Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The First of Two Letters


While going through the stacks that have accumulated on my desk during these busy retreat times, I came across two extremely helpful letters. The first has helped my practice as an example of how I commit each day to working hard not to be, and the second has added to the reservoir of inspiration that fuels my determination.

The first letter was unsigned and arrived with no return address. It stated:

“I feel compelled to make some comments on the food at my recent stay. The quality of food is not what it once was. This makes it difficult for me to refer friends to go there. One concern is the amount of soy products. Over the years I have read about the many concerns about soy some mainly in the processing. Of course we do not really know what to believe in the media and what is really best for us to eat so I just want to share these links. [This was followed by three links with titles that included “dangers of soy.”]
I would prefer cows milk, rice milk, coconut milk, hemp milk over soy and did not feel I had a choice. While there were cows milk products (cottage cheese, cheese, yogurt) not sure why you cannot offer milk.
I rarely eat processed/white flour (pasta, rice, bread) and would have liked to have whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice)
There was very little variety and actually few vegetables. Even the soups had few vegetables in them and the salad was mainly lettuce with few vegetables either. There was not much variety in fruit either. Gassho”

Oh, my, where to begin? The oddity is that our menu (the one this person is complaining about) contains almost no soy. We had re-done all the recipes when we discovered Quorn products, a near-perfect protein source containing no soy. But, for me, a conversation about the menu, the diet, would miss the point completely.

The Buddha—the Buddha—took a bowl out one time a day each day of his life and begged the scraps of food he would eat. According to the information that has come down to us, he died from eating rotten mushrooms some poor person had put in his bowl. (He blessed and thanked that person before he died for helping him on his journey!)

How have we come so far from the essential point of awareness practice—waking up and ending suffering—that we won’t spend 8 days eating meals that are not meeting our culinary standards without feeling the need to complain? When did a spiritual retreat become something we wouldn’t “refer our friends to” because the plentiful, mostly organic vegetarian food didn’t fit our dietary preferences?

A huge percentage of the world’s population goes to bed hungry every night. Countless children are dying of starvation around the planet as I write this and as you read this. The food we throw away in this rich and privileged culture of ours would keep them happily alive.

Does this mean we should feel bad and guilty? Of course not. But I think it does mean we should be grateful in every moment for all we have. We should live in a constant, resounding, heart-felt “thank you!” (Yep, I’m using the word “should” intentionally here.) We should.

I know that no one reading this needs the lesson contained herein. I know that. And, as it has served as such an excellent reminder to me to keep my attention where I choose for it to be, on unconditional love and gratitude, I thought you might enjoy the reminder too.

Tomorrow I will post a very different story of awareness practice.

In gassho,


  1. I really like what you wrote here, both for the reasoning and for the compassion with which you articulate it. I am often dismayed by such complaints at the food coop where I shop. You have given me a model to use when reacting to it.

  2. Beautiful, I love it! Yes ( ironically, I host a charity fundraiser, I tried to post it on Sangha Market as fundraiser for living compassion..I had a long conversation with the monks, got a green light,then the volunteer with the site refused to allow my participation. .I just moved on, I work with another organization now, but yes! yes! yes.