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Edward Espe Brown

Excerpts from Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings: Recipes and Reflections

Stories of Ed's life and practice at Tassajara and with his teacher, Shunryu Suzuki




Cooking is often a struggle. Anyone who has done it, whether professionally or for a family, knows. One always finds more last minute things to do than one anticipated. Everything is happening at once and needs attention. When I was cooking on a schedule, almost every meal prep went down to the wire: would we make it? If I had extra time, I would start dreaming up more inventive things to do, including more elaborate garnishes to enhance the dishes. All the available time would be used.

Some days were more stormy than others. In those early years at Tassajara I would often work 10-12 hours a day, as well as attending morning and evening meditation. For a while we even did 'kitchen zazen'--an extra period of meditation in mid-morning just for the kitchen staff who had missed the second period of morning meditation in order to prepare breakfast. As the head cook I would work ten, twelve, fourteen days in a row. At least once I worked a month straight through. I didn't know any better.

My mental state was quite volatile at times, and I had little equanimity. I had 'gone under' long before, without even realizing I was under. Being overwhelmed had become normal.

When one describes mind as space, then thoughts, feelings, emotions come as clouds, wind, rain, thunder. I didn't experience many sunny days, but one day Suzuki Roshi came to the kitchen and cleared things up. I was deeply involved in a task at the main work table, struggling to do what I was doing, while also striving to keep track of everything which needed to be done, as well as wrestling with that voice which persists in taunting, "You're never going to make it."

In the midst of this raging torrent I became aware of a voice quietly calling my name, "Ed?" At first I thought I might be hearing things. I don't know how long that voice was saying, "Ed?" before I finally realized that Suzuki Roshi was standing in the doorway, calling to me. Although he was calling my name, I wasn't sure that he meant me, because his tone of voice was calling out to the kindest, most compassionate person you could ever hope to meet, while I was stormy, dark, and intense.

Who could he be calling? Several moments of befuddlement followed before I realized he was calling ME. That good-hearted, spacious-minded person was me, and suddenly a sweet radiance permeated my body. The storm clouds vanished. The air became clear and sparkling as it does after a rain. I knew I was also this person I had never met before as well as the person struggling. He asked me about some mundane matter. Although I was attentive, I was also stupefied.

We never know how or when we will meet ourselves. We are always on the look-out for someone or something to introduce us to our more inward being, our original, bright, not-mixed-up nature. Though that clear nature can't be 'kept'--we are sure to have recurrent difficulties-- once we know it then the on-going daily drama loses some of its luster as the basis for establishing self-worth. We realize we don't have to identify with our problems as the limit of who we are.

For the most part I continued being a person possessed, someone who wanted to be known as the best cook, the greatest Zen student. However, no one seemed to be paying much attention, and now it didn't seem quite so important. In some fundamental way I knew I was OK.

The things that happen to us aren't the end of the world. We don't have to identify with each success or failure in the kitchen (or out) as the basis of our self-esteem. "Big mind," the Roshi would say, "is always with you, always on your side."

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