okayu

Master Dogen, the founder of the Soto School of Zen Buddhism in Japan, wrote that there are ten benefits to the traditional rice porridge (okayu) served at Zen temples. They are: it gives the body healthy color, increases strength, does not sit heavy on the stomach, extends life, makes the voice clear, aids digestion, prevents colds, relieves hunger, relieves thirst, aids excretion. All important and healthy benefits. In my quest for good health, I have been searching the internet for some authentic okayu recipes, and found a few here, here, and here. I also just returned from my local health food store and picked up some instant brown rice hot cereal from Arrowhead Mills. We’ll see how my little food experiment works. I suppose if I eat like a zen monk these next few weeks, I’ll lose weight and feel a little better about the approaching beach season in Maine. I’m also thinking a little more metaphysically about Dogen’s advice to the Zen cook. He writes “Prepare the rice today for tomorrow’s gruel.” Zen’s emphasis on the present moment, and its dismissal of the past and future as things that don’t really exist and therefore shouldn’t be worried about, sometimes leads people to believe that Zen doesn’t care about the future or is somehow completely impulsive. Not true. Living in the present moment also means taking care of the future. If you want to eat tomorrow, you’d better plan to shop today. Planning for tomorrow’s gruel doesn’t represent an obsession with the future. Just a common-sense approach to it. An American Zen teacher, when asked what the meaning of Buddhism is, replied “Doing what’s required.” And yet, the next question might be: what kind of rice porridge are you preparing tomorrow? Or more deeply: what kind of person are you preparing to be tomorrow? If you don’t know the answer, your grocery shopping might be in vain.

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