Toasted Pumpkin Seeds and the Nembutsu

Posted by:

K. Ken Fujimoto

An interesting point came to me while reading a novel for pleasure.  One scene depicted the main character, a female chef in Tokugawa Japan, toasting some pumpkin seeds for a snack for a neighborhood boy.  She peeled and gave him one and he seemed to enjoy it immensely.  His mother took one seed and commented how much better it was then when she toasted the seeds.  There were other neighborhood women around and they all commented that they could never prepare things to taste as good as this character could.  They asked if there was some secret or a special thing that she did in toasting the pumpkin seeds.

She responded that there was no secret, but that maybe there was something that she did in the preparation that made a difference.  She explained that she washed the seeds in salt water so the seeds would be cleaned of all the pulp.  Then she would dry the seeds on the sunlight for a few days and had the boy watch over the seeds to make sure that the birds did not pilfer them.  After they were dried, she would simply toast them in a pan.

The neighborhood women all commented that her way seemed like a lot of extra work.  However, we can see that the “extra work” was what made it special.  The preparation and care that go into something, no matter how simple it may seem, can make a big difference.  This holds true in many aspects of our lives, not just cooking.  A little extra time and effort may seem bothersome at the beginning, but it may make things so much easier and better later.

In fact, there are many things that we can learn from cooking that applies to our lives.  We all know that there are some things should be cooked slowly.  Not cooking something for the proper length of time at the correct temperature will change the texture and/or flavor from what is expected or desired.  Too long and something that should be light and subtle will end up too thick or too salty.  Too quickly and something that should be soft and tender will still be hard.

The amount of time used could make a big difference in the end result.  This is particularly true in many of the preliminary steps in preparing a dish.  Taking short cuts may speed up the process, but it could end up in creating a disaster.  For those of us eating the end product, we rarely fully appreciate all the steps that went into the whole process.  That which we eat may seem simple and easily palatable, but the creation of that simplicity might have taken a long process of preparation.

This is true with the Nembutsu teaching as well.  On one hand, we can say that it took ten kalpas to prepare.  Another way of looking at it, we can say that it took 2,600 years to get to us.  This is also comparable to cooking.  Something that we accept as commonplace today, may have evolved over time to take the form that it has today.  The process for the preparation so we are able to eat it may take hours, even days.  We need to ask ourselves if we are expressing the proper amount of appreciation for being able to have that accessible to us today.

Are we savoring the Nembutsu teaching and expressing our gratitude for the time and effort that has been spent to make it available to us now?  Are we taking it all for granted because it is so readily available and within reach without giving any thought as to what makes it all possible?  The simplicity of the teaching and the dynamic of the Nembutsu is based in the vows established and fulfilled by the Bodhisattva Dharmakara in becoming Amida Buddha ten kalpas ago.  That teaching has been expounded upon and further refined in the 2,600 years since the beginning of the Buddhist teaching.  Are we gulping it down without any thought to this or are we savoring every bite and mouthful?

© June 23, 2013