The first week of this August I spent in Denmark. I participated in a Sesshin by Dutch Zen Master Rients Ritskes. He had many themes going on during the Sesshin so everybody was satisfied in the end.
There was one theme however the Master had not anticipated: the food.
For a year now I’m accustomed to simple food. Rice, beans, vegetables. Sometimes cheese or eggs. Tofu or other soy products for the proteins. Some fruits and salad for vitamins and even more fibers. Cereals, cottage cheese if available. Hardly ever refined sugars, meat or fish, alcohol. Nor candy, potatoes, ice cream. Sometimes a touch of honey. And on a very rare occasion some chocolate just because that is too good to delete from life.
Simple, sober and honest food that keeps me healthy and strong, locally grown as far as possible, to reduce ecological pressure.
Also the way with food has been simple and sober. In the morning a breakfast with rice, beans and some soy sauce. In the early afternoon again rice and beans or lentils, vegitables, some tofu or cheese or eggs, some salad. In the late afternoon some fruits. And then in the early evening the leftovers of the day, sometimes in a soup, sometimes just warmed up again. Some bread with it. Or just bread with a spread if there are no leftovers. Nothing after 18h00.
The Sesshin in Denmark is attended by a lot of upper class people. They are on the brink of being spoiled in every way imagined. The location for the Sesshin is the Skarrild Hus, right in the center of Denmark. It is quite luxurious and one would have a hard time recognizing it to be a perfect location for a Zen Buddhist Sesshin. But it is, trust me. Many breakthroughs happened this year as it did last year too.
The cuisine is great. I mean really great. The food that appeared on the tables was not just very tasty but it was presented beautifully and there was an abundance of choice. So high was the quality of the food, that it startled the Zen Master. He dropped a bite from his spoon to the floor. That had not happened to him for as long as he can remember.
Remember the child in the candy store you once were? Got some coins for a good report card and wanted to spend it as you pleased? Remember how you felt?
There was so much choice of high quality, tasteful, beautiful food in the pots and pans from which one could fill up their plate, that it started to make people greedy. Maybe on a subconscious level, maybe very subtle, but greedy we all were. Every single one of us wanted it all. We were not satisfied until we had at least two spoonfuls from every pot, pan or dish on our plates. Never mind how much food that was. We wanted it all and we wanted it now.
At least I did. It was logistically quite challenging to get from the long and narrow tables precisely that one dish you were still missing a spoonful from. And still I would insist on getting ‘my fair share’ of all this lovely and tasty stuff.
Until I saw this was what was going on. At least with me, but I saw it with many other participants. And in that moment of insight I decided to take from whatever was right at hand. Be it the first serving round or the second or third, I would just take from what was readily available in the dishes right next to my plate.
What happened of course was that I got what I needed and what I wanted at the same time. There was no difference anymore between the two. But also literally, because I hardly ever really missed out on something delicious. If it was not present in the first serving, it would pass by me the second or third and give me plenty of opportunity to take from it then.
What also happened is that I was easily satisfied and very content. Just sitting there quietly, enjoying every bite of my meal without looking at the plates of others or at dishes out of reach.
Without the necessity of losing any of the food from fork or spoon while eating, I just smiled at the bare tablecloth at the end of each meal .