A Buddhist master had a cook who was a simple man. One day, the cook burned his hand while preparing a meal and suddenly achieved the Buddhist goal of enlightenment, as the nature of all existence became clear to him. Excited, he asked the master what he should do next.
"Keep cooking," came the answer.
The story comes from Tibetan lamas by way of Lama Surya Das, a Buddhist teacher and author in Cambridge, who values its elemental wisdom: You don't need a house of worship to encounter the spiritual; it's found in the pattern of daily living, such as cooking the food we need. (Emily Dickinson made the same point in a poem, though not about food, that Das likes to cite: "Some keep the Sabbath going to Church -/I keep it, staying at Home -/With a bobolink for a Chorister -/And an Orchard, for a Dome.")
The story of the cook is Das's contribution in a forthcoming anthology, "Bread, Body, Spirit," which draws on numerous traditions and their takes on eating. Explaining the motivation behind the volume, editor Alice Peck, writes in the introduction: "Everybody needs to eat, to be nourished. It's simple. It's unending. Food presents us with a vast opportunity: through our experiences of food we can sustain a constant connection to the Sacred that pervades our lives."
Glimpsing the divine in a hot dog won't surprise devout believers who say grace before every meal; gratitude for plenty in a world where many starve is a recognition of blessing. Yet "Bread, Body, Spirit" includes contributions from outside organized religion. "Since You Asked," a poem by Williams College English professor Lawrence Raab, comes from the pen of a self-described agnostic.
The poem ponders an imaginary dinner attended by "everyone you expected, then others as well:/friends who never became your friends,/the women you didn't marry, all their children./And the dead -I didn't tell you/but they're always included in these gatherings."
Reached on his cellphone during what Dickinson might call a moment of mundane spirituality, walking his dog, Raab says that as a nonbeliever, "what's sacred [in the poem] would be the communion of one's self and one's family and friends, extended imaginarily outward" to include phantoms from an existence that might have been. The only overt reference to religion and food in this particular poem is a playful mention about multiplying "wine and chickens." Tweaking the Christian story of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fish was a bit of "sly humor" aimed at his Jewish brother-in-law, Raab explains.
The spiritual backgrounds of the contributors are as diverse as cuisine. Das's biography, for example, contains as much kosher as karma. Born Jeffrey Miller in Brooklyn 57 years ago and bar mitzvahed on Long Island, he quips that he's "Jewish on my parents' side." Study and tragic experience (he knew one of the students shot by National Guardsmen at Kent State in 1970) drew him to Eastern religions, and he became a Buddhist.
Julius Lester is the son of a Methodist minister who found Judaism in midlife. His essay in the book, "Braiding Challah," describes how he used to bake the Shabbat (Sabbath) bread on Fridays. A retired academic who lives in Belchertown, Lester had been intrigued by Judaism since learning as a boy that his maternal greatgrandfather was Jewish. As an adult, he had a vision in which he was Jewish and happy. He converted in the early 1980s.
His essay highlights one of the many ritualized uses to which religions put food. "Cooking for Shabbat each week," Lester writes, "I am becoming a part of the Jewish people. Every dish I cook has been cooked and eaten on Shabbat for centuries." But it's his second sentence that leaps at a reader: "Judaism is not in the knowing; it is in the physicality of doing."
Downplaying knowledge seems an odd stance for an intellectual writing about an intellectually storied religion. Yet in an interview, Lester noted that Jewish ethical teaching stresses mitzvot, the commandments to moral conduct.
