Instructions to the Cook
“Day and night, the work for preparing the meals must be done without wasting a moment. If you do this and everything that you do whole-heartedly, this nourishes the seeds of Awakening and brings ease and joy to the practice of the community.” – Eihei Dogen zenji
the following is an excerpt from Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master’s Lessons in Living a Life That Matters

Indra’s Networking:

     One of the key principles of the Zen cook is that nothing exists by itself. Everything is interdependent.

     Even though we all have responsibility for our own life and work, at the same time none of us can accomplish the work we need to do all by ourselves. This is especially true if we want to help others. We all need to work together to prepare the supreme meal.

     The Zen cook’s way of working with others is based on the vision of Indra’s net, which is the Zen model of life. Indra was an ancient king of India who thought a great deal of himself. One day he went to the royal architect and said that he wanted to leave a monument of himself—something that all people would appreciate.

     The king’s architect created an immense net that extended throughout all space and time. And the king’s treasurer placed a bright, shining pearl at each node of the net so that every pearl was reflected in every other pearl. And each single pearl—each person, each event—contains the whole of Indra’s net, including all of space and time.

     When we realize that we are all bright pearls in Indra’s net, we see that within each one of us the whole body of the universe is contained. Since we are all already connected in Indra’s net, there are no limits to the possibilities of connecting with other people in our lives and our work.

     Still, it’s natural for most of us to begin “networking” with the people closest to our own interests and needs. Accountants network with other accountants, poets with other poets, and Buddhists with other Buddhists. This kind of networking certainly has its uses. It’s especially effective, for example, when we need help in solving a very difficult problem. But it is not a very effective overall strategy, because it leads to a narrowing instead of a widening of your network. It results in ever-diminishing returns. The tax accountants end up talking only to other tax accountants; the free-verse poets end up talking only to other free-verse poets; and the Zen Buddhists of one school end up talking only to Zen Buddhists of the same school.

     When we network according to the vision of Indra’s net, on the other hand, we begin by casting the widest possible net. We do this by defining our mission in the broadest possible way. If I define myself in the narrowest sense, for example, as a Zen Buddhist monk who is involved in running a bakery and providing housing for homeless people, I might limit my network to Zen Buddhists, bakers, and social workers.

     But I can also define my mission—or vow, to use the Zen Buddhist term—in a much broader way. I can say, for example, that my mission is to prepare the supreme meal for the benefit of all sentient beings. I am now casting a much wider net—an immense net, in fact—for I can now work with anyone who wants to improve the quality of life on this planet. (specific issues and ways in which you want to work, you will naturally find yourself working with a particular segment of the net. But even then—especially then—it’s important to remember you’re still part of a bigger net.)

Bernie Glassman & Rick Fields, “The Fifth Course, Recipes For Community,” Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master’s Lessons in living a Life That Matters, (New York: Bell Tower, 1996), 124-125.

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Instructions to the Cook

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