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 saying grace, Buddhist style

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Lise
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PostSubject: saying grace, Buddhist style   Wed Jul 04, 2012 9:51 am

My friend Sarah asked me the other day if I have a favourite blessing to say at meal times and I realised I do not. I try to remember gratitude when I eat and I sometimes pause for a moment before digging in, but can't say I always do this. Years ago I would sometimes say the "five thoughts" to myself as they are expressed at Shasta Abbey, but this felt too formal, almost pretentious; not sure why.

Anyway I would like to ask if anyone has a mealtime blessing they're fond of. Doesn't have to be Buddhist (although my friend is). She was invited to give a buddhist blessing at a family event (they are not Buddhist) and didn't have something she felt comfortable sharing. Most of her family think Buddhism is very strange already and she didn't want to add to that impression by giving an odd little benediction -

I may research this and see what turns up -
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Carol

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PostSubject: Re: saying grace, Buddhist style   Sun Jul 08, 2012 12:29 am

I still occasionally say the Five Thoughts to myself. The first one is especially beautiful: "We must think deeply on the ways and means by which this food has come." It expresses gratitude to those who grew the food, those who prepared it, and (if we are not vegetarians any more - as I am not) to the creatures who gave their life so that we may live.
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Lise
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PostSubject: Re: saying grace, Buddhist style   Sun Jul 08, 2012 3:12 pm

I've thought some more about this. Re: the first verse, Carol, I agree it is a beautiful statement. Awareness of where our sustenance comes from is part of the gratitude impulse, I think.

The other four verses always gave me heartburn though, which I suppose should have been a clue early on that I might not be a good fit for a stern Zen tradition. My apologies if I offend anyone, but this is the way I feel about the remainder:

"We must consider our merit when accepting it." Even if we lack merit, it's okay to eat. Suicide by refusing to eat doesn't seem to be a good way to accrue merit or rectify past mistakes.

"We must protect ourselves from error by excluding greed from our minds."
I'm not greedy with food. I do appreciate and enjoy it, and I eat more than is required to stay alive but I don't abuse it. To me this is part of experiencing the sense realms and what they have to offer, in a reasonable way. Food is not a trap or a seducer, something to be renounced. It's something we prepare for people we love (including ourselves) and we celebrate life with it. We should honor food and delight in it.

"We will eat lest we become lean and die." This sounds apologetic, like somebody having to come up with a reason for needing or wanting to eat, at all. I eat because it's fun and it's a normal thing to do when you live in a human body. Or any kind of body.

"We accept this food so that we may become enlightened." No, I accept this food because it's lunchtime and I want to hit the Chinese buffet near my office. Nothing I do is performed with a goal of becoming enlightened. I'm not in a hurry to leave this earthly plane; samsara isn't just about suffering; "enlightenment" can look after itself.

Quite a rant, I guess, sorry, but it's been dormant for awhile and building up some steam.

Instead of just complaining I will try to come up with my own version of a "gratitude statement" -
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Carol

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PostSubject: Re: saying grace, Buddhist style   Sun Jul 08, 2012 11:39 pm

Lisa, you're pretty persuasive. I still like thoughts 2-5 although my own interpretation isn't very literal and probably wouldn't pass the OBC-approved version. Here's a try:
"We must consider our merit when accepting it. We are just plain lucky to have good, healthy food available to us through no particular virtue on our part that makes us different from the millions of equally meritorious people on earth who are starving.
"We will eat lest we become lean and die." Don't be a hog, Carol. Just eat what you need and what is really delicious and good for you.
"We must protect ourselves from error by excluding greed from our minds." Same deal. Don't eat just to be eating. Eat what is really good and really good for you. Skip the junk food.
"We accept this food so that we may become enlightened." This is a tough one because I don't know what it means to be enlightened. I guess it means I'm lucky to be alive and this food makes this life possible.
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Anne

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PostSubject: Re: saying grace, Buddhist style   Mon Jul 09, 2012 11:10 am

:-) Some of the lines may reflect a monastic community's awareness that (at least some of) the food is a gift from lay supporters.
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Howard

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PostSubject: Re: saying grace, Buddhist style   Mon Jul 09, 2012 7:39 pm

Hey lise
The 5 thoughts are kaleidoscopic enough to be taken endlessly different ways. Lise, your take as usual sounds way more fun than mine! Carol's is pretty practical. My take on the 5 Thoughts today are predictably...

