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March 9, 2012

by Stephen Damon

I woke up this morning to the smells of gamachio, a dry sautéed mixture of sesame seeds and salt which is a standard condiment for meals during a sesshin. I’ve often noticed how a strong smell will activate deep memories. The strong aroma of the gamachio brought me back to my first 5 day sesshin many years ago.  We won’t be leaving for Jikoji until the afternoon, but the sesshin has already begun.

My wife was cooking because she will be one of the tenzos for the weekend.  Dogen wrote extensively about the responsibilities and practice of the tenzo. “In order to make reverential offerings to monks, there is a position called tenzo.  Since ancient times this position has been held by accomplished monks who have way-seeking mind, or by senior disciples with an aspiration for enlightenment. This is so because the position requires wholehearted practice. Those without way-seeking mind will not have good results, in spite of their efforts…”

During the first year of my training to become a Zen priest, I wrote this verse commentary on Dogen’s Tenzo Kyokun, Instructions for the Tenzo.


The head of the kitchen

who cooks food with the six tastes:

plain, hot, sweet, sour,

bitter and salty


and the three virtues:

cleanliness, mildness

and formality

is called Tenzo.


He learns to direct  

way-seeking mind to all work

of the kitchen

great and small.


He examines each

grain of rice and leafy green

as the sayings

of his teachers.


With equal care

he cooks grass broths and cream soups

as offerings

to the clouds.


With awareness he holds

all the grains in the kitchen,

not favoring fine

over coarse.


With kindness, he looks

after each grain of rice

as a mother cares

for her child.


He has taken care

to follow the Way of

one-taste Zen taught since

olden times.


He does not prefer

old monks over novices

nor cream soup over

wild grass.


Every moment

he tries to benefit each one

of the community,



examples of monks

of past generations

who were awakened

in the kitchen.


Dongshan Shouchu

rejoiced in his good fortune

in practicing dharma

in the kitchen.


Guishan offered pure meals

to the Three Treasures, creating

wholesome causes

for all lifetimes.


This way beyond words

is the pure unclassified Zen

of our ancestors

and buddhas.


Remembering this

you will attain Great Mind

excluding nothing

in your practice.



From → Zen Buddhism

One Comment
  1. Some genuinely grand work on behalf of the owner of this web site , absolutely outstanding subject matter.

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