Zen Master Bernie Glassman passed away yesterday. What a loss.

He is a living example of a great Bodhisattva living his life actualizing anatta and Maha total exertion in activity, integrating Zen practice with social action, benefitting many sentient beings.

Zen master Bernie Glassman, "Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master's Lessons to Living a Life That Matters"
PROLOGUE PREPARING THE MENU
When I first began to study Zen, my teacher gave me a koan, a Zen question, to answer: “How do you go further from the top of a hundred-foot pole?”
You can’t use your rational mind to answer this koan—or any Zen question—in a logical way.
You might meditate a long time and come back to the Zen master and say, “The answer is to live fully.”
That’s a good beginning. But it’s only the rational, logical part of the answer. You have to go further. You have to demonstrate the answer. You have to embody the answer. You have to show the Zen master how you live fully in the moment. You have to manifest the answer in your life—in your everyday relationships, in the marketplace, at work, as well as in the temple or meditation hall.
When we live our life fully, our life becomes what Zen Buddhists call “the supreme meal.”
We make this supreme meal by using the ingredients at hand to make the best meal possible, and then by offering it.
This book is about how to cook the supreme meal of your life.
This book is about how to step off the hundred-foot pole.
This book is about how to live fully in the marketplace.
And in every other sphere of your life.
Most people come to see me in my capacity as a Zen teacher because they feel that something is missing in their lives. You might even say that most people come to Zen because they are hungry in some way.
Maybe they are successful in business but feel that they have neglected the deeper, more “spiritual” aspects of life. These people come to Zen to find meaning. Other people have devoted so much time to their own spiritual search that they end up having neglected their livelihoods. These people come to Zen to “get their life together.”
Then there are people who want to practice Zen for health reasons. They find the posture and breathing that accompany Zen meditation especially helpful. The regular practice of Zen meditation, for example, lowers blood pressure and improves circulation. The lungs function better, so that you can breathe more deeply and powerfully.
Other people are drawn to Zen for “self-improvement.” They come to Zen because they want to accomplish more or become “better” people.
Finally, of course, there are people who practice Zen for spiritual reasons. These people want to experience satori or kensho. “Satori” literally means awakening, and “kensho” literally means seeing into our true nature. This seeing is done not with our eyes but with our whole body and mind.
All these reasons are valid. Zen can help you restore balance to your life. Zen can be beneficial for your health. Zen can help you sift through your own priorities, so you can get more done.
Zen can also improve your psychological health. The practice of Zen doesn’t eliminate conflict and strife, but it does help put our problems in perspective. Zen practice gives stability, so that when we get knocked over, when something unexpected sends us reeling, we bounce back and recover our balance faster.
The practice of Zen can help us in many other ways as well. It can give us an experience of inner peace; it can strengthen our concentration. It can help us learn how to let go of our preconceptions and biases. It can teach us ways to work more. These are all beneficial effects—but in a sense, they are still all “side effects.”
At its deepest, most basic level, Zen—or any spiritual path, for that matter—is much more than a list of what we can get from it. In fact, Zen is the realization of the oneness of life in all its aspects. It’s not just the pure or “spiritual” part of life: it’s the whole thing. It’s flowers, mountains, rivers, streams, and the inner city and homeless children on Forty-second Street. It’s the empty sky and the cloudy sky and the smoggy sky, too. It’s the pigeon flying in the empty sky, the pigeon shitting in the empty sky, and walking through the pigeon droppings on the sidewalk. It’s the rose growing in the garden, the cut rose shining in the vase in the living room, the garbage where we throw away the rose, and the compost where we throw away the garbage.
Zen is life—our life. It’s coming to the realization that all things are nothing but expressions of myself. And myself is nothing but the full expression of all things. It’s a life without limits.
There are many different metaphors for such a life. But the one that I have found the most useful, and the most meaningful, comes from the kitchen. Zen masters call a life that is lived fully and completely, with nothing held back, “the supreme meal.” And a person who lives such a life—a person who knows how to plan, cook, appreciate, serve, and offer the supreme meal of life, is called a Zen cook.
The position of the cook is one of the highest and most important in the Zen monastery. During the thirteenth century, Dogen, the founder of the largest Zen Buddhist school in Japan, wrote a famous manual called “Instructions to the Cook.” In this book, he recounted how he had taken the perilous sea voyage to China to find a true master. When he finally reached his destination, having survived typhoons and pirates, he was forced to wait aboard his ship while the Chinese officials examined his papers.
One day, an elderly Chinese monk came to the ship. He was the tenzo, or head cook, of his monastery, he told Dogen, and because the next day was a holiday, the first day of spring, he wanted to offer the monks something special. He had walked twelve miles to see if he could buy some of the renowned shiitake mushrooms Dogen had brought from Japan to add to the noodle soup he was planning to serve the next morning.
Dogen was very impressed with this monk, and he asked him to stay for dinner and spend the night. But the monk insisted he had to return to the monastery immediately.
"But surely,” said Dogen, “there are other monks who could prepare the meal in your absence.”