I must think deeply of the ways and means by which this food has come..
just asks to reflect on and be fully mindful for how this meal came to be?

I must consider my merit in accepting this...
Am I utilizing the food that is allowing me to live, towards greed, hate, delusion or
compassion, love & wisdom?

I must protect myself from error by excluding greed from my mind...
is just how to remain mindful throughout the meal process.

I eat lest I become lean and die.... is a gluttony reminder of how much must die so that I may live.

I accept this food so that I may become enlightened.
Is a verbal bow to that which died so that I may continue on with the intent to use that food towards sufferings end.
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Lise
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PostSubject: Re: saying grace, Buddhist style   Sat Jul 14, 2012 10:49 am

Hmm, food for thought Smile You all make good points. And I think you are all more mature than I am, in the sense of finding good intent in things whereas I look for ways to fuss, and poke fun . . .

I esp. overlooked the idea that this blessing comes from a monastic tradition and so naturally it may have a renunciant slant.

It's funny how habit works. I used to say the "we" phrasing until one day I looked round my table-for-one and thought "Who's "we"? Have I got a mouse in my pocket?" Actually that was about the time I stopped trying to say the 5 thoughts and went to "I am thankful".

Still working on a blessing - more to follow -


Last edited by Lise on Sun Jul 15, 2012 9:44 am; edited 1 time in total
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Mia



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PostSubject: Re: saying grace, Buddhist style   Sat Jul 14, 2012 11:27 am

For a second I just gassho, bow my head and think 'thank you' to everyone and the universe who put it there, and for my life that food makes possible. Or if I'm with people who'd think I look weird doing that, I think it on the inside and thank the host and say it looks/tastes incredibly yummy (whichever truth applies).

The other day I was reminiscing with a friend about the lovely Thai ritual of offering a little parcel of rice with incense to the spirits every day, in a little spirit house on the street, in a similar way that we do at the monastery's Segaki. But when I think about it I guess it's the act of giving that opens us up and develops gratitude. So I think you should bake a cake and send some to me ;-)
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PostSubject: Re: saying grace, Buddhist style   Sat Jul 14, 2012 1:54 pm

Most of my buddhist friends find it overtly evangelical to do the 5 thoughts out loud in a restaurant.

Sitting in restaurants with buddhist friends who just look at their food while silently doing the 5 thoughts must look to others like a group of people unhappy with their food order.

It probably just looks weirder when the non buddhists at the table lift up the corners of their own plates to peer underneath them with mock intensity after everyone else has subtly lifted them up in offering.
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Lise
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PostSubject: Re: saying grace, Buddhist style   Sun Jul 15, 2012 10:10 am

I find the public aspect of saying grace to be awkward regardless of tradition. Gratitude seems very personal and is hard to put on display, for me. But I know others do enjoy sharing a blessing together and it brings them closer at mealtimes. That's great, it's just not for me.

Now, why am I tempted to rewrite the Five Thoughts into something irreverent and wholly appropriate for us non-renunciants . . . and on a Sunday, no less
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PostSubject: Re: saying grace, Buddhist style   Sun Jul 15, 2012 12:28 pm

Lise wrote:

"We must consider our merit when accepting it." Even if we lack merit, it's okay to eat. Suicide by refusing to eat doesn't seem to be a good way to accrue merit or rectify past mistakes.
[i]

I like this one. If a stick of celery has had its life purpose taken away from it to feed me, I like to consider whether my behaviour is deserving of it. For example if I made a habit of doing terrible violent deeds then I might have to accept that the celery's life is better for the world than my own life. Why should the celery die to provide energy for my terrible deeds?

Ideally, rather than starving oneself to death, the correct decision would be to change one's behaviour in gratitude to the celery.
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PostSubject: Re: saying grace, Buddhist style   Tue Jul 17, 2012 1:50 am

Thank you! Howard. I will never again look at a group of people in a restaurant staring somberly at their food without wondering if they're Buddhists muttering the five thoughts silently to themselves!
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