Archive for August 17th, 2009

daigaku oryoki


When I was first exposed to real Zen practice I was initially struck, and eventually awed at the deep ecological wisdom that is central to life within a Zen monastic community. Not merely taught, but lived.

The supposedly simple act of taking a meal is done in a way that grounds the practitioner in awareness of ecological fundamentals three times a day, every day. I’d like to walk through parts of the Zen practice of oryoki to review those ecological lessons.

The meal begins with a chant done as group in the meal hall, or during monthly sessions of intensive practice, in the Zen hall. The first three lines of one version of the chant is as follows:

First, seventy-two labours brought us this food;

These meal chants are ancient. They date from a time when monasteries grew most of their own food, or at most got it directly from the person who grew it. The “seventy-two labours” did not refer to the clerks and truckers that are now part of our food chain. They referred to the sun, the rain, the insect pollinators, the earthworms, the entire web of living and non-living elements that make up the biosphere.



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