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Zen Cooking
Mari Yasugi

We should eat with respect for foods and people who cook and raise them. This respect is seen a lot in Zen cooking. Zen cooking is food that Buddhist priests cook and eat in temples. The lessons of Buddhism are also seen in Zen cooking. Zen cooking requires some essential but very important meanings and rules. They show us a traditional Japanese way of thinking that we have almost forgotten today.
First, when we eat Zen cooking, we have to obey the rules. For example, during eating never speak, never suck, never leave food, never look into other people’s dishes, and hold dishes with both hands. These rules express gratitude for the food. They are rules we should keep. But the Japanese manner of eating today is in disorder. We should imitate a traditional Japanese way of thinking and be thankful for our blessings.

Zen cooking is creatively cooked in five ways: raw, boiled, baked, fried, and steamed. Tastes and looks are also important. The tastes are always basic: hot, sour, sweet, bitter and salty. Looks are beautiful with five colors: blue, yellow, red, white and black. They are basic to Zen cooking. The next three virtues should be furnished in Zen cooking. "Light and soft" The appearance is light, taste is soft. “Be clean" Clean and coolness. "It is conforming to the Law of Buddhism." It is made in the correct manner. Then, we should not forget the next three hearts. At first, it’s a heart of pleasure of making, treating and training in Buddhism. Next, it’s a heart of kindness to old people, and you should pay attention to everything. Next, it’s a big deep heart. You should discard vice and become full of the Law of Buddhism and do cooking.
Next, when we do Zen cooking, we have to keep five rules: at first, we must not cook meat, fish or vegetables with strong smells because Buddhism has a spirit of non- killing. Then we have to make use of vegetables in season and cook them without seasoning. To use vegetables in season means to make the most of their life. Next, we have to reduce waste. We have to cook the rind and leaves of vegetables, too. If some visitors come, we should cook the most delicious part of the vegetables for them, and we ourselves should eat the other parts like the rind and leaves. Finally, we have to be creative. Vegetables aren’t always fresh. Therefore we have to cook them creatively. We have to think how to make visitors pleased. It’s a hospitable mind. These five rules are closely related. Accordingly, if one of the rules isn’t followed, the other rules will have no meaning.
In conclusion, Zen cooking is delicate and soft because it is full of people’s creation, kindness and thinking. Through them, we can evaluate afresh basic virtue and vice. Zen cooking must follow fundamental and very important elements of the thinking of Buddhism. They are gratitude, respect, hospitality and nature worship. They have been handed down for a long time. It is not too much to say that these ways of thinking have formed the personality of Japanese people. We should keep and pass them on to the next generations.

You can see the history of Buddhism and Zen cooking here:
You can see modern society and Zen cooking here:
You can see the attitude of the person who eats here:
You can see the mind of Zen cooking here:
You can see how to cook Zen cooking (in Japanese) here:

Robert L. Seltman
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