His is also one of the more mouth-watering entries in the book. "I especially like the Sephardic dishes like fassoulia, a simple but delicious stew of beef, green beans, and pearl onions, or lamb tangine, a lamb stew with prunes, and almonds."(Rich Barlow The Boston Globe 2008-05-31)
After the grueling work of hunting and gathering, small groups of humans sat together around a roaring fire. They shared food and stories, developing unity and group spirit. Food was survival and community, and the people knew where the food came from and the effort it took to get it home. Today, in the world of vending machines, instant pudding, and microwave meals, things often arent as clear.Peck, whose other anthology, Next to Godliness: Finding the Sacred in Housekeeping, has gathered articles, poems, and essays from publications throughout the world that center on how people honor the act of growing, preparing, eating, or abstaining from food. Memoirist and food writer Betty Fussell describes battling a live eel that has a Rasputinlike will to live. Essayist Alison Luterman considers how " every strawberry she had ever eaten had been picked by calloused human hands.” Islamic studies professor, Omid Safi, reminisces about the gooey, sweet, date omelets his mother rose early to cook on Ramadan mornings to fortify the family before the day-long fast.Each section of the book is a meditation focused on the different facets of gardening, feasting, fasting, serving, cooking, eating, composting, and being grateful.(cosmik-debris.net Blog)
Have you ever had a meal that completely transcended the food - one that perhaps even bordered on a spiritual experience? What was it about that meal that blurred the lines between sacred and every day? Was it the beauty of the food itself? The fractal swirls of color and texture in a sliced onion or beet? Was it a meal where the food served as a ritual extension of a holiday, like dipping warm challah into salt or honey on Shabbat? Or was it the company and conversation that heightened the meal to the next level?
These are the questions asked in Alice Peck's new interfaith food anthology, Bread, Body, Spirit.
As someone who majored in Environmental Studies with a focus on Religion (yay, Middlebury!), I’ve read more than my fair share of self-indulgent, eco-spiritual anthologies. Granted I *loved* them, but if I wasn’t entrenched in that world, they would have completely bored me. With an eye for emotion over academia and a collection of powerhouse contributors like Barbara Kingsolver, Wendell Berry, Thich Nhat Hahn, and Rabbi Zalman Schachter- Shalom, Bread, Body, Spirit offers a completely accessible and engaging set of short stories, poems, and religious texts that made me laugh and feel well equipped with "Torah" to bring to my own dinner table.
Below the jump: An excerpt from Bread, Body, Spirit and a chance to Win a Copy.(Leah Koenig Hazon: The Jew and The Carrot Blog 2008-08-01)
About the Author
Alice Peck is an innovative editor and writer. She serves as a consultant to many published authors and produced screenwriters. She spent years writing, developing and acquiring material for broadcast and cable television as well as feature films before devoting herself to writing and editing books.
Diane Ackerman has written five collections of poems and several books of nonfiction, including A Natural History of the Senses.
Rabi'a al-Adwayiyya (c. 800) is considered a major saint of Islam and one of the central figures of the Sufi tradition.
Barbara Tanner Angell was the author of several collections of poetry, including The Long Turn toward Light and Games and Puzzles.
Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei, is the vice-abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery and the branch president of the Zen Center of New York City, and also manages the National Buddhist Prison Sangha. His teachings have appeared in various journals and in The Best Buddhist Writing 2005.
The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows is an Episcopal priest and sustainable food advocate in Syracuse, New York. Her essay, "Lemon Love," is dedicated to Dana Peak, who understands well the endurance of love and friendship.
Michael Benedikt's (1935–2007) books of poetry include Night Cries, Mole Notes, Sky, and The Body. He was the recipient of a New York State Council for the Arts Grant, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and an NEA Fellowship.
Wendell Berry has been honored with the T. S. Elliot Award, the Aiken Taylor Award for poetry, and the John Hay Award of the Orion Society. Author of more than forty books of poetry, fiction, and essays, Berry has farmed a hillside in his native Henry County, Kentucky, with his wife, for more than forty years.
Edward Espe Brown began cooking and practicing Zen in 1965 and was ordained as a priest by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi in 1971. He is the author of several cookbooks, including The Tassajara Bread Book and Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings. He is also the editor of Not Always So, a collection of lectures by Shunryu Suzuki.
Martin Buber (1878–1965), is among the foremost twentieth-century philosophers of human relations and Jewish thought. He is best known for his revival of popular interest in Hasidism and his philosophy of dialogue, a form of existentialism centered on the distinction between the I-Thou and I-It relationships. His work on Hasidic thought, Zionism and religious philosophy continues to influence both the academic study of Judaism and religious thinking more broadly. He also inspired the trend toward neo-Hasidism among modern Jews. His books include I and Thou, Tales of the Hasidim, On Judaism and many others.
