eating meditation

Apples of Life

By Brenda Carr Many connections were resonating for me as I joined in apple meditation at the Omega retreat with Thay. As I crunched thoughtfully on my tart-sweet fall apple, lovingly delivered from the hands of local organic farmers, I recalled Thay's instruction to Westerners to look deeply into their spiritual traditions for new insights into their jewels. I also recalled his observation that when Jesus offered bread at the "first supper" and asked his disciples to reflect on how it embodied his life, he was asking them to undertake a practice of mindful attention to interbeing. As Thay says in Living Buddha, Living Christ, "The bread we eat is the whole cosmos."  This insight into Christian communion as an opportunity to eat mindfully and awaken from forgetfulness was embodied in the apple meditation practice. As someone else in the Sangha noted, the apple in the Judeo-Christian tradition is such a problem fruit—the sign of the fall from grace and paradise. Like the bread, we found the apple to contain all of life—earth, decayed leaf, root, water, sap, sky, sun, blossom, laboring hands. To look deeply into the apple is to see it renewed as the apple of life, to be restored to paradise.

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Life was so evident in the sharp crunch and crack of the lusty and delicious bites we all enjoyed together. This brought me back to my earliest memories of the Christian Eucharist where I felt embarrassed by the necessity of chewing the bread and swallowing the juice of the vine. As a young girl, I tried very hard, often with awkward results, to chew and swallow without making a sound. I assumed that the quieter and less physical the experience was, the holier it was. I also tried not to meet the eyes of the person who handed me the bread. I am not sure where I got these ideas of disembodied and ethereal transcendence, but it strikes me that much of Western culture from Plato onwards associates the sacred, the ideal, and the beautiful with experience that transcends these bodies that gurgle, cough, snore, sneeze, chew, and swallow. What was so wonderfully healing forme was the revelation that the sacred is nowhere else but here—in the juicy apple of life passed lovingly from one warm pair of hands to the next, and crunched en masse.

Brenda Carr is an instructor of Canadian and twentieth-century literature at Carleton Universify in Ottawa, Ontario, and a new member of the Warm Snow Sangha

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The Virtue of Apples

By Ed Espe Brown Enjoyment is pivotal in our lives. Without enjoyment, it is hard to concentrate or be mindful. People often say, "I can't really enjoy my food, because if I did I'd be a blimp." Actually, it's the other way around. If you enjoy your food, you will be careful about what you eat, and it will give you great satisfaction and good health. Eating an apple is an intimate activity. You become one with the apple, and the apple becomes one with you.

A Ghanian friend once told me, "I don't understand how Americans can eat so much anonymous produce. Where I grew up, we knew where everything came from, who owned the farm, what side of the hill it grew on, what the light was there, whether there were trees, who grew it, and who harvested it." So I want to tell you about the apples, so that they won't be just anonymous.

Some are Golden Delicious and some are Jonagolds, which is a cross between Golden Delicious and Jonathon. Jonagolds are large apples, with yellow skin and red stripes. Golden Delicious are golden, but more plain-colored. Golden Delicious apples are from a farm in Philo, at the headwaters of the Navarro River the ocean, which means there are sea breezes, salt air, cool evenings, and hot days. The farm is operated by Tim Bates and his family, and they themselves helped harvest the apples. Their orchards are very old, the first Golden Delicious to be planted in California. Some are almost 60 years old. The roots making these apples are very deep.

The Jonagolds are from a farm called Oz, which is near the ocean, off the Garcia River, one of the few rivers in California that still has salmon. A few days ago our friends there celebrated their daughter's birthday by inviting her and her friends to pick these apples for us.

Apple trees, miraculously enough, can make apples, which is not something that any of us can do. A famous photographer once said that the best photographer is only as good as the cheapest camera. In this case, the best cook is only as good as the apple. None of us have the capacity to make an apple, so we can only taste in awe how apples know how to make apples—how to turn earth, sun, light, sky, air, and water into apples. Thay has said that the leaves of 30 apples are needed to make one apple. We are like that too, making each other into apples.

