." We are cooking with our lives! When the rice is done, take it off the fire. In summer, we put it in a bamboo basket. In the winter, a wooden tray. Put the rice on the table. You are smiling at me again. The foolish man forgets the simplest things. Put the cooked food on the table.

In all of this, the tenzo is ever present. In all of your life, you must be present. I do not care if you are cooking by yourself or if you have one boy watching the fire or if you are in a great monastery with seventyleven assistant cooks. All that passes in the kitchen receives the attention of the tenzo. The kitchen and every bite that comes out of it is the expression of the tenzo's spirituality, his buddha-mind. The tenzo does not hold his helpers responsible. He is at-one with the Buddha and knows that his responsibility is to express that oneness. Everyone in the kitchen expresses this oneness because the tenzo does. Do not shake your heads. In the old days, there was only the tenzo - no matter how big the kitchen. Today the tenzos are stronger - we carry all our hopeless little helpers on our backs.

When you cook, see each ingredient with all your eyes. Do not regard the food as dust that passes through your hands. A handful of rice is this handful of rice and no other. These greens beneath the knife are the vegetables that sustain your brothers. We do not cook with monkey-thoughts or monkey-feelings. Build a great temple from those vegetables. Show what spiritual-mindedness is with each handful of rice.

Let us cook a soup with simple vegetables--this basket of spinach. Do not let your own dislike for soggy spinach affect your cooking. Who are you cooking for? What are you showing those who eat this soup? If you love spinach and this is the most wonderful basket of greens in the world, do not let your great horse-like joy carry you away. Keep you buddha-mind on your cooking. Sometimes the ingredients are poor. Sometimes they are wonderful. Always they need all of your mind on the cooking! Look with all your eyes and you will see beyond the sensual qualities of the food and fill it with your own spiritual ones. This is cooking in the Way.

The tenzo is a mighty hero! Never weaken. Cook with all your might. Devote all of your spirit to feeding your brother monks and the strangers within the gates. The tenzos that have gone before us have shown us the Way. They made their heavenly soup with a single leaf of of sagging spinach and the wash water of the rice. You are smiling again. There is always enough in the kitchen to cook with. Look for it! Do not let these old tenzos outcook you. You have a single leaf of lettuce. You have the wash water. Be a hero too! The Master of Monks is always praising the patriarchs. They were only chubby monks like you--but they lived with all their might. We can do the same. We must be great heroes in the kitchen--great humble ones.

Cooking is very simple. The difficulty is that our minds run around like horses and our emotions bounce around like monkeys. Then the food is done and it tastes like monkeys and horses. We are vegetarians! Stop a moment. Look at those horses and monkeys. Put them in their place. They are not so bad. Just get them out of the kitchen. Only cook. You are the cook only while you are cooking. You are only stirring the rice while the rice is telling you when to stir. A tenzo's work is very spiritual and very ordinary. He sees the soup. He smells the soup. But his great spirit is cooking it. And whose great spirit is this? His? Yours? It is the spirit of the buddha-mind.

That single, floppy leaf of spinach manifests the body of the Buddha--if you do! And when you and your spinach express the buddha-nature, all who eat it taste that spirit. This great spirit, this great power, that runs through all the world -- this great Law -- we cannot grasp it with our monkey-mind. It works of its own accord. Nothing hinders it. It is, O, so natural. And when we keep our horses and our monkeys in harmony with the Law, the Law works through us and benefits all of us -- all living creatures -- in this only world.

When you have done everything that you can do for a meal, clean your kitchen. This is the completion of your cooking: that everything has returned to its right place. You must also be in your right place. The tenzo is not only a cook; he is a monk. The tenzo, too, must sit in meditation with the other chubby monks. He must daily meet with his master and progress in his demonstration of Zen.

Each day when you return to your room, count the mouths you must feed. The mouths in the main building are the easiest to count. These are your fellow monks. Then add the older priests who have retired to live alone upon the grounds. Remember those who are traveling and who might return early. Add those who are almost monks and still living outside the gates. Remember your guests. These mouths need feeding too. And remember those in the lesser temples that depend upon the great hall. If you are in doubt, ask your brother officers and the monks in charge of the various residences.

