Who do you think harvested your food today?


This post is inspired by my readings of the book ‘Cultivating Chi – A Samurai Physician’s Teachings on the Way of Health’ by Kaibara Ekiken (1630-1714). I only recently realised that there was such a book and that this Way is what my Chinese acupuncturist continually is trying to teach me.

For me, this Way makes a huge difference. I have felt on my own body and mind how my health has improved by following my acupuncturist’s instructions. The main message throughout the book, or the Yojokun, is that of balancing yourself, not overdoing anything, because too much of anything will damage your fundamental health.

The quote I have taken out for this post is a reminder of the blessings in life. The tone of the quote is that of a Grandfather reminding his Grandchildren to be thankful and appreciate that which has been given to them.

There are five considerations to bear in mind when eating a meal.

The first calls for you to recognize the source of your food. When you were young, you received nourishment from your father; when you grew up, you owed this to your lord. You should think this through and never forget it. If not from your lord or father, you received your nurturing from your brothers and sisters, your relatives, or from others. Even now, you should think of where your food comes from and never forget these blessings. The farmers, artisans, and merchants, who eat through their efforts, should consider the debt they owe to their country.

The second consideration calls for you to acknowledge the sympathy you should have for the hard labor of the farmers and the pains they went through to produce your food. You cannot forget this. You yourself do not till the fields, but live in comfort and ease; yet you receive this nourishment. You should take pleasure in this fact and not just take it for granted. 

The third consideration calls for you to recognize the great good fortune you have in receiving this delicious food even though you may not have particular genious, virtues, or righteous behavior, and have made no great efforts to help your lord or to govern the people.

The fourth consideration calls for you to remember that there are many people in the world much poorer than you. They have nothing more with which to be satisfied than a meal with dregs and rice bran. There are also people who die of hunger. You, however, will eat delicious grains to the very end and will never worry about starvation. Is this not a great blessing?

The fifth consideration calls for you to think about ancient times. In great antiquity people did not possess the five grains but staved off hunger by eating the nuts, fruits, leaves and roots of the grasses and trees. Even after they had the five grains, they did not know how to cook them. Without kettles and pots, they could not boil their food and so chewed the grains raw. Thus, their meal had no taste and damaged their intestines and stomachs.

Today we boil white rice until it is soft and eat it as we please. And we have soups and side dishes both morning and night. More than this, we have wine and amazake to delight our hearts and aid our blood and vitality. 

This being so, at every meal we eat we should repeatedly think over at least the first and second of these five considerations and never forget them. If we do this, those thoughts themselves will give us pleasure day by day. 

These are only my own foolish conjectures. I record them here arbitrarily. In Buddhism, there are Five Views at mealtime, but these are not the same.

I will let Kaibara Ekiken’s words speak for themselves and leave you with whatever feeling or thought they light in you.

Thank you.

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