Apples are sincere—not pretentious, chic, or stylish. The apples are not in pretty boxes lined up across supermarket shelves, saying, "Buy me, buy me. I'm quick and easy." Apples bring you what you bring them. If you let the apple enter your heart, you will taste it and know its virtue. Knowing its virtue, you will taste and know your own virtue, your own good-heartedness.

Apples are part of the rose family, and if we are attentive, we can actually taste the rose in them. To eat an apple intimately, we give it our full attention. To become intimate with anything or anyone takes time and attention. To receive the gift of the apple, we have to give it our full awareness. I would like to share one of Rilke's sonnets:

Round apple, smooth banana, melon, gooseberry, peach. How all this affluence speaks, death and life in the mouth. I sense, observe it in a child's transparent features while she tastes. This comes from far away. What miracle is happening in your mouth while you eat. Instead of words, discoveries flow out, astonished to be free. Dare to say what apple truly is, this sweetness that feels thick, dark, dense at first, then exquisitely lifted in your taste, grows clarified, awake, luminous, double meaninged, sunny, earthy, real. Oh knowledge, pleasure, joy inexhaustible.

Bon appetit.

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Ed Brown is a Zen priest, photographer, and the author of The Tassajara Bread Book, The Tassajara Recipe Book, and the forthcoming Potato Fiascoes and Radish Teachings (Riverhead Books). This apple meditation was offered at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in northern California during the October Day of Mindfulness. This version of the by Rilke is based on a translation by Stephen Mitchell.

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Poem: Cucumbers

The cucumber slice stares back at me,
starburst mandala of seeds and flesh.

I fork it slowly into my mouth,
aware of arm, muscle, movement,
the glint of sunlight on the fruit,
then its coolness in my mouth.
How many cucumbers have I eaten in my life?
I think of cucumber and tomato salads
with red onions and feta cheese,
of cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches
eaten on creekside summer picnics
with my wife and children and friends,
of countless salads
punctuated by cucumber chunks.
How little respect I’ve shown this humble food.
How rarely I’ve seen what it really is,
this smooth green tube of encased coolness:
my body, my arm lifting the fork,
my heart loving this life, that very love.

Bob Speer, True Silent Voice, lives in Chico, California and practices with the Slowly Ripening Sangha. He was ordained into the Order of Interbeing during the winter retreat.

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Always at the Beginning

My First Retreat Experience By Haven Tobias

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A friend and I set out from Oklahoma, bound for the Rocky Mountains, and my first mindfulness retreat. Two years before I knew nothing of Buddhism or Thich Nhat Hanh. Now, I still feel uninformed, but trust my friend, Marla, and my well-intentioned beginner’s mind to carry me through.

Well, okay, part of me trusts my own mind. The other part of me can’t decide what to worry about first.

Meals are high on the list of frets. What is mindful eating? At home, breakfast is whatever I can slice into a baggie and eat while driving. Lunch is at my desk, with the phone, computer, and files. I eat dinner in four and a half minutes in front of the TV, with a fork in one hand, remote in the other, and the day’s mail and newspaper spread out on the coffee table. Silent meals, I know how to do. I live alone. But, for precisely that reason, when two conditions arise together, food and people, I turn into a chatterbox. Could I be quiet?

When I’ve exhausted the subject of meals, worrying about room arrangements is another diversion. How can I share one room with four other women? I’ve had ten rooms to myself for a dozen years.

I didn’t want to bother Marla with these worries, but every once in a while when she’d hear me sigh a deep sigh, she’d say, “Breathe and smile. This is going to be fun.”

We arrive at the retreat and learn we’ve been assigned different rooms. I’ve lost my guide! I’m on my own! PANIC!

But it’s evening, and I decide against thumbing a ride home. Instead, I make my way to the cafeteria. The food is plentiful and looks good. I’m hungry. I’ve got to try a little of this, and this, and that. I make my way to a table, plop down, and look around. Hundreds of people are eating in silence. I notice people bow­ing and smiling when they sit down or get up. I also notice that not everyone does this and realize I don’t know when to bow, to whom, or why.