When you know how many are to be fed, establish in your mind the amount of food that is needed. For each grain of rice needed, make certain you have one grain. Different monks will eat different amounts. Two older monks eat the measure of one middle-aged monk. A young and chubby monk eats the measure of two, possibly three or four, old and skinny ones. Do not overfeed the fat! But all must be fed and you must not have too much left over or too little for all the guests. When you know who you must feed, there will be neither too much nor too little. Your buddha-mind is seen in the right amount of food. A grain of excellent rice makes you the monk Guishan. One grain too many and you are his cow. Then the cow eats Guishan! Guishan should feed the cow! You are smiling at me again.

Look. These monks and cows are easy to understand. Know who you must feed. Feed them what they need. Consider each of your helpers and help them to understand their work so that you have each meal as you need it -- not one grain of rice too many, not one grain too few. Let your understanding be expressed through each of your helpers. Even the slow and foolish monk can do his right work. Feed each helper what he needs and they will feed the whole hall. Inspire your kitchen! Give it all of your mind. Be clever. Be joyful! Do not starve your helpers with the empty letter of The Regulations . Guishan and his cow are not two; they are one. Feed the cow--yes. But feed Guishan too.

Monks are not the only ones upon the Way. When a lay person expresses his gratitude for the Buddha with a gift of money, take the money to the other officers and ask how it is to be spent. It has always been our way to do this. We give a meal and our giving feeds the hungry. Their gratitude can feed the hungry too; but what kind of hunger? The tenzo does not feed the stomach only. No matter what the gift, turn to your fellow officers and ask: "Who should we feed?"

Do not forget you are a monk and that your piety must be uppermost. When you have done all that you can in preparing a meal, put on your buddha-rob e and lay out your prayer mat. Face the Great Hall and bow with the utmost humility to those you serve. Then carry the meal into the Great Hall. This is great work. You will work all day and all night as a tenzo serving his community. This is right work. Serving your community in this way will only enhance your spiritual-mindedness, your self-less-ness. When the tenzo sees to his responsibilities, great harmony comes to all he serves. You will see this in the silence of the monks in the Great Hall!

We have been following the Way, striving for the buddha-mind, for hundreds of years now in Japan. Never before has a tenzo taught the cooking and serving of meals as spiritual-m indedness. Never has this been written down. Does this make me special? No. It makes me very late, hundreds of years late. But perhaps I am just in time. It is time to bow with the utmost humility to those you serve. Perhaps this has never occurred to monks in our country. Perhaps our chubby monks have been too busy eating like horses and monkeys. And this is sad. Bad horses! Bad monkeys! Stop and eat like men!



the tenzo of mount tientong


It is good for you to smile again. When I was in China, at the monastery of Mount Tientong, the tenzo was a monk called Lu. One day in the heat of the sun, I found him drying mushrooms on the great pavement before the Buddha's Hall. He was turning them in the sun with a bamboo rake. It was very hot and Lu had no hat on his old head. The pavings were so hot that they were cooking his bare feet as he worked. His robes were soaked in sweat. It pained me to see him there with his back like a bow, sweat dripping from his great eyebrows that were as white as two crane's feathers.

I bowed and asked his age.

"I am sixty-eight years old this New Year."

"It is very hot," I said.

"Is that so?"

"Why do you not have helpers in this heat?" I asked.

"Their hands are not mine," he said, turning his mushrooms.

"Yes," I said. "I can see that now."

And I saw that his work did not demand itself of him but was the effect of his great spirituality. Still it was very hot.

"But must you work so hard in this heat?" I asked.

"I am drying mushrooms. If not in the heat, when?"

I shut my big mouth and watched him work. He was teaching me what it was to be a tenzo.



the tenzo of mount ayuwong


I first arrived in China in the Spring of 1223. We were not allowed to disembark and enter the port of Ningbo until our visit had been approved by the authorities. So for a long time we were forced to remain upon the ship. One day when I was talking with the ship's captain, a monk came on board to buy Japanese mushrooms from the merchants on our ship. He seemed to be well past middle-age. As a fellow monk, I invited him to rest and share some tea.

