Filed in Zen (Chan)

Instructions to the Cook

A Zen Master's Lessons for Living a Life that MattersBernard Glassman and Rick Fields

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As those familiar with Dogen’s Instructions to the Tensho know, the cook is considered to be the most important person in the monastery because he is responsible for the welfare of all the other monks. Like Dogen, Roshi Tetsugen Glassman believes that one of the most useful metaphors for life is what happens in the kitchen. Indeed, Zen masters call a life that is lived fully and completely, with nothing held back, “the supreme meal.” So the “menu” of Glassman’s new book, which describes his vision and his work, is divided into the five main “courses” or aspects of life: spirituality, knowledge, livelihood, social action, and community. In it he draws upon Dogen’s precepts to tell the story of the Zen Center of New York and the Greyston mandala of businesses and not-for-profits, which seeks to integrate the economic, social, educational, and spiritual dimensions of each endeavor. Rick Fields, author of How the Swans Came to the Lake, is a contributing editor to Tricycle. Instructions to the Cook will be published by Bell Tower this spring.


When [13th-century Zen master] Dogen asked the Zen cook in the Chinese temple why he didn’t have his assistants do the hard work of drying mushrooms in the hot sun, the cook said, “I am not other people.” In the same way, we have to realize that this life is the only life we have. It’s ours, right now. If we don’t do the cooking ourselves, we are throwing our life away. “Keep your eyes open,” Dogen instructs. “Wash the rice thoroughly, put it in the pot, light the fire, and cook it. There is an old saying that says, 'See the pot as your own head, see the water as your lifeblood.’”

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