Kindness. Contemplation. Creation. Connection.
I hope the summer has been kind to you!
It has been some time since the last posting, and I’m happy to offer you some food for thought!
My husband and I attended a 7 day meditation retreat at The Hermitage on Denman Island this August, and I’d like to share something that I saw every day at mealtimes. It’s called the “Five Contemplations.”
The Five Contemplations while eating is a Buddhist tradition where one says these five verses quietly to oneself while partaking in food. In our hurried and busy world, we often forget or take for granted the food we eat. We might enjoy the meal, but we may not consider all the effort it takes to get food to our plates and feel gratitude and humility for receiving it. In North America where we live with such abundance, we also might not realize our great fortune and we forget that other people and beings throughout the world have very little. The Five Contemplations encourages us to consider the food we eat, and draws our attention to kindness, to the kindness of the earth for sustaining us and to our own mindfulness that then results in being kind to the earth and other living beings in return.
The retreat centre we attended had a version of the Five Contemplations which I think is from Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life”. I’ve copied an idea from the Hermitage and printed it on a tri-fold brochure template and taped it together to form a periaktos (a three sided column) and set it on the dining table so we will look at it every day. Here’s the file The Five Contemplations. Print one up for yourself. I made a slight adjustment to the 3rd contemplation and changed the wording “unwholesome mental formations” to “unskillful states of mind”. Feel free to make any adjustments to aid in your own journey of mindfulness-kindness practice.
Below is the wording of the Five Contemplations when eating from the Hermitage:
The Five Contemplations
1. This food is the gift of the earth, the sky, numerous human beings and much hard work.
2. May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.
3. May we recognize and transform our unwholesome mental formations especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.
4. May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet, and reverse the process of global warming.
5. We accept this food so that we may nurture our sisterhood and brotherhood, strengthen our sangha and nourish our ideal of serving all beings.
(A “sangha” is a community, not just a Buddhist or monastic community, but any kind of community, a family, a group of friends, a state, the world, etc.)
To further elaborate on The Five Contemplations while eating is an informative excerpt from Buddha’s Idea Concerning Food and a New View of Nutrition from the International Journal of Buddhist Thought & Culture. It reads:
The Five Contemplations while eating, according to the Buddha’s instructions, is a
guideline that compels Buddhists to think about the food they are eating. It is the first step in questioning what food is, why it is eaten, where it comes from, when should it be eaten, and how should it be eaten.
1. We should consider what food is.
Consider food as an “equal” to ourselves in that it contains the mystery of human life, and appreciate that the “oneness” inborn of eating is a meaningful experience, a time to create a conscious connection to the mystery of life inherent in both food and ourselves. Food is profoundly connected with all other beings in Indra’s Net. Thus, each moment we are interdependent and interconnected with spirit, emotion, community, and even the planet, rather than being an independent or isolated entity.
2. We should reflect on why we eat.
Understand that the food provided is a necessity and a healing agent for the body, mind and soul. Thus, food is only received and eaten for the purpose of “realizing the Way,”14 that is, another means to reach enlightenment (Prebsih 2002).
3. We should consider where food comes from.
Imagine the place where the food originated and the amount of work that was necessary to grow, transport, prepare and cook it, and then bring it to the table. Thus, we should reflect upon whether we deserve the food or not.
4. We should reflect on when we are eating.
Since food is only to be received in order to practice the “Way” as a remedy to support the body, we have to sense how hungry we are in terms of the soul as well as the body. Buddhists who are alert to this contemplation eat meals only in the morning.
5. We should then think about how food is eaten.
The benefits that food brings are different according to the dining situation; eating alone or with others, sitting at a well-set table or on a couch watching TV. Sharing food at a table with supportive family members, friends, colleagues, or neighbors is very important to our social well-being. Dining in a socially positive environment would yield greatest benefits. Food should be eaten with consciousness of connection, regard, mindfulness, and appreciation so that it becomes a path to spiritual happiness.
This path reveals what it means to eat optimally and to be awakened to the power of food to nurture our spiritual, emotional, social and physical well-being. If the Five Contemplations are considered whenever food is eaten, “whole health” can be achieved. Thus, before every meal, Buddhists chant the Five Contemplations:
“Where does the food come from?
It is shameful to accept it with low virtue.
After discarding all greed,
And considering it as a remedy to support the body,
I accept the food to achieve the Way.”
14 The Way: The path for enlightenment.
Here’s another informative excerpt from BUDDHISM A TO Z: A Publication of the Buddhist Text Translation Society. I’ve made some changes for easier reading.
1) I think about where the food came from and the amount of work necessary to grow the food, transport it, prepare and cook it and bring it to the table.
2) I contemplate my own virtuous nature. Is it sufficient to merit receiving the food as offering?
3) I guard my mind against transgression, the principal ones being greed and so forth.
4) I realize that food is a wholesome medicine that heals the sufferings of the body.
5) I should receive the food offerings only for the sake of realizing the Way.
1. Consider the amount of work involved to bring the food to where it is eaten.
Think it over. How much human labor was necessary to bring even a single grain of rice to the table. It first had to be planted, then tended, then harvested and stored. And so the ancients had a poem which reads:
The farmer hoes in the midday sun; His sweat falls on the soil. Who can guess how much toil it took To bring the food to the bowl?
2. Consider whether one’s own virtuous conduct is sufficient to enable one to accept the offering.
Again, think it over. Have you cultivated any virtuous conduct? Count it up. How much do you have? Is it sufficient? Is it lacking? Are you entitled to receive this offering of food?
3. Take as one’s guiding principle the guarding of the mind against transgressions such as greed.
Take as your principle, as your doctrine, a mind free from greed, hatred, stupidity, pride, and doubt.
4. Properly taken, the food is like medicine, to keep the body from wasting away.
If you don’t eat, you body grows weak. Therefore, it is only to prevent weakness that you receive the food.
5. This food is accepted only in order to accomplish the Way.
think to yourself, ‘I only take this food in order to cultivate and accomplish the karma of the Way.’ Food is only received and eaten for the purpose of realizing the proper way to reach enlightenment.
Finally, here’s a brief conversation from March 9, 2010 with Thich Nhat Hanh on Oprah’s website that further elaborates the simple benefits of mindfulness, gratitude and kindness with regards to food and everyday living.Thich Nhat Hanh on Oprah
So, with all of this in mind, I truly hope the enjoyment of your next meal is transformed from something mundane and everyday, or even satisfying and enjoyable, to something very meaningful and physically, emotionally and spiritually enriching, and of course, delicious!