"I am the tenzo of Mount Ayuwong," he said. "I come from Zhishu but I left there forty years ago. I am sixty-one years old and have practiced Zen in many monasteries since then."

"And you are now in Ayuwong?" I asked.

"Yes. I was living among the monks at Guyun. While visiting Mount Ayuwong, the monks there invited me to stay. They were very kind to invite me but it has been very challenging. I have tried do my best. After the summer meditation sessions last year, they asked me to be their tenzo."

I could se that his best had been appreciated by those around him.

"So now you cook for that great monastery?" I asked him.

"Yes. Tomorrow is the Spring Festival and I have nothing special to feed my monks. I wanted to make them a wonderful noodle soup but I had no mushrooms. This morning I was told there were excellent mushrooms from Japan on your ship."

"When did you leave the monastery then?" I asked.

"Just after lunch today."

"Is it far?" I asked.

"About a three hours' walk."

"I was hoping that you could stay and talk some more," I told him. "When will you have to go back?"

"I am sorry," he said. "As soon as I have the mushrooms I must start back."

"I am very grateful for this opportunity to meet you and talk with you. Please stay, if you can, and allow me to offer you something more."

"Oh, no," he said. "I really must get back. If I am not there to care for the next day's meals, it will not go well in the kitchen."

"But Ayuwong is huge," I said. "There must be many monks to care for the kitchen. Surely they can see to the meals until you return."

Now listen, my chubby monks: he smiled at me and said, "I became tenzo as an old man. This is an old man's buddha-practice for me. How can I leave my own practice in the hands of others?"

Then he winked at me. "And besides," he said, "I do not have permission to stay out overnight."

I wanted to understand this tenzo better.

"Why," I asked, "do you work as tenzo at your age? Isn't it better for the buddha-mind to practice meditation in the Great Hall or to contemplate the riddles of the old masters?"

He laughed out loud and shook his finger at me.

"This kind of talk about practice and old riddles makes me wonder what you understand of practice and the written word."

His laughter was so genuine and so kind that I felt very foolish and very ignorant.

"Please tell me," I said, "what is practice and what is the written word?"

He touched my arm and smiled.

"If you do not lie to yourself about what you understand, you will find yourself on the Way."

I was very ignorant. You smile; but I was. I knew that I was missing the meaning of his words and he saw my poor confused look.

"If you need help with your understanding, come and visit me in Mount Ayuwong. We will talk about the written word more fully."

The sun was descending towards the sea.

Ayuwong's tenzo told me that it was late and that he must be going. Then he left the ship and went home.

In the middle of that summer, after we had been allowed to enter China, I was staying at Mount Tientong and the tenzo of Mount Ayuwong came to see me.

"The summer practice session is over and I am retiring to go home," he told me.

"And so you are no longer tenzo?" I asked him.

"I am no longer tenzo. But I heard you were here and wanted to see you again and to hear about the progress you have been making."

It was very nice to see him and we talked of many things. Finally, we spoke again of practice and the written word.

"The man who reads," he said, "must understand what the written word is. And the monk following the Buddha must understand practice. Yes?"

"What do you mean by the written word?" I asked, for I was still very ignorant.

"One, two, three, four, five," he answered.

"And practice?"

"Nothing is hidden."

We talked of many other things. But these were his most important words.

What is in a book? What are the old koans? What are the written recipes of the tenzos who have taught us to cook? One, two, three, four, five.

And what is the practice of spiritual-mindedness? Living where nothing is hidden.

Where are those words, all those written words? Yes! In your head. Floating between your ears.

And where is the food you are cooking? And where is your cooking of it? Are these things hidden from the smallest child? Oh, you chubby monks!

When I told my own teacher, Myozen, about this meeting with the tenzo of Mount Ayuwong, he laughed.

