This book comes at a time when so many people are dieting as a New Year resolution. We've stuffed ourselves over the holidays, eaten chocolate and goodies without thinking, and now we wear the results on our hips. Taking time to consider what goes in our mouths is wise. I'm thinking of Ryokan who relied only on begging. Who knows what he'd receive or whether he would receive anything at all on a day's begging rounds? Not a lot of chance for him to do New Year Day stuffing unless he were invited to someone's home. We don't have much evidence that this happened.
Ryokan says that we should not fill our mouths with food until we are desperately hungry. In other words, we should be aware of food as a medicine to keep us alive and healthy and not eat with compulsion or mere habit. No doubt more people in the US are going to learn this lesson as we are forced to rely on food stamps, or we stick to necessities. My grocery store has seen a shift in peoples' purchases with fewer pies and cakes landing in the shopping cart. I like the way the first part of our meal chant sets up this profound practice of awareness:
First, innumerable labors brought us our food, we should know how it comes to us.
Second, as we receive this offering we should consider whether our virtue and practice deserve it.
Third, as we desire the natural order to mind, to be free from clinging we must be free from greed.
Fourth, to support our lives we take this food.
Fifth, to attain our Way we take this food.
Meditating on any one of these aspects of food and eating is helpful as we deepen our appreciation of the benefits of food and as we learn and practice restraint in daily life.