Wednesday, April 8, 2009

All that we eat

Reading the Heart of the Buddha's Teaching this morning and am particularly struck by the section on the four nutrients. The first is familiar enough: all that we eat. I particularly like the way that Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that it's not just the actual food itself we need to think about, it's the whole machinery behind it. How is that food grown, harvested? What happens to it then? How do all those processes affect other people, other species? How does it affect the land in which it is grown, the nearby streams and water sources? What impact might all of this have on future generations? If we're harming others in the process, then we're not just eating the food, we're eating away someone else's life, someone else's future? Are we creating suffering in the process of eating?

The second nutrient comes through all that our senses consume: our eyes, ears, skin, nose, and our minds. The things we read, the music we listen to, the sights and sound and smells we encounter every day. Are these things creating suffering in us, in others? or are the helping to ease suffering?

The third is our intention, volition, our will. What is it we want? what are you aiming for? what's your ambition? Think carefully, is that thing you're working towards going to add to your suffering, or will it ease it? this morning I'm thinking of this one as the "be careful what you wish for, you'll probably get it" kinda thing.

And the fourth is consciousness. And this, I think, is the hardest to understand but in some ways the most important. I'm not sure I fully understand it, but it goes something like this: Our consciousness comes from our history, our family's history, our social and cultural history. Without developing some kind of awareness of what that consciousness is, we cannot hope to understand why we do the things we do. That consciousness isn't fixed. It's a fertile ground. It develops and grows and shifts and changes. What we need to be thinking about is what seeds are you sowing in your mind with your thoughts? Are you sowing compassion, love, equanimity in your own consciousness? Or are you sowing greed, hatred, ignorance, fear, distrust for yourself?

These teachings are having an amazing affect on me. It will take probably the rest of my life to really be able to live them, but the more I read the more I feel as though I'm coming home. I have read all this before, but it's resonating in new ways now. I'm not sure why, exactly, but it all deeply reassuring. Time for work, now. Let's see what nutrients I take in today.

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