Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Dining at the Trough: Mindful Eating in an Age of Gluttony

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

New Jersey (or anywhere in the United States), I am returning from a meal at a Japanese Sushi buffet. All you can eat sushi? This sounds too good to be true. The restaurant is as big as a supermarket and four times the size of any restaurant I’ve seen in Vermont. The array of choices and the volume of food is staggering. Oysters, clams, sushi, sashimi, nori rolls, maki rolls. And if you don’t want raw, you can eat cooked Japanese and Chinese entrees by the dozens. Perhaps you’d like some tempura or BBQ, crab legs or roasted octopus? None of this is to mention desert. Unlike supermarkets, this is all meant to be eaten now. And people were eating, including myself, lining up like pigs at a trough. The Buddhist meal chant prepares us to eat in a mindful manner. It can be translated as follows:

This meal is the labor of countless beings, let us remember their toil.

Defilements are many, exertions weak, to we deserve this offering?

Gluttony stems from greed, let us be moderate.

Our life is sustaiend by this offering, let us be grateful.

We take this food to attain the Buddhaway.

We can throw moderation right out of the window. This expereince is designed for gluttony. People, myself among them, make multiple trips to the buffet expanse. At least we’re getting some exercise as we do so. It’s hard to conceive al lthe actions that resulted in this meal being oferred. Even a simple meal comprises countless events. The food must be grown, harvested, transporrted, prepared, and served. The soil must be nurtred by earthworms and bacteria. Rain must fall. The sun must shine. When we eat in this way, boudndless entincing food that just appears, we can’t possibly appreciate the complex intertwining events that bring this miracle of food to our table. How many fish offerered their lives? How much reverence do we offer in return? Early humans worked hard to secure food or perished. We inherit the tendency to gorge to balance the eventual famine. But today, we have no famine. Food is never ending, always available, and as a result we tend to become obese. Approximately 25% of Americans are obese and the trends are getting worse. The sheer abundence of such “all-you-can-eat” dining options can’t be helping the problem. The second stanza of the Buddhist meal chant asks if we have made sufficient effort to warrant this food? Have we worked to be mindful? (and if we are at such a trough it’s likely we are risk for mindlessness).

While our life is susatined by this food we could be sustained by much less. When I look around at my fellow human beings at the trough, I don’t detect gratitude. I sense entitlement. I pay my money (and a ridiculous low amount at that) so I get to eat as much as I want. And this is why people come, to eat without restriction. This gives us a distorted sense of how much food there is on this planet. It obscures the fact that in many regions of the world, including the United States people don’t have enough to eat (in fact, 1 of 4 children in the U.S. do not get adequate nutrition).

We take this food to attain the buddhaway? Why do we eat? For obvious reasons, of course, but why do we eat in this way? This restaurant was packed; the concept of all-you-can-eat is popular. I’m still digesting my meal, hours later. 

Dalai Lama Op-Ed in New York Times: “Many Faiths, One Truth”

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak
His Holiness The Dalia Lama wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on Monday 24 May 2010. He begins by saying, “WHEN I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best — and that other faiths were somehow inferior. Now I see how naïve I was, and how dangerous the extremes of religious intolerance can be today.” He points out extremism on all ends of the spectrum from religious fundamentalism to atheist anti-religionism. He urges that our interconnectedness “demands that we promote peaceful coexistence and understanding across boundaries.” This is a lofty ideal and an invitation towards what the Buddha might have called upekkha (equanimity/interest). The result of this interest might be the possibility that people could pursue their own faith and simultaneously, “respect, admire and appreciate other traditions.” Upekkha seems to be what is absent in the world today. We can find this lack of interest at so many levels — in politics, religion, and in our day-to-day interactions with each other. Every group as an agenda, it seems, and that agenda is to further their own interests. The underlying sentiment is that my beliefs are better than yours, more true, more necessary. For this reason, His Holiness’s message of acceptance is crucial and his admission that his beliefs are no better than the beliefs of other religions is unprecedented. His Holiness reflects on his meetings with the Christian monk, Thomas Merton in the 1960s and the centrality of compassion for both faiths (a point lost to Brit Hume when he urged Tiger Woods to return to Christianity because Buddhism had nothing to offer on forgiveness).  In fact, compassion is central to all faiths. This sentiment is echoed in Brad Warner’s irreverent treatise, Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth About Reality when he says:
It’s only when people believe that their beliefs are above questioning, that their beliefs alone are beyond all doubt, that they can be as truly horrible as we all know they can be. Belief is the force behind every evil mankind has ever done. You can’t find one truly evil act in human history that was not based on belief-and the stronger their belief, the more evil human beings can be. 