Suddenly, a bell sounds. Is it a fire drill? No, nobody’s moving. In fact, everybody has stopped. If it were possible for this room full of people to be quieter, it is. Then, everybody starts slowly chewing again.

Marla comes to my table. What luck! She bows and smiles, so I bow and smile back. But we don’t speak, of course. I remember she told me to chew everything thirty times. I eat. Suddenly it occurs to me that I have been chewing and smiling and bowing for a long time. So how come there is still such a pile of food on my plate? Marla was done long ago and waits patiently. I write a note on my napkin. Do I have to stay until I have eaten every­thing on my plate? I slip it to Marla. She smiles and shakes her head. As I bus my tray, I feel I’ve failed my first test. I am a glutton, and not even a successful one. I didn’t eat everything. I just took it, then threw it away.

After dinner there’s an orientation. Hundreds of people pour into the meditation hall. People are milling about, greeting each other, finding places to sit. Then it is still and there he is, just one of the people on the stage, dressed like the other monastics. He sits off to the side by a large bell. I recognize Thich Hanh, not because anything is said or done to call attention to him, but because he looks like his picture on the book Marla had in the car.

The orientation, introducing us to the theme “I have arrived, I am home,” is wonderful, but when it concludes I am tired. I go to my room and crawl gratefully into my upper bunk bed.

My eyes are just shutting, when, bang, they are suddenly wide open and my mind has started in again. I never heard Thich Nhat Hanh introduced. I could swear I heard people refer to him as “Thai.” I still don’t know much, but I thought he was from Vietnam, not Thailand. What if I run into him tomorrow? What do I call him? Your Holiness? Mr. Thich Nhat Hanh? Mr. Thich? Or Mr. Hanh?

We waken at five a. m. I let my roommates get ready first, while seriously contemplating staying in bed to avoid embarrassing myself. But I realize I probably can’t stay in bed for five days. I’m too shy to go to the meditation hall, so I dress warmly and sit outside as the darkness rolls away and light outlines the mountains. I walk alone to breakfast and when I get brave enough to look up, I see a nun with a kind face coming towards me. I decide to trust. I stop her and ask whether it is appropriate to bother her with a question, especially a really stupid question.

I am so agitated over polite forms of address, I have com­pletely forgotten we are still within the period of noble silence. Despite this, the nun smiles and nods encouragement, so I ask, “What is the name of Thich Nhat Hanh and why do some people call him Thai?”

Her smile grows, turning what is already a lovely face into the face of an angel. “That,” she says, “is a very good question.” “Thank you for asking.” Then she explains that his students call him the Vietnamese word for teacher, “Thay.” Her sweetness is like wings on my heels, and I float off. I can’t get over it. She THANKED me for my question! That morning I decide I want to be his student too.

At breakfast, I resolve to be reasonable in the presence of all this wonderful food, and take less than I am tempted to. An hour passes, and after much chewing: twenty-six, chew; twenty-seven, chew; twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty. I have finished! I have wasted nothing. I smile.

I am learning. But I have bigger lessons ahead of me.

Doing it All

On that first day, I want to do everything. I plan it all out. I can rush lunch, run back to the room, grab my bathing suit, run by the bookstore on the way to the pool, get to the pool in time to do some laps, dress again, then make it back for the slide show, and hurry to join my Dharma discussion group.

I am on the brink of jumping into the water, when I hear a shrill whistle. “Evacuate the pool,” the lifeguard orders. “There is heavy lightning in the vicinity. There will be no swimming for at least an hour.” Well, phooey! I could have eaten lunch prop­erly and enjoyed it. I could have passed an enjoyable half-hour in the bookstore, instead of barreling through. I could have sat quietly and…

Come to think of it, I can sit quietly now. I can just sit down and take stock. Let’s see. What’s the bad news? I’m worrying. Just like home. I’m over-planning. Just like home. I’m frustrated I can’t do it all and have it all, just like home.

