Tenzo 厨 The Zen Kitchen

Our little tea station in the kitchen

The kitchen and bedroom are my favorite rooms in our home. Each morning after we’re up for the day, I make the bed neatly, with fluffy pillows and cushy down comforter. I fill the essential oil diffuser with fresh water and essential oil, fluff out the millet hull pillows, and turn on the Himalayan salt lamp for the day. I clear our nightstands of any rubbish we put there before bed, and open all the blinds, letting the sun stream in. Every Sunday, all the bed linens go through the wash.

At bedtime, there is a clean, softly lit, cozy space waiting for us. At the end of a long day, when I’m tired in body and mind, and sleep is beginning to creep in where consciousness used to reside, having that space waiting is amazing. Totally worth the effort.

I think, though, that I like our kitchen a little bit better. We had it remodeled nearly 2 years ago, and relaying on our instinct rather than someone else’s idea of a proper kitchen, we made all the right choices. It’s an open, beautiful, black granite, light-filled room with lots of counter space. 

On the counters are just the minimum of what we use regularly: a Breville juicer, espresso machine, tea kettle, a framed meal Gatha, and a large Japanese ceramic tray holding what we use regularly for cooking – tamari, fish sauce, Spike seasoning, coconut oil, ghee, olive oil, Himalayan pink salt (a block with a grater), coconut palm sugar, Hemp seed oil, chee hou paste, Thai green curry paste, bulgogi sauce, Sriracha, plum vinegar.

The stove is tucked into a corner, with a large stainless flue pipe over it. In this corner, in the space behind the stove and flue, is a large, golden, sitting Sri Vijaya Buddha (of the Thai Theravada school). A large, round Himalayan salt lamp is on the counter across the room.

At night, with the salt lamp lit (it looks like earth when it glows), and an offering candle burning at the feet of the Buddha, and maybe some curry steaming on the stove, all warm and warmly lit, I’m full of happiness. A simple, beautiful, functional space where I can cook beneficial, delicious food for us.

It’s a true Zen kitchen, a place of enlightenment. We both love it.

Tenzo is a Japanese word meaning cook and kitchen, used much in Zen monasteries. The monastery cook is the ‘Tenzo’, and is a much respected man. Years ago, I came across Zen Master Dogen’s Kitchen Master Instructions, called Tenzo Kyokun (Instructions for the Cook), and I studied it closely.

It offers instruction in everything from where and when to acquire the monks’ foods, to prayer, purpose, and preparation. Rinse rice with clean water, but then reuse this water in which to cook the rice – waste nothing. Work in silence. Recite mantras while slicing radish. Reflect on the Dhamma while rinsing rice. Concentrate on the paths of Sutra while chopping pickle. Perfect Oryoki practice.

Tenzo – the kitchen - means a lot to me. My husband appreciates the new flavors he’s experienced since we married, and he too, loves our Zen kitchen. I enjoy making clean, balanced food for us in a room that allows me to concentrate, pray, recite, and reflect while I work on feeding us well.

In ancient Zen monasteries, the cook was considered critical, possibly paramount, to the successful operation of the cloister. At home too, the cook, and the kitchen in which she or he works, nourishes the whole house.

Live Pono

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