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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
This selection was not used in the book, but was sent to me by Ed while he was working on it. - DC
STILL I GO ON LIKE THIS
One day in the late sixties at Tassajara a student asked Suzuki Roshi, "Why haven't you enlightened me yet?"
The question felt rather belligerent and aggressive with the implicit accusation that the Zen master was either incompetent or unreasonably withholding this particular blessing. To have asked, "why haven't I become enlightened yet?" would have placed more of the responsibility on the questioner, but instead this person was blaming the teacher.
The master's response was quiet and sincere, "I'm making my best effort." Other words followed, but that was the heart of it, "I'm making my best effort."
What was noticeable to me was that he did not become defensive or attack the other person back, "I'm making my best effort. How about you?" He didn't say, "Nobody else has that problem, so it must be your problem," or "You'll have to work on that."
"I'm making my best effort." What else could any of us possibly do? Over the course of time, other people are likely to be critical or negative: The food you cook isn't very good, it isn't tasty enough. You should be able to manage with less help. Don't complain. You need to be more creative. You need to be less creative. No matter what we do, even if we are Suzuki Roshi, even if we are Buddha, someone will complain.
Our own being is trying very hard to provide us with sights, sounds, smells, tastes, thoughts, and feelings. We may not like what it has to offer, but our being is making its best effort: I'm giving you thoughts; I'm giving you feelings; I'm giving you sensations. Please, I'm doing the best I can, and when you are so hard on me, and so demanding, I can get discouraged.
To ignore what we are being given or harangue ourselves over our perceived inadequacies doesn't honor this effort. Often a kind of shutting down takes place. Our body and mind, our being says, "if you cannot appreciate what I give you, I'm just going to stop giving you anything." No wonder we feel so dead or depressed at times, so uninspired. We've been busy asking ourselves, "Why haven't you enlightened me yet?" "Is that the best you can do?"
Our life turns when we begin working with things, when we start becoming intimate with our experience, whether it's handling ingredients, eating a meal, or digging in the ground. The world responds to our effort. Growth occurs. The results may not be as spectacular as we would like, but this endeavor nourishes us and all beings. The world is a more compassionate place.
The Chinese Zen master Yueh-shan expressed the life of a Zen master quite eloquently, "Clumsy in a hundred ways, awkward in a thousand, still I go on like this."
This is human life, not just the Zen master's life. This is the life of the cook, the life of the gardener. Thank you for persevering. Thank you for your sincere effort. Please continue.
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