Citations from COMMENTARY on Dogen Zenji's
The Cosmos in a Carrot by Carmen Yuen
(from Part 3: Mindful Cooking)
__ __ __
In the words of Zen Master Dogen, cooking is not about preparation, 
but practice. Cooking and cleaning are not chores, but useful
practices for disciplining the mind and opening the spirit. A mindful
chef considers cooking to be a privilege rather than hard work. We,
too, can adopt this perspective and learn to cook with mindfulness.
We do not have to live in a Japanese monastery. The fresh
ingredients and cooking methods of shojin [vegetable cuisine]
are available to us here and now.
__ __ __
Famous Zen Master Dogen recognized the power of mindful cooking 
after two encounters with cooks. In China, he saw an old, hunched
tenzo (head cook or kitchen master) drying shiitake mushrooms in
the heat of the sun. Here is a recreation of their conversation:
Dogen: How old are you? 
Tenzo: Sixty-eight years. 
Dogen:  Wow, you're old! Why don't you get an assistant to dry the mushrooms?
Tenzo: Other people are not me. 
Dogen: But why do this now when the sun is so hot? 
Tenzo: (smiling) If not now, when? 

Later, Dogen was staying on a ship. He met a tenzo who came aboard to buy shiitakes.
Dogen: Your monastery is far away. Please stay and let me offer you a meal.
Tenzo2: I'm sorry, but I can't. If I'm not there to prepare 
tomorrow's meal, it won't go well.
Dogen: But surely someone else in the monastery knows how to cook?
Tenzo2: This is my practice. How can I leave to others what I should do myself?
Dogen: Venerable sir, why work as a cook in your old age? Why not meditate and study the koans.
Tenzo2: Hahahaha! My foreign friend, it seems you don't really understand practice.

The monk left for his temple immediately. Two months later, the tenzo and Dogen met again.
Dogen: What is practice?
Tenzo2:  One, two, three, four, five.
Dogen (scratching his head):  What is practice?
Tenzo2: Everywhere, nothing is hidden.
__ __ __
These two encounters enlightened Dogen to the importance of mindful 
cooking. We tend to worry about the most difficult tasks in our lives.
We barely think about everyday work, such as cleaning up after meals.
However, Dogen saw that life is an aggregate of these mundane
activities. To live fully, we must perform every act with all our heart.
__ __ __

(Zen Master) DOGEN ZENJI'S (道元禅師)
(Gender Inclusive) STUDIES OF THE WAY (學道) | (INDEX)
95-Fascicle SHOBOGENZO (正法眼蔵) & Other Writings
Photo: cups with waka by the poet Otagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875)