Dogen’s “Instructions for the Zen cook.”

Dogen. Tenzo Kyokun (Instructions for the Zen cook). Translated by Thomas Wright.

It is written in the Chanyuan Qinggui (regulations for Zen monasteries) that “the function of the tenzo is to manage meals for the monks.”

This work has always been carried out by teachers settled in the Way and by others who have aroused the bodhisattva spirit within themselves. Such a practice requires exerting all your energies. If a man entrusted with this work lacks such a spirit, then he will only endure unnecessary hardships and suffering that will have no value in his pursuit of the Way.

The Chanyuan Quinggui also says, “Put your awakened mind to work, making a constant effort to serve meals full of variety that are appropriate to the need and the occasion, and that will enable everyone to practice with their bodies and minds with the least hinderance.”

. . .

Put your attention into the work, seeing just what the situation calls for. Do not be absent-minded in your activities, nor so absorbed in one aspect of a matter that you fail to see its other aspects. Do not overlook one drop in the ocean of virtue. Cultivate a spirit which strives to increase the source of goodness upon the mountain of goodness.

. . .

Those who have come before us have said, “The Way-Seeking Mind of a tenzo   is actualized by rolling up your sleeves.”

. . .

There is is an old saying that goes, “See the pot as your own head; see the water as your lifeblood.”

. . .

When you prepare food, never view the ingredients from some commonly held perspective, nor think about them only with your emotions. Maintain an attitude that tries to build great temples from ordinary greens, that expounds the buddhadharma through the most trivial activity. When making soup with ordinary greens, do not be carried away by feelings of dislike towards them or regard them lightly; neither jump for joy because you have been given ingredients of superior quality to make a special dish. By the same token that you do not indulge in a meal because of its particularly good taste, there is no reason to feel an aversion towards an ordinary one. Do not be negligent and careless just because materials seem plain, and hesitate to work more diligently with materials of superior quality. A person who is influenced by the quality of a thing, or who changes his speech or manner according to the appearance or position of the people he meets, is not a man working in the Way.

. . .

Handle even a single leaf of a green in such a way that it manifests the body of the Buddha. This in turn allows the Buddha to manifest through the leaf. This is a power which you cannot grasp with your rational mind. It operates freely, according to the situation, in a most natural way. At the same time, this power functions in our lives to clarify and settle activities and is beneficial to all living beings.


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