One day long afterwards, I found a poem Shuedo had written for a student:

one, seven, three, five look truth, cannot find long night, bright moon all waters share light dragon's treasure every wave look moon, find here this wave, that wave

I think the tenzo of Mount Ayuwong could have written this poem. Now you can understand it too--thanks to his teaching on practice and written words. That old tenzo was a spiritually-minded man. And so are you.

I started with one, two, three, four, five. Now I have gotten all the way to six, seven, eight, nine, ten. You are smiling again. That is good. Always see the other side of what you are looking at. See with all your eyes! Using all your energies, all your wisdom, and you will catch the moon that is beyond the reach of written words. Doing any less will ruin your practice--and spoil the food!



being tenzo


It was another old tenzo who told me about Guishan and the cow. Tenzos have told me the all the other stories about cooking I have shared with you. I have talked to many times many tenzos. They have all taught me that each lesson in the kitchen teaches us more about practice and words. Just being a tenzo who feeds the hungry at his tables is a great spiritual accomplishment. Even an abbot should be a good cook!

The Regulations tells us: "Take great care in preparing every meal. Provide food for all who are at your table. Do not forget the charities of food, clothing, a place to rest, and healing. Shakyamuni was supposed to live one hundred years but he gave the last twenty to his students by dying at eighty. We are still living on his bounty. One ray of the light revealed by the Buddha is inexhaustible. Let all your concern be the care of your community. Never fear poverty or lack. By keeping your mind free of spiritual limitation, you will find yourself expressing abundance in all that you do." This is the duty of the tenzo. And of the abbot. And of every chubby monk. Express abundance!

A tenzo must never complain about the quality of the food me must work with. He is feeding all of his brother monks. His eyes must bring abundance to the food. You must see all that is before you. Remember the woman who gained great merit by giving Shakyamuni the humble water she had washed the rice with. We share what we have within us. Remember Lord Asoka who offered half of his last morsel to a temple as he was dying and was promised everlasting life. Be even more generous. If you are on your deathbed, give the whole morsel. Live two everlasting lives! The true connection between our chubby selves and the truth of what we are -- that which the Buddha shows us to be -- is found in the smallest right motive or act. Great giving with no heart is no more than the lowing of the cow. Right practice is right giving. Only Guishan can understand enough to give.

Seeing abundance is so important! A soup is not made wonderful with fine ingredients. Poor ingredients do not ensure a meager soup. The soup comes, not from the food, but from the tenzo. When doing something as simple as separating the lettuce, bring your spiritual sense to bear upon the work, and see all that is there without asking the monkeys and horses for their opinion. Give the lettuce all that you would give to a great feast.

Think of all the different rivers that flow into the ocean. Now--drink a glass of sea water and try to taste a single one of those rivers in it! Let all the food flow through you into your community and let the taste of your food be that of your own spiritual understanding, not the taste of good ingredients today and bad ingredients tomorrow. The mouth of a monk is like an oven. You can burn fine wood in an oven or you can burn what the cows leave behind. It does not change the oven. These are the mouths you are feeding. Feed them with your understanding of the Way.

That plain and wilting lettuce is your buddha-practice. How will you remain upon the Way without it? Never let the food spoil your cooking by controlling your eyes. Your eyes belong to you! They should not be asking the food how it is. They should be telling it what it is to become. As a teacher of both Guishan and the cow, do not let your poor vegetables cast you down from the heights!

When you have mastered your lettuce, treat your fellow monks at least as well as your vegetables. Do not use the eyes of a cow and the mind of a monkey to determine whether a monk is worthy or worthless, whether he is upon the Way or wandering off into the trees. Use the spiritual eyes that you judge lettuce by to judge your fellow man. Let all your life rest upon the same foundation of understanding and spiritual- mindedness. What good is it to see the good in a leaf of lettuce and miss it in the monks around you? Do not hole up in your kitchen like some Taoist alchemist turning lettuce into gold!

Certainly there is a difference between someone who has practiced the buddha-min d for many years and the novice whose rump goes to sleep in the Great Hall. There is a difference between those who are gifted with great intelligence and those who are constantly outwitted by their cow. But all these things are outward circumstance. Sakyamuni would see each of us in the fullness of our buddha-nature. Only our poor eyes struggle to separate the cow from Guishan. Who are we to judge?

