Instructions for the Tenzo–Offerings

In Dogen’s Instructions for the Tenzo (cook), he refers to the Zen Monastic Standards which states: “the tenzo functions as the one who makes offerings with reverence to the monks.” I am taken with the link between the cook and providing offerings. Of course, the laity have long provided food offerings to Buddhist monks. But in Japan, the offerings are brought to the temple daily, not distributed to the monks directly. Thus the Tenzo is intermediary for the laity’s gift. The Tenzo is responsible for adding (or at least maintaining) the value of the gift through the cooking process to its final destination. And in this way, the layperson, the gift of food, the Tenzo, the cooking, and the monk become one. Diminishing the value of any step in the diminishes the whole. In the verse for setting out the bowls, we refer to the emptiness of the three wheels: giver, receiver and gift. The three wheels are empty of individual identity: they are one.

In real life, though, it takes a very strong person to prepare food for a group. Of course, tastes differ. But with a group sitting zazen for much of the day, thoughts have drifted to food more than once and expectations are high. How difficult it must be to plan a menu when food is donated and hoards of hungry monks are focusing on the result. How can a menu be varied when you don’t really know what you will get each day. I know that just planning a menu for my family, when I have control over the ingredients and their quality, is a challenge. And, my family is probably kinder to my failures than the monks would be. You have to really be enlightened to look upon each day with fresh eyes and unflagging vigor. It takes great mindfulness to be one with your ingredients and their recipients every day.

May I find the wisdom and mindfulness to make offerings with reverence to my family every day. It is truly actualizing the Way.

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~ by lindabeekeeper on March 2, 2008.

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