Meal Gatha

My husband and I spent this weekend getting our home in order. We’re readying for the Thanksgiving and December holiday celebrations, and all the accompanying feasts.

In our kitchen is an oak-framed meal gatha, a short Zen teaching on eating. Gathas are short verses that help Buddhists practice mindfulness in the simple acts of life including waking, resting, sleeping, playing, and eating. Focusing the mind on a gatha makes one much more aware of each seemingly small action of the day.

The meal gatha, also called the Verse of Five Contemplations, is recited before eating. In my case, also as food is being prepared. It’s a part of the practice of mindfulness; in particular, mindful eating.

As part of this weekend’s readying-for-the-holidays household cleaning, the meal gatha was cleaned and returned to its prominent place in our kitchen – where we prepare all our food for the day. So, while we’re chopping carrots, peeling apples, or rinsing rice, the meal gatha reminds us that we must take life - even plant life - to support our lives.

There are lots of meal gathas. Our particular Zen pre-meal incantation reads as such:

First, seventy-two labors have brought us this food. We should know where it comes from.
Second, as we receive this offering we should consider whether our virtue and practice deserve it.
Third, as we desire the mind to be free from clinging, we must be free from greed.
Fourth, to support our life, we receive this food.
Fifth, to realize the way, we accept this food.

Unlike, say for instance, Christian or Jewish practice, the Zen meal gatha does not pay an homage to a deity, but instead prepares one’s mind for the meal to come. Food is a great blessing. We’re lucky to have so much delicious food every day to keep us healthy. The meal gatha in our kitchen reminds us, every day, to be mindful of that.

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