The Regulations remind us: "Foolish or wise, a monk is a monk. The good he expresses is a gift to man and the universe." The tenzo has better things to do than fret over separating the universe into the piles of foolish and wise , good and bad . Expressing good -- showing your spiritual-mindedness -- is the jewel of wisdom that keeps you upon the Way. You can be in the heart of the monastery and miss the Way. We are not here to get but to give. What kind of tenzo keeps all the food that comes to his hands? From now until the last kalpa of time, only those who are single-mindedly spiritual, expressing the Buddha's abundance, will cook the meals worth eating.



the tenzo mask


When I came back from China, I lived for two years at the Kennin temple. No one fulfilled the responsibilities of tenzo there. The monks there thought that being a tenzo was only one step up from being a servant. Because they could not see the tenzo's buddha-nature, they could find no one to express the fullness of that work. The poor monk who wore this empty mask had never met a real tenzo. I pitied him. What should have been the practice of a bodhisattva became a waste of time. It was very sad.

The abbot of the Kennin temple has chosen an older monk, full of his own importance, to be tenzo. This old monk never cooked a meal, never washed a vegetable, never helped with the actual preparation of the food at all. All he ever did was order around the monkey-minded, self-centered servants who worked in the kitchen. What do you think his food was like? This old monk thought that washing the rice or seeing that the vegetables were put to their best use was something that would degrade him like peeping into a woman's window to watch her undress. I, for one, would happily do either one. What are you smiling at now? I would do either one: wash the rice or prepare the vegetables. You see, I caught your monkey minds undressing.

This old monk spent all of his time bossing around his helpers -- who were not even monks but servants -- or talking politics with his fellow officers or chanting a sutra like some old holy-moly when what he needed to do was to see to the daily supply of food and provide for the entire community at their daily meals. And if you think he ever laid out his prayer cloth and bowed in utmost humility to those he served, you must be dreaming. Knowing nothing about the spiritual practice of feeding the hungry, he had nothing to teach those who ate at his table. A sad and pathetic man.

You may have the good fortune to be appointed tenzo. But if you do not desire with all your spirit to walk upon the Way you will get nothing from you appointment to that office -- no, not even if you were to be tenzo at the temple of Mount Goodness which lies beside the Sea of Virtue. Stop frowning, my chubby monks. Do not doubt your own selves by relying too heavily upon that self. Rely upon the buddha-nature that is always and forever yours. Upon the Way, you will meet those who have developed their spiritual sense and they will show you how to awaken the spirit of the bodhisattva within you. Even if you are full of doubt and never meet one who speaks to your need, how can you possibly avoid your buddha-nature? Whose universe is this anyway? Who does the doing?

Every monastery I visited in the China appointed their officers for one year at a time. These officers always maintained their spiritual-mindedness and governed their community by performing each necessary act as its necessity arose. To live this way, to be worthy every moment for high office and the service of your community, you must do three things. You must work for the good of others, finding your own good in theirs. You must work for the prosperity of all, finding that your expression of abundance is what meets your spiritual need. And you must work so hard in the kitchen that you exceed the efforts of all the tenzos that have come before you. Perhaps you will not be so good as that. So what? This is not a foot race! This is an opportunity for great self-less-ne ss.

Here is self-less-ness: those who see only surfaces think they are better than they are; the buddha-mind sees every other man and woman as himself.

There is the old, old poem:

Half-way to death and still that thing in the mirror is dirty. So busy every day in polishing our reflection, And when our name was called we did not turn around. Finally, we are full of regrets.

Searching for someone to learn from, we are all worn out by the monkeys and horses. We are like the foolish heirs to great treasure who run about and squander what was given to us freely. Here I am giving you the treasure of the tenzo. Do not squander it! Look at those who have greatly honored the office. In every case, their abundance came from realizing what a treasure they were freely given. When Daigui was tenzo he found enlightenment in that single glowing ember that remained within the ashes; Baijang was his teacher. Dongshan was a tenzo when three measures of sesame oil pushed his mind into the light.