We always have a choice between identification with our own stories and the stories of our religious affiliation and interest in the millions of colors available to our eyes. Identification tends to lead to division, a duality between “us” and “them,” “you” and “me.” Identification leads to a duality within ourselves between the potential richness of our lived experience and the idea about that experience. To paraphrase the of quote William James, in my book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness, our intellectual life consists almost wholly of substituting a conceptual order for the perceptual order in which our experience originally lives. It is in this perceptual order that we can find the space for compassion. Compassion arises when we don’t feel beholden to ideas we must defend, agendas we must forward, and boundaries we must protect. His Holiness urges that, “Harmony among the major faiths has become an essential ingredient of peaceful coexistence in our world.” The way to harmony is through interest in what is around us, including the beliefs of other people. 
By the way, Happy 75th Birthday to His Holiness:

Yoga Sanga

posted by exquisitemind

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Rocio Morales the founder and director of Yoga Sanga: The Yoga Online Magazine for Texas.

Hot Buddha Sweats; Cold Buddha Shivers

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

It’s been record-breaking temperatures in New York and
elsewhere on the East Coast this week. Oppressive heat and humidity. Record
demands on electricity as everyone seeks to cool off. It’s a real challenge in
acceptance and one not easily met. There is important information in this
severe heat and we must take precautions against heat exhaustion. But beyond
staying safe, the heat is just uncomfortable. There is a saying,
“Hot Buddha Sweats; Cold Buddha Shivers.” This wisdom is timely. We
can examine the heat from four different perspectives, or levels like the
stories in a building. On the ground floor are the sensations that arise from
being hot. These include sweating, a sense of warmth, increased body temperate,
and so forth. Here there are just sensations. No judgments. No complaints. It’s
objective. The brain’s job is to make sense of these sensations and this occurs
on the second and third floors of the building. On the second floor the brain
recognize the pattern of sensation as “hot.” For most of us, this kind of heat
and humidity is unpleasant. So the brain continues to do its job on the third
floor by registering a feeling tone to the experience. Is this pleasant,
unpleasant, or neutral (in other words, should I approach this, avoid this, or
ignore this)? On the fourth floor we begin to have conscious thoughts. Because
the heat may contain important safety information we need to keep our brain
online to evaluate if we are getting enough water and not exerting ourselves to
the point of heat exhaustion. These thoughts are adaptive and necessary.
Meanwhile, we are likely to have other thoughts and these thoughts are neither
adaptive nor necessary. This is where the mind complains, “I can’t stand this
heat!” “When is this going to end?” And it is here that distress arises. What would happen, however, if we came
down from the fourth floor and its complaints about the heat and paid attention
to the sensations on the ground floor? Hot Buddha sweats. We’d just be hot Buddhas,
that’s all. No distress; just perspiration.



In Northern Vermont it’s also helpful to remember that
such heat is very impermanent and that it was snowing on Mother’s Day not too
long ago. We longed for warmth then. So we can embrace the heat, once we make
sure we are safe and enjoy the summer as it is. And if climate change science
is correct, there are a lot more hot days ahead.

*Image courtesy of NASA 

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