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Lions Roar : January 2019
to writings on the eightfold path, the six parami- tas, or the bodhisattva precepts. Rather, the most thorough guidance on how to be kind comes in a manual for overworked cooks written in 1237 by Dogen Zenji, the founder of Soto Zen. Instructions to the Cook gives a vivid picture of the hardest, most unsung job in the monastery. It details the duties of the head cook during every waking hour, of which there were many, since one day’s work ended just before midnight and the next day’s work began shortly after. Complicating mat- ters, ingredients were often sparse or spoiled. Vigi- lance was the only defense against marauding rats and weevils. Whether the rice was good or bad, the greens fresh or wilted, the kitchen staff prepared hundreds of meals every day without missing a minute of the monastery practice schedule. These guys had plenty of reasons to be quick-tempered. You might think that this drudgery would be left to underlings, young monks without the leverage to escape long hours of labor. On the contrary, “since ancient times,” Dogen wrote, the head cook ’s posi- tion had been held only by accomplished monks or senior disciples, those who could faithfully light the fire, boil the rice, and scrub the pots as acts of “extreme kindness.” What makes kindness extreme is when it transcends likes and dislikes and works twenty-four hours a day. According to Dogen, a “kind mind” is one of the essential attributes of a cook. He described it as the selfless compassion that places the well-being of others above one’s own. This kindness is not a superhuman virtue, but the same love and attention that parents naturally give to their offspring, whom they feed and clothe before caring for themselves. It’s one thing to tend water or rice, but do you scrimp on compassion for people you think are dif- ficult, unlikable, or undeserving? Maybe they need a little kindness. Life is the ultimate kitchen, with stress at work and home, too little time, a short- age of help, and no end to the tasks at hand. If the kitchen is your life and you are the head cook, what kind of meal will you serve? Guided by Dogen’s five-step recipe for extreme kindness, you may be LION’S ROAR | JANUARY 2019 53