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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


THE TRUE SPIRIT OF THE GRAIN

 

To come back to my arrival at Tassajara in April of 1967, there was a second custom, besides not using salt, which I did not know how to handle. With our teacher's blessing, I had started using salt in the cooking and never heard another word about it. This other custom concerned what to serve with hot breakfast cereal in the morning.

 

In order to accommodate diversity of taste, several sweeteners were being served: white sugar, brown sugar, and (because some people didn't want sugar) honey, sometimes even molasses. The same was true of milks. Even though this was before the advent of soy milk and the fad to use non-fat (gray) milk, we still managed to try to accommodate people's tastes by serving milk, light cream, and canned milk. The last seemed really strange to me, but I was assured that some people wanted it.

 

This custom was not too cumbersome when we all ate together family-style at a few tables, but it became quite a bit more awkward when we began eating breakfast in the meditation hall, and we had to pass a tray of 'condiments' down the row of meditators. It could take quite a while for a tray to be passed down the whole row, while people chose their preferred sweetener and milk. Meanwhile we would all be waiting to begin the chanting that preceded the meal.

 

Making up more trays of condiments got to be quite a chore for the kitchen crew, and then there was the additional task of cleaning them up afterwards. What to do? to simplify things without causing undue upset. We couldn't figure it out, but Suzuki Roshi came to the rescue unexpectedly.

 

After breakfast one morning he asked everyone to stay for a short talk. He didn't say we should not be using all those condiments. Instead he said that he didn't understand how we could taste the 'true spirit' of the grain when we put all those things on our cereal, and proceeded to explain how important it was to know and appreciate the true spirit of things and to not always be trying to make everything suit our own taste.

 

We went back to the kitchen and decided, "Well, that's that, no more sugars and milk." Then we began serving sesame salt with the morning cereal. We wanted to taste the true spirit of the cereal.

 

Tasting the true spirit of the grain, connects us with our shared well-being. Sometimes it helps us realize our own true spirit doesn't need to be doctored up either.

 
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