10 August 2012

Orthorexia, Orthopraxis, and On and On

I know someone who will reveal every few weeks or so some new thing that either "is not good for you," "is made under the wrong conditions," "supports the wrong causes," "is made in China," "contains ______, which is also not good for you," etc.  This person will apologize for bringing to the Center food from this store rather than that one, non-organic rather than organic, and so on.  Vegetarian with a vengeance, organic with ardor, I'm never exactly sure if the person is striving for personal purity or just alignment with causes this person perceives to be the right ones to hang with.

Time was when people were grateful to have enough food to make it another day, enough shelter to stave off some of the elements, and enough clothing to stay modest and somewhat protected.  They went out in tears to sow, because they had to deny the grain to the family's mouths in order to plant the crop; they came in rejoicing bringing in the sheaves, because they could now make it another run of months.

Enter the late 20th/early 21st centuries, with innumerable choices laid out before those of us who live among middle-to-upper class humanity.  If you have cash enough, you can buy organic over non-organic.  If you have access enough, you can go to the locally-grown, sustainable-agriculture practicing farmer's market.  If you have time enough, you can research your products from source to sink, make your call as to the size of your ecological footprint, and purchase accordingly.  Things have improved dramatically.

Still, I think there's a difference between things being better and us being better.  We have access to arguably better things, but I don't know that a focus on them necessarily makes us better people.  Better people are brought forth when they don't have an easy checklist of do's and dont's, when they can abstain from abstention when the time is right, and – above all – when they never lose that sense of utter gratitude for drawing another breath and getting some food in the belly without at the same time feeling the need to pat themselves on the back for a job well done or money properly spent.

In my heart of hearts I think the Buddha said what needed to be said on the matter of diet when he set forth the model of begging one's food and accepting everything – everything – put in the bowl.  There was only one exception, that no animal was to be slaughtered expressly for feeding a bhikkhu, and the bhikkhu was not to accept the offering if there was any suspicion such had indeed happened.  Other than that, there was nothing further to be said or thought about one's daily fare.  Nothing at all.

People ask if I'm a vegetarian, and I tell them I'm not.  When I make my own food selections I follow the Mahāyāna and aim for the ease and comfort of all sentient beings.  When I am a guest at another's table, I appear as a beggar and eat what is set before me in gratitude and out of respect.  I get the veggie burger in the restaurant; I eat mom's baked chicken when I'm visiting, because that's what she has made for everyone's dinner.  As Robert Aitken put it, "The cow is dead; the hostess is not."  I may suffer a kalpa or two in some reasonably warm hell for consuming flesh food, but I will have been a good and grateful house guest, and that's not an unimportant thing to be.

Now that I think of it, maybe there's a lesson in that (though I didn't start out to make this point).  Rather than fretting about the food that comes into our bodies, maybe it's better to fret about becoming ourselves food for the life of the world.  Do we not affirm as much in the meal chant, remembering of course the toil of all beings (perhaps sometimes animals, too) that gave of themselves for us, but turning it around with the resolve to take the food, not as an indicator of our 'enlightened' state of mind, but as sustenance for the work of attaining the Buddha Way, the extinction of self and the liberation of all?  When we give in as good or better a measure as we've received we cannot be far from the Buddhadharma, can we?

1 comment:

  1. Dear Shodin,

    Great to find you and this topic today! I just came back from a family weekend where the bacon was dead but the host was not. We ate out once, and I opted for the veggie dish, "practicing secretly, working from within."

    I also wonder if people and their food choices are trying to harmonize with the world or praise self.

    I also spread ground turkey feathers on our organic fields yesterday, and had to chuckle at one family guest who is a rabid vegitarian. I don't know if offering out field wisdom was timely, beneficial, or an improvement on silence, so I just kept it to myself.

    But the earenest attempt to do no harm and harmonize with all beings drives me to sit with this heavy koan. Even locking myself away and growing subsistence crops would result with some karma I might not like.

    Is it sun faced Buddha and moon faced Buddha ALL the time?