The good news? If I had left my worrying, planning, frus­trated self behind, I might not have come to this moment, when, after making mistakes, I realize I can learn from them. In fact, if I can learn from a mistake, can it be a mistake? Does a person who never makes a mistake learn anything? After all, it’s not called mindfulness perfection; it’s called mindfulness practice.

If everything one does and says is an opportunity to practice, then a beginner is not less worthy than an old hand. In fact, it is good to be a beginner, to have the opportunity to start over in every moment.

The last morning of the retreat, Marla and I and many others commit to the five mindfulness trainings and learn our Dharma names. The monks who guided my discussion group chose the name Embracing Freshness of the Heart for me. How could they have known me so well in such a short time? My Dharma name is one of the best gifts I have ever received. Every day, I begin by smiling to my name, and vow to embrace freshness.

At my first retreat, I learned it does not matter if my last step was a misstep, because the last step leads to the next. Each can be a mindful step toward patience and compassion, for myself, and others.

mb39-Always2Haven Tobias, Embracing Freshness of the Heart, lives in Norman, Oklahoma and practices with the Norman Meditation Group Sangha. She has practiced law for thirty-two years, and she is happy practicing mindfulness now

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No-Bake Prison Brownies

By Ricky mb44-Nobake1

Ingredients

20-24 cookies (any small chocolate cookie with a vanilla or chocolate icing in the middle, such as Oreo, Chocolate Crème, or Double Fudge) 1 Hershey Bar (plain or with almonds) Chocolate syrup

Preparation

  1. Separate the icing from the middle of the cookies and put it in a small bowl. You will need it later.
  2. In a mixing bowl crush the cookies as finely as possible.
  3. In the same mixing bowl break the Hershey Bar into small pieces. Stir the candy bar and cookies together.
  4. Add chocolate syrup (a little bit at a time) to the mixture and stir evenly. To thoroughly blend contents, use a spoon and press the mixture down into the bowl. There should be enough chocolate syrup so that when you roll the mixture into a ball it holds together without being too wet.
  5. With the mixture rolled into a ball, form the brownie into a small cereal bowl.
  6. Set the bowl on a fluorescent light or another warm surface for 2-3 hours. This will heat the brownie and melt the chocolate chunks inside.
  7. Take the cookie icing and add a small amount of warm water (about a teaspoon) and stir thoroughly. You want the consistency of cake frosting. Spread evenly on top of the brownie.
  8. Enjoy!

Brownie Meditation

Let’s enjoy our brownie together.

Pick up the bowl and hold it in your hands. Take a nice long look at your brownie and smile. Take your time, we’re in no hurry.

Notice the color and texture of the icing. Smell it and notice the sweetness.

Now, cut out a small piece, or use a spoon and scoop out a little bite. Again, look at it and notice the colors and texture.

Do you see the chunks of chocolate inside? Let’s think about the chocolate for a minute.

Think about the cocoa beans that were used to make it. Maybe they grew in Brazil or Columbia. Think how the sun shined down on them, and the rain fell to help them grow. The earth nourished them from the roots so the beans would be just right.

Consider the farmer who picked the beans. He or she has a family and a village of people who know him, who know her, and because we have received these cocoa beans, we’re connected to them, too.

Imagine the boat that delivered the beans. Maybe they came by truck. Consider the driver. I wonder what his name was, what her name was.

What about the gas and oil the boat or truck used? Perhaps it came from Iraq or Saudi Arabia. That’s halfway around the planet from where we’re sitting right now.

Let’s think about the processing plant where the chocolate was made, and all the people who work there. Think about the sugar that was added to make the chocolate sweet and the milk from a cow somewhere.

Even the scientists who invented the preservatives to keep our cookies fresh in the package — they’re involved in this whole process, too.

