Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Ritual of Food

A ritual is a great container for helping us to appreciate our life.

We all have our own different rituals throughout the day, however small. The way we stir our cup of tea each time. The way we brush our teeth last thing at night. All ritualistic.

There was a study last year in Psychological Science that had researcher Kathleen D Vohs experiment with chocolate. Half the participants ripped off the wrapper and quickly ate. The other half slowly unwrapped the bar in a ritualistic manner, finding the bar more tasty and longer lasting. They were being aware of what they were doing!
They conducted the same experiment with lemonade and carrots, with the same results. Its not surprising really, if we take more care, we appreciate more.

Monastic life has been aware of the benefit of ritual with food for thousands of years. In Zen Temples and Monasteries ritual is always used to cultivate awareness and to appreciate where our food comes from. Even our shortest mealtime ceremony uses :

First, this food is for the Three Treasures.
Second, it is for our Teachers, Parents, Nation and All Sentient Beings.
Third, it is for all beings in the six worlds.
Thus, we eat this food with everyone.
We eat to stop evil,
To practice good,
To save all sentient beings
And to accomplish our Buddha Way.

If we read that again but this time carefully read every word. Can we see the difference that makes? If we take our time with words in ritual the meaning becomes more powerful.
We eat to save all beings. If we say that in a meditative ritual the words become so very powerful, giving a new perspective on how and where food comes from.

Our formal mealtime ceremony is called Oryoki, the photo above is how we set up our bowls while sitting in meditation. Oryoki demands that we consider the food and the act of eating  in relationship with everything else. We consider how the food got into the bowl. The 'Seventy Two Labours' of the Farmer, Truck Driver, Shop Assistant, Cook, Server and so many unseen helpers are appreciated.
We consider the craftsman who made our shiny black bowls and thank the Mango tree for using its timber. We eat our food and give thanks to all who are involved in this moment of Oryoki. Our neighbour sat on the cushion next to us plays an active part in our ritual, we are all in this together, Oryoki is all of us.

Oryoki is a beautiful ceremony, a beautiful ritual for appreciating our food and our life. It is the culinary version of the Tea Ceremony. When we eat our food we just eat. When we drink tea we just drink.

Oryoki means 'Just Enough'. Greed has no part in the ceremony. We eat to live and give wholehearted thanks for our food.

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