An old Zen story: One day, Wuzhaon was working as the cook at a monastery in the Wutai Mountains. Whilst cooking rice, the Bodhisattva Mañjuśri, (the Deity representing Wisdom, pictured above) appeared above the cooking pot… and Wuzhaon beat him! Later Wuzhaon said ‘Even if Shakyamuni [Buddha] were to appear above the pot, I would beat him too!’
This seems such a crazy story, but I’ve come to take it as a teaching that reminds us to pay attention to just what we are doing. If I am in the kitchen and my job is to prepare lunch, then nothing should distract me – not even the appearance of the Buddha himself! This story came to mind today, as I was reflecting about a conversation I had yesterday evening with one of the managers at the retreat centre where I’m soon to be working as Cook – the Wangapeka. It seems (again!) that unofficially, cooking isn’t the only task, even for the cook; it’s dealing with the personalities, attachments and desires of the people at the centre.
I wonder how well I will be able to stay focused on cooking, and not be pulled into the worlds and dramas of all the wonderful people who are booked on to this forthcoming retreat?
I very much like another, modern, Zen story which is from the 1960’s and the early days of Tassajara Centre, in California – Edward Espe Brown was appointed as Cook. The Zen Master of course was Suzuki Roshi.
Many of the regular students badgered the new cook, young Ed, telling him to put less salt here, more sugar there and so on. Ed approached Suzuki Roshi for advice, and was told ‘when cutting the carrots, just cut the carrots.’ Suzuki Roshi also used to tell him, simply; ‘You’re the Cook.’
‘You’re The Cook’ has become quite a meaningful statement for me. We’re all ‘the cook’, the captain in charge of our own destiny. You’re the cook – what are you going to cook today? How are you going to cook today?
Here is a recipe for the soup I plan to cook on the first night of the upcoming retreat. It’s based on a Peter Gordon recipe, with some small changes. It’s REALLY flavoursome, and filling too. I like to serve this with rosemary soda bread. A delicious, hearty, autumnal soup.
Chickpea, Ginger and Curry Leaf Soup (serves 24)
Soak 2 cups of chickpeas overnight. Next day, drain, and cook in fresh water until tender (about 40 minutes). Don’t overcook – you don’t want them mushy!
Slice 5 red onions, and sweat in a large pan (covered) with 1 tsp salt until very soft and sweet, about 10 minutes.
Add a large handful of curry leaves, 3 tbsp grated fresh ginger, 3 tbsp crushed garlic, 1 heaped tsp of chilli flakes, chopped rosemary from 3 x 10cm stalks, 2 tbsp smoked paprika and 8 dried bay leaves. Cook 3-4 minutes.
Peel and dice 4 medium potatoes into 1 cm cubes. Add to pan, stir, add the cooked/drained chickpeas, 2.5 litres of tinned/chopped tomatoes, 1 tbsp salt, and 2 litres of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 20 minutes or until potatoes are cooked to your liking.