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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
FEELING YOUR WAY ALONG
Finding out how to cook or how to work with others is something to just keep doing. Feeling your way along. And the more you master your craft, the more you know that the way is to keep finding out the way, not just doing what you are already good at, but going off into the darkness.
My teacher, Suzuki Roshi, once emphasized this point during a week of intensive meditation. "Zen," he said, "is to feel your way along in the dark, not knowing what you will meet, not already knowing what to do.
"Most of us don't like going so slowly, and we would like to think it is possible to figure everything out ahead of time, but if you go too fast or are not careful enough, you will bump into things. So just feel your way along in the dark, slowly and carefully," and he would gesture with his hand out in front of him, feeling this way and that in the empty air.
"When you do things with this spirit, you don't know what the results will be, but because you carefully feel your way along, the results will be okay. You can trust what will happen."
At the ceremony following the week of meditation where all the students ask the teacher a question, I walked forward with my hand outstretched, investigating the air. "Feeling our way along in the dark," I began, "and now that sesshin is over, can we have a party?"
"If you really do it with that spirit, then it will be okay," he answered. I bowed and said thank you and started to leave, but then his voice began again.
"The most important point," he said and paused, while I came to a complete stop focusing intently on what he would say, "is to find...out...." Again a pause as I awaited the conclusion, "what...is...the most important point."
He had drawn it out so I was hanging on every word: To find what? To find out what? To find out what is what? And then he hadn't really told me the most important point, only he had. Momentarily disappointment arose, "but I thought you were going to tell me the most important point." Then a kind of joy or elation, "Yes, I could be finding out what is the most important point."
So I began investigating 'what is the most important point.' One day I would feel it was sincerity, but other days it might be gratitude, equanimity, or letting go. Moments of experience seemed to brighten: tasting intently, speaking kindly, slowing down, being present, finding pleasure and ease in the work of cooking.
Adverse situations also became occasions for trying to find the most important point. When things are not working, what's important then? Compassion, patience, good-heartedness, not being so hard on yourself, clarifying your inmost request and acting on it. One thing after another seemed pivotal.
Finally after some years of study, I concluded that the most important point is to be finding out what is the most important point. Doing that, after all, had given me a focus beyond the urgencies of everyday life, a focus which made it more possible to extract the nutritive essence from each experience.
Discovering how to cook or how to plan menus; learning how to adapt to space limitations and time restrictions, how to handle ingredients: all these were feeling my way along, finding out what is the most important point.
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