It’s as if the entire cosmos has come together to provide us with this brownie that we’re enjoying. It was all done for our pleasure. We are connected to everything and everyone in this vast universe in which we exist. Let’s thank them all and smile.

Now, let’s take a bite. Just let it sit in our mouth for a few seconds before we begin to chew. Notice how our mouth begins to water as it receives the bite of brownie. Do you taste the chocolate or the icing first? Slowly begin to chew and notice how all the flavors blend together for our enjoyment. We can’t help but be grateful.

Continue to chew slowly until it completely dissolves, and then swallow.

As we take another bite, let’s wish happiness for ourselves. Let’s think about our body as it digests our brownie. Let’s thank our body for all the miracles that take place inside it every second of every day.

When we take our next bite, let’s offer it to all beings everywhere throughout this world and beyond. Let’s wish them all peace and happiness. We can continue to feel the interconnectedness and to hold that loving-kindness in our heart as we go about the rest of our day.

Truly, life is a precious gift. Deep bows to all.

Submitted by Terry Masters, True Action and Virtue, from Austin, Texas, where she leads a sangha at the Lockhart Community Justice Center. She writes, “Ricky is famous in the prison for his Prison Brownies. He brought some to our meditation the other day and I offered Thây’s eating meditation. I suggested he share the recipe. So the next week he brought the recipe — and the meditation he wrote.”

“Ricky experimented for years with the ingredients and the procedure for preparing and ‘cooking’ the brownies. The ingredients are hard to come by. Each prison has a concession; prisoners can work to earn a little bit of money at the prison — things like sweeping or cleaning the toilets — or their families can send them a little money. Inmates then must earn the right to visit the concession, which in some prisons is open only from 3 to 4 a.m. Ricky purchases all the ingredients for his brownies at the concession. He ‘cooks’ the brownies on the fluorescent lamp in his cell because that is, of course, his only source of heat. He says he adds love with each ingredient, with each step of the preparation. Then he shares generously.”

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Sangha News

mb48-SanghaNews1 Thay Rewrites the Five Contemplations

In view of the statistics showing that more greenhouse gases are produced by factory farming than any other single factor, Thay has changed the wording of the fourth of the Five Contemplations that we use as part of a mindful meal.

The Contemplations now read as follows:

This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard work.

May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.

May we transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed.

May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet, and reverse the process of global warming.

We accept this food so that we may nurture our sisterhood and brotherhood, strengthen our sangha and nourish our ideal of serving all beings.

Sister Annabel, True Virtue October 2007

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New Dharma Teachers Ordained at Plum Village

On January 9, 2008, Plum Village held a Grand Ordination Ceremony called Earth-Refreshing. The following lay Dharmacharyas received the Lamp Transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh:

  • Charles Al Lingo, True Seal of Virtue, U.S.A.
  • Cheryll Ann Maples, True Precious Mindfulness Trainings, U.S.A.
  • Eevi Elizabeth Beck, Practice of True Compassion, Norway
  • Ger Levert, True Ocean of Peace, The Netherlands
  • Seijja Mauro, True Jewel of Compassion, Finland

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Cheri Maples’ Gatha

Breathing in, I know that mindfulness is the path to peace. Breathing out, I know that peace is the path to mindfulness.

Breathing in, I know that peace is the path to justice. Breathing out, I know that justice is the path to peace.

Breathing in, I know my duty is to provide safety & protection to all beings. Breathing out, I am humbled and honored by my duty as a peace officer.

Breathing in, I choose mindfulness as my armor & compassion as my weapon. Breathing out, I aspire to bring love and understanding to all I serve.

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Q & A about Blue Cliff

During a recent visit to Blue Cliff Monastery, we had the opportunity to ask Brother Phap Vu some questions about the new practice center.

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Tell us what you know of the history of this place.

This was told to me by Corky Jeronimo, the former owner. The Jeronimo family lived in New York City, but during the 1940s there was a wave of anti-Cuban, anti-Latino sentiment and Corky’s parents decided to move out of the city. At that time the Catskills was a very popular place for city folk to escape to, especially on the weekend.