Is anything more precious than our realization of the Way? Is anything more important than our cooking? Every step upwards comes from our right thinking in our present work. Remember the story of the boy who offered only sand when he had nothing more to give to the Buddha. His right giving was his gift's acceptance. Think of each person who has lovingly carved an image of our beloved Sakyamuni. The office of the tenzo never changes. Every day it requires our best cooking, our best giving.

Only the joyful can truly cook -- consider this carefully! If you had been born into the Pure Land of the Holy-Moly as the Golden Monk you would not be struggling with the questions of right work and abundance.You would not be driven by your hungry spirit to practice in the Great Hall. You would never learn to cook. Your life would be all golden and floaty and holy-moly and you would never learn to cook. Good-for-nothings you would be! Rejoice that you find yourselves where you are, working hard in the kitchen for grumpy old monks like me. Without the joyful obligation of learning, you will never cook a meal worthy of the pure in spirit.

The Regulations tell us: "Community is the most sacred of all things. With each of us in our right place, we are untouched by the claims of selfishness. Full of right work, our community is far from the busyness of the monkey-mind." Here you are in such a community, blessed with the opportunity to cook for the pure in spirit. We are cooking for what we would be! What if you had been born a hungry ghost or a beast in a hellish realm? Even in the hottest kitchen things could be worse! What if the world were overwhelming us entirely? What if we were unable to practice or even to cook? Be grateful for this life you have. Gratitude is the source of joy and of good food.

Rejoice that you were born into this very world and came to this very monastery and cook in this very kitchen. Now cook for our three great treasures: the Buddha, the Law, and our community. Of all the infinite possible lives you could have been given in this infinite realm of timeless being, this very life right here is yours. The universe never makes mistakes! Here you are! My greatest desire for you is that you give your entire being to this one life which is yours. Give all your spirit to the abundance of your kitchen. This is the greatest joy! The works of the greatest of kings disappear like the foam upon the ocean's wave or the candle's flame in the wind. Rather than striving for such mighty accomplishments, learn to cook the rice and feed the pure in spirit.

You all know what we call the parent-mind, it is the undying love of a mother for her child. Cook with this love for all who eat at your table. No matter how poor a mother is or how difficult her life, she has only this true pure love for her children. She warms her child in the winter and protects her child from the heat of the sun in summer. She does not first look to her own welfare. She gives of the abundance of her very being to her child. Only when this mind arises in you and you follow its dictates instead of your own selfishness, will you understand what it means to cook. Bring this love to the rice you must wash and to the chubby monks you must feed. Sakyamuni gave the last twenty years of his life before its time to preserve those he loved. This is the parent-mind. He did not do it so that we would call him wonderful. He did it from his own buddha-nature.

The expression of abundance is a great mountain, as stable and enduring as the Law. It is like the ocean that accepts all who float upon its waters and sustains them. Expressing abundance, we do not prefer one person to another, one head of lettuce to another. When you carry a grain of rice do not tell yourself that it is light. When you carry Guishan's cow, do not tell yourself that it is heavy. Do not let the abundance of new life in the spring carry your mind away. Do not let the falling of the leaves in autumn make you sad. The four seasons are a year, whole and complete, nothing missing and nothing broken in its abundance of change. You must understand abundance.

If the tenzo of Mount Chia had not understood abundance, he could not have pushed Fu into the light by laughing at Fu's lecturing of the monks. If Guishan had not understood abundance, he would merely have lit his master's fire instead of igniting his mind. And Dongshan would never have seen the Buddha in three measures of sesame. Understand abundance! All great tenzos have known, not the written word "abundance" , but the abundance which is never hidden. They have shown their understanding of it in the living of their lives. Their lives are the voices our spirits hear telling us the fundamental truths of living. They cooked with abundance and teach us the true meaning of self-less-ness.

Put away the masks. It does not matter if you are the abbot, the tenzo, or the dozing chubby monk. Live your life with joy, loving everyone with the great love of a mother for her child, and expressing an abundance that will feed us all!

Written by Dogen, temple of Kosho in the spring of 1237, for all who will follow the Way.