Food I

by zenquaker

I had an odd little thought after writing the last post. What triggered it was the word count for the last post: 109. It was very close to 108, which is a number of spiritual significance in many eastern traditions. Hindu deities have 108 names, zen prayer beads come in rings of 108, and Huineng tells us that the farther shore (enlightenment) is 108,000 miles away.

How does this relate to food? Part of my practice is that before most meals I recite a meal gatha (a gatha is a religious verse in Buddhism, often from the Pali Cannon). I learned the one I generally use from the One Heart Sangha, where I used to practice. I recently added a line to it, because I felt a certain emphasis was lacking. This is what I’ve been reciting (my added part in italics):

Forty-two labors brought us this food. We should know how it comes to us, and we should know that we cannot live except through the death of other beings. As we receive this offering, we should consider whether our virtue and practice are deserving of it; and as we desire the natural order of the mind to be free from clinging, we must be free from greed. To support our life we take this food. To attain our way we take this food.

That’s 83 words, not far from 108. I had the idea to make a meal gatha that was 108 words long. Borrowing from a different translation of the gatha posted by Brad Warner, I came up with this:

Forty-two labors brought us this food, we should know how it comes to us; and we should know that we cannot live except through the death of other beings. As we receive this offering, we should consider whether our virtue and practice are deserving of it, and as we desire the mind to be free from clinging, we must be free from greed. To support our life we take this food. To attain our way we take this food. Let the first portion be to end all evil, the second be to cultivate good, and the third be to free all beings. May all beings be equally nourished.

That’s 108 words. As a side note since I’m on the topic, Buddhism has made me much more aware of perspectives (and the unity thereof). The relative is a perspective, and the absolute is a perspective. So too is Buddhism a perspective, and Christianity a perspective. The meal gatha is the Buddhist perspective of that which is grace in the Christian perspective:

As we thank God for this meal, let us also thank those who labored to bring it to us, and all of God’s creatures who died today so that we might live. As we receive this bounty, we should consider whether our virtue and labor for God are worthy of it; and though we may desire this fine meal let us not slip into greed. We give thanks that this food will support our lives. We give thanks that this food will support our work for God. For the first portion let us pray for an end to all evil, for the second pray for the cultivation of compassion, and for the third pray for the freedom of all. May God bless all others with the nourishment we are blessed with here.

Not 108 words, but that is not important (from the Christian perspective).

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