"I have been put in charge of this work,” replied the monk. “How can I leave it to others?”
“But why does a venerable elder such as yourself waste time doing the hard work of a head cook?” Dogen persisted. “Why don’t you spend your time practicing meditation or studying the words of the masters?”
The Zen cook burst out laughing, as if Dogen had said something very funny. “My dear foreign friend,” he said, “it’s clear you do not yet understand what Zen practice is all about. When you get the chance, please come and visit me at my monastery so we can discuss these matters more fully.”
And with that, he gathered up his mushrooms and began the long journey back to his monastery.
Dogen did eventually visit and study with the Zen cook in his monastery, as well as with many other masters. When he finally returned to Japan, Dogen became a celebrated Zen master. But he never forgot the lessons he learned from the Zen cook in China. It was the Zen cook’s duty, Dogen wrote, to make the best and most sumptuous meal possible out of whatever ingredients were available—even if he had only rice and water. The Zen cook used what he had rather than complaining or making excuses about what he didn’t have.
On one level, Dogen’s “Instructions to the Cook” is about the proper way to prepare and serve meals for the monks. But on another level it is about the supreme meal—our own life—which is both the greatest gift we can receive and the greatest offering we can make.
I practiced Zen and studied Dogen’s instructions for many years to learn how to become a Zen cook who can prepare this supreme meal. I got up early, around five-thirty every morning, and sat in zazen, or Zen meditation, for many hours. With my teacher I studied koans—paradoxical Zen sayings such as “What is the sound of one hand clapping.” Eventually I received transmission to teach in the Zen school Dogen had founded.
The principles I learned from my study of Zen—the principles of the Zen cook—can be used by anyone as a guide to living a full life, in the marketplace, in the home, and in the community.
A master chef spends many years serving an apprenticeship, preparing and serving thousands of meals. Some chefs keep their recipes and methods secret. But other chefs are willing to distill their years of experience—including failures, mistakes, and successes—into recipes that everyone can use to cook their own meals. In this book I have distilled my years of experience as a Zen cook and included in it my principles and recipes for the supreme meal of life.
Zen is based on the teachings of the Buddha. The Buddha was not God, or another name for God, or even a god. The Buddha was a human being who had an experience of awakening through his own effort. The Buddha’s awakening or enlightenment came about through the practice of meditation.
What did the Buddha discover? There are many different answers to this question. But the Zen tradition I studied says simply that when the Buddha attained realization, he opened his eyes to see the morning star shining in the sky and exclaimed, “How wonderful, how wonderful! Everything is enlightened. All beings and all things are enlightened just as they are.”
So the first principle of the Zen cook is that we already have everything we need. If we look closely at our lives, we will find that we have all the ingredients we need to prepare the supreme meal. At every moment, we simply take the ingredients at hand and make the best meal we can. It doesn’t matter how much or how little we have. The Zen cook just looks at what is available and starts with that.
The supreme meal of my life has taken many surprising forms. I have been an aeronautical engineer and a Zen student and teacher. I have also been an entrepreneur who founded a successful bakery and a social activist who founded the Greyston Family Inn, providing permanent housing and training in self-sufficiency for homeless families. I’m also involved in starting an AIDS hospice and an interfaith center.
Of course, the supreme meal is very different for each of us. But according to the principles of the Zen cook, it always consists of five main “courses” or aspects of life. The first course involves spirituality; the second course is composed of study and learning; the third course deals with livelihood; the fourth course is made out of social action or change, and the last course consists of relationship and community.
All these courses are an essential part of the supreme meal. Just as we all need certain kinds of food to make a complete meal that will sustain and nourish us, we need all five of these courses to live a full life.
It’s not enough to simply include all these courses in our meal. We have to prepare the five courses at the right time and in the right order.
The first course, spirituality, helps us to realize the oneness of life and provides a still point at the center of all our activities. This course consists of certain spiritual practices. This practice could be prayer or listening to music or dance or taking walks or spending time alone—anything that helps us realize or reminds us of the oneness of life—of what Buddha meant when he said, “How wonderful, how wonderful.”
The second course is study or learning. Study provides sharpness and intelligence. People usually study before they begin something, but I like my study of things, be they livelihood, social action, or spirituality, to be simultaneous with my practice of livelihood, social action, or spirituality. In this way, study is never merely abstract.
Once we have established the clarity that comes from stillness and study, we can begin to see how to prepare the third course, which is livelihood. This is the course that sustains us in the physical world. It is the course of work and business—the meat and potatoes. Taking care of ourselves and making a living in the world are necessary and important for all of us, no matter how “spiritual” we may think we are.
The course of social action grows naturally out of the courses of spirituality and livelihood. Once we begin to take care of our own basic needs, we become more aware of the needs of the people around us. Recognizing the oneness of life, we naturally reach out to other people because we realize that we are not separate from them.
The last course is the course of relationship and community. This is the course that brings all the seemingly separate parts of our life together into a harmonious whole. It’s the course that turns all the other courses—spirituality, livelihood, social action, and study—into a joyous feast.
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