Being Grateful for Our Meals
by Nichiko Niwano
These days, when food of all kinds is plentiful and many people seem
guilty of gluttony, our attitudes toward eating need to be reexamined.
Reflecting this, activities have been launched in many parts of Japan to
pass on to future generations the true importance of food in our lives.
The purpose of these events, which are being implemented especially in
elementary and middle schools, is to teach through actual experience how
precious our meals are and why we should be thankful for them.
For example, in some middle schools the pupils themselves reduce waste
by choosing the size of their own lunch portions, thus not leaving large
quantities of food uneaten. This type of experience can provide the
impetus for changing from the idea of taking for granted that our meals
are part of a life of convenience and comfort to a feeling of gratitude
for having been caused to live thanks to the things we eat. Furthermore,
although we may also think of the air around us as something to be taken
for granted, breathing is essential for life. The body's absorption of
oxygen is indispensable, so it is important that we be grateful for the
air we breathe just as we are for the water and food on which our lives
A recent article in a leading Japanese newspaper noted that "the old
saying 'Even a single grain of rice comes from the heart of the farmer
who grew it' has disappeared." By learning the importance of the things
we take for granted, we can be prudent in making use of those things and
recognize their true value in our lives.
*In Order to Attain Enlightenment*
The last of the "Five Verses on Taking Meals" in Zen Buddhism, which
expresses the Buddhist attitude to eating, is "I receive this meal for
the sake of attaining enlightenment," meaning that the ultimate purpose
of eating is to attain enlightenment, that meals are taken in order to
attain completion of the True Way, not merely for satisfying our appetite.
The image of Shakyamuni, who always depended on a mendicant's bowl for
his meals when he was disseminating the Way day and night, teaches what
taking meals should mean for Buddhists, while also making us think
deeply about the basic concept of the food sustaining our lives.
Nursery school director Takeshi Yoro, a professor emeritus at the
University of Tokyo, was recently quoted in a newspaper as saying,
"Children should be allowed to play until their stomachs feel empty.
Then they can settle down and eat as if they are really enjoying their
food. Most important is that they can experience the basic value of a
meal, and thus refine the sensations related to eating, such as taste
and hunger." Improving those sensations can help children mentally
process new information.
We should say this grace before meals every day: "For what we are about
to eat and drink, we are grateful to the Buddha, to nature, and to many
people." We should always maintain feelings of gratitude for the meals
that sustain us.
This article was originally published in the July-September 2008 issue of Dharma World.