The Lust for food at Eiheiji
Part of our series on Kaoru Nonomura’s account of his year-long stay at at Eiheiji, the premier Zen training center in Japan. An earlier post contained excerpts about vegetarian meals at Eiheiji. In this post, Kaoru describes what happens when monks subjected to unrelenting pressure, aren’t given enough food!
From Eat Sleep Sit, p. 172-174:
Ancient Buddhist regulations treat the act of eating as a kinds of defilement. To us at that point, eating did seem like something furtive and dirty. Unable to content ourselves with what we were offered, we were assailed by uncontrollable cravings that deeply wounded our self-respect.
… In the common quarters, informal meals are prepared by the trainee in charge, who must also prepare meals for the two adjacent residences and clean up afterward. This involves bringing in trays of dishes from the neighboring residences to be washed in the sink. Every day, several trainee monks would gather when the trays came in, and proceed to fight over the leftovers. I stood dazedly by, watching others snatch up morsels and cram them into their mouths by the fistful, feeling troubled and guilty for having seen something I should not have. To think that these were human beings — it was all inexpressibly sad.
… Once you get away with something bad, without suffering even a reprimand, it often happens that you develop a new set of values accordingly. In time, I forgot that initial sense of emptiness. Rationality didn’t enter into it. When people are locked into a world of unrelenting pressure, their sense of reason, I found is all too vulnerable. And no amount of reason could fill an empty belly. Everyone was left with that most primitive of instincts fully exposed — the lust for food.