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Reading the Menu Does not mean Eating the Meal


I chose a random (or maybe not so random...) Thich Nhat Hanh book off the shelf for inspiration for meditation class this morning. I put my hand on both Zen Keys and No Mud, No Lotus. I use the latter quite frequently so I opened up Zen Keys to a page in the introduction by Philip Kapleau (a Zen Buddhist monk and author of The Three Pillars of Zen). The following is the paragraph my eyes landed on. It’s amazing how the universe provides what you need to read/see/hear just when you need it if you’re open to it’s offerings.

“It is well to note that while Zen Keys often presents weighty aspects of Buddhist philosophy, Nhat Hanh begins his book with the concrete, practical aspects of life in a Zen monastery, where the emphasis is not on the learning of philosophic concepts but on simple labor and a life of awareness. For in Zen, intellectual learning is nothing but the reading of the menu, while actual practice is the eating of the meal. As Nhat Hanh says, the truth of existence is revealed through a deepening awareness that comes from living a life of single-mindedness, of being “awake” in whatever one is doing. There is no better laboratory for doing this “aware work” than everyday life, especially one’s daily work.”

I made the one sentence bold(ish) and italic because it is the one that jumped out at me. I repeat and paraphrase, “Intellectual learning is nothing but reading the menu, practice is eating the meal.” This is a brilliant and succinct metaphor of how the practices of meditation and awareness (and I would include yoga), feed and nourish our minds and souls. Just like the food we eat nourishes our physical body. There is no difference.

Think about something you love doing. Then about when you engage with the action or task. Does time seems to slip away and the next thing you know either many minutes or maybe hours have passed? I think that is a sign that you are “eating the meal”. Engaging in single-mindedness is awareness, THAT is mindfulness. One of the keys of this practice is to apply that same focused attention to everything you do. Tying a shoelace, washing a dish, folding laundry, typing a blog…not allowing your attention to be diverted by other tasks or thoughts of other tasks. Simple but not easy.

I think I’d mostly like to eat the meal, not just read the menu.


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