Below is a portion of a blog post from five years ago. I will post parts of it for the next five days, it is about the “Five Thoughts”. previously I published in an altered form of these posts on the “Five Thoughts” in the Journal of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives. Current thoughts I’ve added in this color.
Before every meal I say the “Five Thoughts”, a portion of the formal mealtime ceremony in Soto Zen. I say the 5 Thoughts to put my life into perspective. It is one of several ritual observances that I find helpful and comforting on a daily basis.
Before I begin eating, I arrange my food so that it is tidily in front of me. If utensils are required I put the main one on the opposite side of the food plate from me, with the handle pointing away from me. This is to indicate that I am willing to share my food with others.
I then recite:
We must think deeply of the ways and means by which this food has come.
We must consider our merit when accepting it.
We must protect ourselves from error by excluding greed from our minds.
We will eat lest we become lean and die.
We accept this food so that we may become enlightened.
“We must think deeply of the ways and means by which this food has come.” This first thought has to do with truly looking at the food we are having, seeing it for what it is, where it came from and how it got here. It also invites us to look at the forms of life that have to die in order for us to have sustenance. It asks that we pay attention to this food in front of us as if it is our last meal, and to honor the life that was taken/given to provide us with the where-with-all to continue our own life.
I may also reflect on the plates and chairs and tables and the people I’m eating with. How they got here? How I got here?
One can indeed go very deep with this first thought about food.
We are not asked to think of all of these things each and every time we eat but we are asked to recognize the reminder that there is more going on than “fueling the machine”. There are of course times when we do indeed ponder deeply this idea of our actual lives in reference to other lives. Those that are eaten and those that do the eating.
We are asked to see interdependence as the only way that we can live, grow, survive, learn and be aware of what it takes to be alive.
This is the way to compassion for all living things.
Without their offering, we just wouldn’t be. Here. Furthermore, it enjoins us to not be wasteful with these lives that have been offered .
It is also a good starting point for practicing this view in relation to all of the things that come into our lives. Just substitute anything for “food”. People, places, things, the phenomena of our world; of our minds, our bodies and how they change; sometimes, just as we thought we’ve learned the “truth”of the matter. It is always good to reflect that we can learn the truth of the matter, much more thoroughly if we see the change as an inherent part of all existence. Change is a major component of the truth. A component not all of it.