My family has really enjoyed the movie “Chef.” Yesterday in my car, I was listening to
one of Linda Ruth Cutt’s lectures from SFZC and she used examples from that
movie to demonstrate what Zen work is like.
Since it seems that Clouds is embarking on the voyage of
moving to a new building, there will be a lot of work. How do we do this work from a Right
View standpoint? As I heard Fish
say the other day, how can we bring the heart of Zen with us as we move and
What is work in Zen?
Why is “work” emphasized by “work practice” and sound bytes like: Chop wood, carry water? I think the emphasis on expressing your
wisdom through work started long ago when there was a shift in monastic life
that included agriculture. All of a
sudden, the monks were doing labor.
In the earliest Buddhist days, the monks were wandering mendicants and
that was their work. A wandering
monk offers people the opportunity to give to the dharma, “the monks”, through
begging and to allow the monks to practice deeply with no root. When monasteries started to happen, work
practice and how to work in daily life became more important.
Linda Ruth Cutt’s said that watching the chef’s in “Chef”
use their knives, turn the cheese sandwich, watching their cooking, was a
wonderful example of the attitude in Zen Work. Lovingly taking care of each object, paying attention to the
moment and taking care of details.
Perhaps what is not so evident in a professional chef’s life is -
letting go of the results of your actions. But in terms of carefully caring for each aspect of the job,
like how to place the side dish just so, they are a prime example of attention
in work. Mindfulness in work.
She also mentioned another scene which she thought had a Zen
perspective. The chef’s son is
learning to cook. In this scene,
some workers had helped them for free, move a large stove, I think it was, and
in return, the chef was cooking them sandwiches for free as a return gift. The son had burnt a little bit one of
the sandwiches and said, “Well,
they aren’t paying for this, so it doesn’t matter.” The Chef stopped what he was doing, took his son outside, and
explained to him that nothing from his kitchen went out burnt, free or
not. This was his expression and
love for what he did. This is his
generosity and gift to all, to make beautiful food, delicious food, as his
life’s work and not about the money.
I found these examples inspiring. How do we think about our daily work as love and
practice. Even in the smallest
This is not to say we get stuck on perfectionism or
Epicureanism. It does not mean we
have to have the most gorgeous temple in town. Tomoe Katagiri has taught me that a Zen view is also to take
old things, refurbish them, and find another life for them. Like taking the old cloth and making it
into okesas. Like taking a
building that was meant for another job in life and turning it into a Zen
Zen work means that we work out of our hearts and with care,
with presence, and let go of the results of our actions. Zen work is an
extension of our understanding and a gift we offer to life.
Labels: Chop wood carry water, Linda Ruth Cutts, mindfulness in work, The movie "Chef", Zen work practice