Pay a Close Attention to what is Happening Now
(Vinod Anand)

It often surprises me when people say they intensely dislike cooking; I wonder if it is because they think it is too complicated or if they are often in a hurry to get it all done with.

Though something to keep us alive and well, cooking is, above all, an art and a practice. We give it our time and attention; we revel in our tools — our ingredients and also our basic cooking implements.

So many houses have lovely kitchens and modern appliances, but awful knives and chopping boards! I learnt some years ago to keep just a few cooking pots and get rid of those that saw hardly any use, and to invest in a few knives of excellent quality.

But I do confess to the extravagance of having several sets of plates for different moods. - Why call it a ‘spiritual’ practice, though? Cooking, when we learn to slow down and pay attention, engages the senses and the body in a way that reminds us of the gifts of life and beauty all around us.

While cooking, we are so directly, immediately and blessedly in touch with God’s creation, generosity and blessings. Pastor John O’Hara writes that cooking” teaches us to live in sync with the rhythms of the Creator.”

The tangible elements of preparing food can be meditative. There is much to be aware of and enjoy —the gentle rinsing of rice in cool water; the regular action of slicing an onion; the bursting freshness of a ripe tomato; a satisfyingly thickening batter. There’s also the vital greenness of fresh herbs, the heady fragrance of dried ones; the hiss and splutter of tempering hot oil; the tangy scent while squeezing a lemon; the subtle aroma when peeling a cucumber.

And we remember to give thanks. I learnt also, to light a candle at the end of my work in the kitchen as a gratefulness pause. If it is a gentle aroma candle, washing up is made that much more pleasant. Zen Buddhist teachers from ancient times recognized this well. They teach that cooking, like life, is about transformation.

In a lecture, Sojun Mel Weitsman Roshi speaking on ancient Zen Master Dogen’s work, ‘Instructions for the Cook said: “The real point is whether one engages in this kind of activity as a refinement of one’s own life. Someone may say: ‘I worked in the kitchen the whole time,’ and still not understand that to cook the food is to cook yourself. To prepare the food is to prepare yourself. To refine the food is to refine your own practice.”

An interesting aspect is that in a Zen kitchen, meal preparation always begins with cleaning the kitchen thoroughly before cooking starts. Then too, Zen teachers keep us aware and grateful for the ‘seventy-two labour & that bring food to us—through the farmer, transporter, seller, cook, server, the dishwasher and many unseen and otherwise unacknowledged others.

Contemporary master Edward E Brown, who has authored several books on food and cooking, points out that giving a hundred percent of ourselves while we are cooking is a spiritual practice that goes against the grain of our current emphasis on multi-tasking. Brown challenges us to experience the holiness of unit asking while cutting carrots, making bread, and stirring in ingredients of a recipe.

A spiritual practice usually lays emphasis on being present, paying close attention to what is happening, and growing in caring and sharing; and cooking, like many simple ‘everyday practices’ is in this way understood as another beautiful and effective spiritual practice.

Author's Bio: 


Born in 1939, and holding Master’s Degree both in Mathematics (1959) and Economics (1961), and Doctorate Degree in Economics (1970), Dr. Vinod K.Anand has about forty five years of teaching, research, and project work experience in Economic Theory (both micro and macro), Quantitative Economics, Public Economics, New Political Economy, and Development Economics with a special focus on economic and social provisions revolving around poverty, inequality, and unemployment issues, and also on informal sector studies. His last assignment was at the National University of Lesotho (Southern Africa) from 2006 to 2008. Prior to that he was placed as Professor and Head of the Department of Economics at the University of North-West in the Republic of South Africa, and University of Allahabad in India, Professor at the National University of Lesotho, Associate Professor at the University of Botswana, Gaborone in Botswana, and at Gezira University in Wad Medani, Sudan, Head, Department of Arts and Social Sciences, Yola in Nigeria, Principal Lecturer in Economics at Maiduguri University in Nigeria, and as Lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in Nigeria. Professor Anand has by now published more than 80 research papers in standard academic journals, authored 11 books, supervised a number of doctoral theses, was examiner for more than twenty Ph.D. theses, and has wide consultancy experience both in India and abroad, essentially in the African continent. This includes holding the position of Primary Researcher, Principal Consultant etc. in a number of Research Projects sponsored and funded by Universities, Governments, and International Bodies like, USAID, IDRC, and AERC. His publications include a variety of themes revolving around Economic Theory, New Political Economy, Quantitative Economics, Development Economics, and Informal Sector Studies. His consultancy assignments in India, Nigeria, Sudan, Botswana, and the Republic of South Africa include Non-Directory Enterprises in Allahabad, India, Small Scale Enterprises in the Northern States of Nigeria, The Absolute Poverty Line in Sudan, The Small Scale Enterprises in Wad Medani, Sudan, Micro and Small Scale Enterprises in Botswana, The Place of Non-Formal Micro-Enterprises in Botswana, Resettlement of a Squatter Community in the Vryburg District of North West Province in the Republic of South Africa, Trade and Investment Development Programme for Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises: Support for NTSIKA in the Republic of South Africa, and Development of the Manufacturing Sector in the Republic of South Africa’s North West Province: An Approach Based on Firm Level Surveys. Professor Anand has also extensively participated in a number of conferences, offered many seminars, participated in a number of workshops, and delivered a variety of Refresher Lectures at different venues both in India and abroad. Dr. Anand was placed at the prestigious Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla in the State Himachal Pradesh, India as a Fellow from 2001 to 2003, and had completed a theoretical and qualitative research project/monograph on the Employment Profile of Micro Enterprises in the State of Himachal Pradseh, India.