This was an existing farm — basically a house and a barn. The original house, in which Corky grew up, is still intact; we call it the Farmhouse. It shows up on late nineteenth-century maps, so it has to be at least a hundred years old. The original barn was eventually converted into the main building.

As the family settled in, relatives and friends would come up to visit. Eventually the parents decided to start a get-away resort. As time went on the various buildings were built, one at a time, then swimming pools and tennis courts.

Why did the Jeronimos decide to sell?

Most decisions there were several factors, including economics, but mostly they wanted to retire and unload a cow.

What did you do after you bought it?

We had to pour more money into it for some basic renovations such as the kitchen, laundry room, and Harmony Meditation Hall, which was an indoor swimming pool. In the main building we took out the bar and lounge for the main dining room. We renovated Jade Candle Meditation Hall to make it larger and added on a bathroom–shower block. We also did a little work on the Farmhouse, adding a bathroom and bedroom downstairs. We took an old barn down and built a storage building.

All of the rooms in all the buildings had large double or queen size beds as well as television. We had to get rid of the beds and the televisions. We started to get the word out in the local community that there were old beds and TVs to be had; not too many responded but eventually we got rid of them. In place we put bunk beds.

We also established trails in the forest with benches and bridges and a stone staircase for people to enjoy. We planted bushes and trees. We turned the outdoor swimming pool into a garden. Much of this needed to be done but we also did it in preparation for the big retreat with Thay [in October 2007].

Not only did we do all this but there were the basic maintenance issues — such as bathroom doors that didn’t close or didn’t lock. I trimmed about fifteen doors and changed close to twenty door knobs. I also repaired several toilets that needed parts; I had to rebuild two completely. Some roof work had to be done, some still need repairs. Some of the decking on the buildings was rotting and some of the beams and railings had to be replaced; they still need some more work. Two of the main water lines broke, one just before the October retreat.

What plans do you have for future work?

What future work — we’re broke!

In the monks’ residence we are currently converting the garage into a kitchen and adding on a dining hall. Mostly we will be looking to do some repair and renovation on the existing buildings; they certainly need it. Each building has its own issues that need to be addressed — you know, like sanghas. But with a little loving care... !

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Overall the buildings really need to be better insulated. The Jeronimos didn’t operate during the winter months so the buildings lose a lot of heat, which is very expensive in terms of fuel. We are beginning to look into green technologies and strategies to bring the cost down and help Mother Nature a bit. I do see that eventually we could turn to alternative energy sources, but one step at a time.

What is Thay’s vision for Blue Cliff Monastery?

Thay sees New York City as an acupuncture point for America and therefore wishes that the monastic sangha in BCM develop a strong practice in order to make that acupuncture point effective. This is why some of the older brothers and sisters have been brought in to support the practice. I think it is essential.

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mb48-SanghaNews7For this current year we are mostly concerned with building brotherhood and sisterhood here at BCM. This is a new territory for the monastics; in Plum Village the brothers’ hamlet and sisters’ hamlet are kilometers away. Even at Deer Park the hamlets are clearly separated, but this is not the case here. So we are learning how to be a more integrated community. It is really going to take a change in perspective. Think about it, we come from a tradition where for centuries monks and nuns are separated. Now we are here together. Formally, Thay has established two hamlets here: one for the brothers and one for the sisters. In actuality it comes down to two residences: one residence for the brothers and one residence for the sisters. This is due not to an idea of what a monastery is or isn’t or what it should be or what it shouldn’t be but to sheer practicality of the property.

mb48-SanghaNews8Geography plays an important role in forming societies and cultures. Here the question of what I am attached to is very relevant. More specifically, what perspectives, understandings, reactions, and decisions come out of that attachment? The teachings of the Madhyamaka school need to come forward — getting beyond categories and distinctions, little boxes that we sort the world of experience into and fool ourselves into thinking this is truth, this is happiness.

 

—Janelle Combelic, True Lotus Meditation

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