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three spirits

Cultural Quintessence

Japan In-depth

Kateigaho International Edition

three spirits


Soybean and brown rice porridge
"Takuan" pickles (daikon radish)
Black sesame salt
Lotus root "kinpira" (with carrots, deep-fried tofu,and peas)


Barley rice
Potato, "wakame" (edible seaweed), and bean sprout "miso" soup
Lightly pickled Chinese cabbage and carrots
"Gomoku mame" (boiled soybeans, "kombu" kelp, carrots, corn, green beans, and "shiitake" mushrooms), Simmered daikon radish with sweet "miso" sauce garnished with radish sprouts and citron rind

photography by Kotaro Ishiyama

In a Zen establishment, hot plum water is offered to a visitor arriving from afar. Honey and sugar are dissolved in hot water and a pickled plum with the seed removed is proffered between the points of chopsticks. The visitor first steeps the plum briefly in the honey water. He then removes and eats it before drinking the water. The sourness of the plum and the sweetness of the water relieve the fatigue of the journey. At a proper interval after the drink has produced repose, sweets and tea are brought to the visitor.

Among the Zen parables for meditation (koan) is one called "Just Drinking Tea" (Kissako).
When a disciple came to an eminent Zen sage with questions, the sage replied, "Have a cup of tea." He meant that tea represents Zen spirit: he who tastes it tastes Zen.
Can the reader detect the heart of Zen in the steam of plum tea?

When the Meal Wheel turns, so too does the Wheel of Dharma

Zen in a Grain of Rice

Buddhism contains an injuntion against killing any living creature. This is why devotional cooking, known as shojin ryori, contains neither fish nor flesh. It also avoids strongly scented vegetables, such as onions, leeks, and garlic, on the grounds that they obstruct devotions. But restrictions on ingredients are not the crux of devotional cooking. Being vegetarian is not enough. Preparations must fully bring out the flavors of ingredients without wasting even the skins or rinds. The knowledge of the Zen chef extends to making palatable dishes of parts that are thrown away in ordinary cooking. The Zen kitchen was a pioneer of ecology seven and a half centuries ago.

The cook must constantly remember Dogen's "three spirits". The "happy spirit" feels joy and gratitude at the privilege of being assigned the worthy task of cooking, an opportunity to follow the true way. The "venerable spirit" calls upon a kind heart in the pursuit of food that will please the diner. The "great spirit" does not flinch from the smallest detail and offers unwavering help in the unshakable quest for improvement.

Breakfast in a Zen temple centers upon okayu, a rice porridge. The chef himself prepares it slowly in a large kettle. Dogen wrote that it should be called okayu, with the first syllable added to indicate respect. He admonished devotees to approach the food with hands brought together in a gesture and spirit of reverence and gratitude for growers, producers, merchants, and cooks.

Transferred from kettle to bucket, the porridge is placed before the kitchen statue of the Buddha. The chef, having changed to priestly dress, conducts rituals of respect (Dogen's "nine obeisances to de-votional food") before sending porridge to table.

Then the monk acting as waiter takes the bucket to the meditation hall, which is also the dining hall. There the monks in formal dress wait in Zen meditation. After an offering is made to the statue of the Buddha in the meditation hall, the okayu can be served. Both server and diner bring hands together. Buddhist law comes to life in the sincerity of exchange between giver and receiver. After a reading from the scripture the monks bring their bowls to their foreheads in a mark of respect and begin their breakfast.

Chokoku-ji, Eihei-ji Tokyo
2-22-34 Nishiazabu, Minato-ku,Tokyo 106-0031
Tel. 03-3400-5232

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