Elias Canetti (1905–94) was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1981. His most important works, all written in German, are the novel Auto-Da-Fé and Crowds and Power.
Lynn L. Caruso is an inspiring educator, writer, parent/child advocate and mother of three children. A contributing writer to Mothering magazine, her work has been published in many other national journals and magazines. Caruso is also the editor of the first-of-its-kind Blessing the Animals: Prayers and Ceremonies to Celebrate God's Creatures, Wild and Tame and Honoring Motherhood: Prayers, Ceremonies & Blessings (SkyLight Paths).
Joan Chittister, OSB, is an international lecturer and award-winning author of more than thirty-five books, including The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully. She is founder and executive director of Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary spirituality located in Erie, Pennsylvania. She serves as co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women and the Network of Spiritual Progressives.
Laurie Colwin (1944–1992) was the author of Passion and Affect; Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object; Happy All the Time; The Lone Pilgrim; Family Happiness; Another Marvelous Thing; Home Cooking; Goodbye without Leaving; More Home Cooking; and A Big Storm Knocked It Over.
Amanda Cook began writing because words have always been a path of discovery for her. After a few pit stops in Africa and Australia, Amanda is back at home in Toronto with her large, noisy, extended family, which provides her with all the fodder she needs to discover the icing in the middle of everyday life.
Mary Beth Crain is the senior editor of SoMA: A Review of Religion and Culture. She is an established Southern California writer/editor and author of A Widow, a Chihuahua, and Harry Truman; and, with Terry Lynn Taylor, the best-selling Angel Wisdom. She is currently a contributing writer for L.A. Weekly.
Ram Dass has served on the faculty at Stanford and Harvard universities. In the 1960s, he traveled to India, where he met his guru. Since then, he has pursued a variety of spiritual practices and written many books, including the international bestsellers Be Here Now, Paths to God, and How Can I Help?
Marc David is a nutritional psychologist and author of The Slow Down Diet and Nourishing Wisdom: A Mind-Body Approach to Nutrition and Well-Being.
Zen Master Eihei Dogen (1200–1253) was the founder of the Soto School of Zen and among the first teachers to transmit Zen Buddhism from China to Japan.
Johannes Eckhart, more commonly known as Meister Eckhart (1260–1327), was a member of the Dominican Order and taught all over Europe. He was one of the great speculative mystics who sought to reconcile traditional Christian beliefs with the transcendental metaphysics of Neo-Platonism.
Marcia Falk is a poet, translator, and Judaic scholar. She is the author of The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival; The Song of Songs: Love Lyrics from the Bible; and two books of her own poetry, It Is July in Virginia and My Son Likes Weather.
Rick Fields (1942–1999) was a respected journalist and leading authority on American Buddhism. He published several books, including How the Swans Came to the Lake and is coauthor of Instructions to the Cook.
Betty Fussell is the author of nine books, including I Hear America Cooking and My Kitchen Wars.
Kahlil Gibran (1883–1931) was an artist, a poet, and a writer. His books include The Prophet, Sand and Foam, The Earth Gods, and The Wanderer.
Father John Giuliani is an internationally exhibited artist whose works blend Native American images with Christian iconography. He oversees the Benedictine Grange in West Redding, Connecticut, which he founded in 1977.
Bernard Glassman is the abbot of the Zen Community of New York and also the Zen Center of Los Angeles. He is a former aerospace engineer, the cofounder of the Zen Peacemaker Order, and author or coauthor of several books, including Instructions to the Cook.
Jane Goodall is the world's foremost authority on chimpanzees. An internationally renowned conservationist, she is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and has received many distinguished awards in science. Dr. Goodall is also the author of many acclaimed books, including Reason for Hope.
Diana Abu-Jaber is the author of two novels, Crescent, which was awarded the 2004 PEN Center USA Award for Literary Fiction, and Arabian Jazz, which won the 1994 Oregon Book Award. She is also the author of The Language of Baklava: A Memoir.
Lama Surya Das, one of the foremost Western Buddhist leaders and teachers, is author of the best-selling Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World and other books. Founder of the Dzogchen Meditation Centers in America, he also organizes the Western Buddhist Teachers Conferences with the Dalai Lama.