Zen: It’s What’s for Dinner.

Via Angela Raines
on Aug 9, 2010
get elephant's newsletter

What’s in your Fridge?

I’m about to leave for a two week Zen retreat in southern Utah—and all I can think is, “Damn, they’d better not feed us McDonald’s.”

Let me explain. This will be my first retreat with a new teacher, and while she comes highly praised, I’m wholly unsure what to expect on the breakfast table.  I know I should probably be spending more time preparing my body and mind for long bouts of zazen, but the question of what to eat during a Buddhist retreat touches my heart and points to a pressing concern in the mindfulness community.

I’m careful about my supermarket footprint, but my dietary standards for meditation retreats are particularly stringent thanks to my main teacher, Jun Po Roshi. My first exposure to him was an interview with Ken Wilber in which he exclaimed, “You want to talk to me about enlightenment and higher states of consciousness?  I want to see what’s in your fridge!

I knew immediately I needed to study with this man.  Jun Po is emphatic that our mindfulness practice must extend into our daily lives. Any retreat he leads serves almost exclusively organic, vegetarian food, down to the tea and coffee.  And if you ask him, he’ll tell you fiercely, heart broken wide open, why he’ll never eat or serve another non cage-free egg. It’s all too easy to convince ourselves that we’re good little Buddhists when we’re on the cushion, all samadhi’ed out [samadhi means, roughly, the state of enlightened wakefulness, often accompanied by blissful feelings]. But for Jun Po, failing to embody loving kindness to all beings—or at least striving toward that—indicates that one’s insight has not rooted deep enough. Not nearly.

Waylon Lewis’ recent, scathing article, “7 Reasons Buddhists don’t give a shiite about the Environment,” ruffled some feathers—of overly contented, misguided birds, if you ask me.  There was a bombastic display of dharmic acrobatics as people groped for rationales to excuse their lifestyles—or at least to claim that their environmental impact has nothing to do with their Buddhist practice.  Comments such as, “when we are sitting we are not consuming!” sound to me like ego at its most insistently unconscious, and smack of spiritual bypassing—using spirituality as a way to remain disconnected from and unconscious of the world around us.

There’s a slightly lazy nihilism that tends to infect we spiritual practitioners with the notion that, well, if it’s all samsara [illusion; suffering; confusion] anyway, why bother?  On the contrary, mindfulness practice does not secure impunity from activism—rather, deepening awareness and widening compassion impart a simple injunction to act.

Therefore, I find it all the more disturbing when we contemplatives (Buddhist or not) skip out on eco-responsibility, since I tend to hold our “mindful” crowd to a higher standard of awareness and caring. For how can we possibly claim to be leading a mindful life if we don’t take that off the cushion into how we interact with the world around us?

When I assess a new spiritual teacher, then, environmental responsibility is definitely on the rubric.  And while I’ll still gladly learn from someone who doesn’t say, compost, I do think caring for our home, our earth is a legitimate requirement for a spiritual teacher.  Certainly, we don’t learn about our environmental impact on the cushion, but through news outlets, and friends. Mindfulness practice itself does not teach us to be ecologically responsible.  But it does train us not to look away when information that wakes us up to our present reality is presented.  And when both of these factors—information and concentration—are present, yet people still choose to act irresponsibly, I wonder where to look for hope.

I can’t fathom the fare in Utah will be anything less than conscious. Here’s to hoping.

Jun Po Roshi with Stuart Davis on Sex, God, Rock & Roll:

Ken Wilber discusses seeking enlightenment:


About Angela Raines

Angela Raines hails from "America's most dangerous city," St. Louis, MO. She recently moved to Boulder, CO (as one does) to write, do yoga, and sit. So far, this has worked out beyond her wildest dreams. She completed an editorial internship at Elephant Journal and still writes for them when Waylon reminds her. She landed a job at the company of her dreams, Integral Life, and is currently putting her third-person writing skills to work in her own online writing business, Conscious Copywriting. Her main teachers are Jun Po Roshi and Ken Wilber. She is an enthusiast of all things yogic, contemplative, and chocolate.


10 Responses to “Zen: It’s What’s for Dinner.”

  1. Sioux says:

    Beautifully written pinch to my conscience! Thanks!!

  2. Gary says:

    Nice article, Angela. Yes, there are some interesting conundrums between staying conscious and how we eat. And most people don't realize that your blood type and the climate you live in also shapes what diet can help one stay healthy and balance. And sometimes those determinants can be at odds with not doing harm to other species. I do believe that eating animal protein is the right thing to do fort many constitutions based on Chinese and Indian medical traditions. However, few areas are as conflicting and filled with diatribe as diet and nutrition. Thanks for provoking my thinking.

  3. beej says:

    Here is practical self-purification. For what have I accomplished if I achieve inner peace but do not affect the chaos about me? And do not the devas teach us the dis-advantage of comfort? Thanks for reminding us of the necessity of allowing right consciousness to inform right behavior. Wonderful article.

  4. Jason says:

    Well stated! In the past contemplatives' main objective was strictly seeking a manner to escape the world, hence the practice of locking themselves up far away from the madness of Mama Maya and all of her children, distancing themselves from the ordinary practices and customs of the locals. But the comforts of Westerm culture (quiet and safe housing, plenty of personal space, a consistent supply of healthy, fresh food) grant us the possibility bringing that enlightened awareness out into the world, which, as you so eloquently stated, brings up to reflect upon our responsibility to the world community and environment at-large. We need to find balance between the masculine, straight-backed and rigid spirituality that cuts through delusion and the embracing, holistic, and compassionate feminine spirituality that aches for and embraces the world.

  5. Brooke Gessay says:

    I love the content of what you've written, & also the way I can feel your love pushing through the words, urging for wakefulness. Thank you.

  6. Michael says:

    Wonderful points in here. This article brings up images related to the recent egg recalls. Over half a billion eggs recalled from TWO farms. My heart goes out to the obviously mistreated chickens. Our purchases are our voice in the marketplace. Our fridge shows what we actually do to care for the planet. There really is the chance to see the cloud in the paper when we are purchasing food. Instead of just looking at the price, can we look at the lives of the animals and people that go into the product that is in front of us? Wonderful points Angela. I would love to hear more about your retreat!

  7. AngelaRaines says:

    Thanks, Beej!

  8. AngelaRaines says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Michael. The brutality and mindlessness in the poultry industry is heartbreaking. (Latest from EleJ on this: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/08/salmonella… On a retreat in St. Louis, Jun Po described some of what goes on at these factory farms and he said that if we all stopped buying conventionally raised eggs, it would just stop. It really woke me up to just how much power we have. As you say – our purchases are our voice. Stay tuned for the post-retreat followup…

  9. […] Zen has been incredibly transformative in my life, so I’m keen on sharing it in approachable, effective ways. But I have to wonder if some of the content of such a message gets lost in overly “pop” or “lite” versions. The same question is often raised (on this site and elsewhere) about yoga and other contemplative forms. […]