Edward Espe Brown: No Recipe

May 15, 2018

Edward Espe Brown is a renowned chef and Zen teacher who is best known as the first head cook at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. In addition to writing several cookbooks including the classic Tassajara Bread Book, Edward founded Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. With Sounds True, he has published No Recipe: Cooking as Spiritual Practice. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Edward about Zen teachings on what it means to have to feel our way through the dark—both in the kitchen and on the spiritual path. They talk about cooking as a form of offering and why working with food can be one of the most potent ways to express our hearts in wholeness. Edward shares what he learned in his turbulent first days as the head cook for a spiritual community, including insights from his first Zen teacher, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. Finally, Edward and Tami discuss what it means to seek out our heart’s true desire, as well as how to embody that search in all that we do. (72 minutes)

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Founded Sounds True in 1985 as a multimedia publishing house with a mission to disseminate spiritual wisdom. She hosts a popular weekly podcast called Insights at the Edge, where she has interviewed many of today's leading teachers. Tami lives with her wife, Julie M. Kramer, and their two spoodles, Rasberry and Bula, in Boulder, Colorado.

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Edward Espe Brown: Sincere and Wholehearted

Edward Espe Brown is a Zen priest and the former head cook at Tassajara Mountain Zen Mountain Center who helped found Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. He is the author of No Recipe and the classic Tassajara Bread Book. With Sounds True, he is publishing The Most Important Point: Zen Teachings of Edward Espe Brown. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Edward about the origin of his newest book: a quote from his teacher Suzuki Roshi, who said, “The most important point is to find out what the most important point is.” Edward describes his discipleship with Suzuki Roshi and why Zen practice can sometimes be like feeling your way through pitch darkness. Tami and Edward talk about the tradition of “taking the backward step” and moments of realization that transcend your expected practice. Finally, they talk about Edward’s path away from extremely low self-esteem and the role of difficult emotions in Zen contemplative practice. (77 minutes)

Coffee Meditation

Coffee Meditations, Edward Espe Brown, Sounds True

During the twenty years I lived in a meditation center, I rushed through my morning coffee. After all, if I didn’t drink it fast enough, I’d be late for meditation. It was important to get to meditation on time; otherwise, one had to endure the social stigma of being late (obviously lacking the proper spiritual motivation), as well as the boredom and frustration of having to wait outside the zendo to meditate until latecomers were admitted.

When I moved out of the center, I had to learn to live in the world. I had been institutionalized for nearly twenty years. Now I was out and about. What did it mean? There was no formal meditation hall in my home. I could set my meditation cushion in front of my home altar, or I could sit up in my bed and cover my knees with the blankets. There were no rules.

Soon, I stopped getting up at 3:30 am. Once I did awaken, I found that a hot shower, which had not really fit with the previous circumstances, was quite invigorating. Of course, getting more sleep also helped.

Then I was ready for coffee—hot, freshly brewed, exquisitely delicious coffee. Not coffee in a cold cup from an urn; not coffee made with lukewarm water out of a thermos; not coffee with cold milk, 2 percent milk, or nonfat milk—but coffee with heated half-and-half. Here was my opportunity to satisfy frustrated longings from countless mornings in my past. I would not have just any old coffee, but Peet’s Garuda blend—a mixture of Indonesian beans—brewed with recently boiled water and served in a preheated cup.

Unfortunately, by the time I finished the coffee, I had been sitting around so long that it was time to get started on the day, but I hadn’t done any meditation. With this heavenly beverage in hand, who needed to meditate?

The solution was obvious: bring the ceremoniously prepared coffee in the preheated cup to the meditation cushion. This would never have been allowed at the center or in any formal meditation hall I have visited, but in my own home, it was a no-brainer. Bring the coffee to the cushion—or was it the other way around?

I light the candle and offer incense. “Homage to the Perfection of Wisdom, the Lovely, the Holy,” I say. “May all beings be happy, healthy, and free from suffering.” I sit down on the cushion and place the coffee just past my right knee. I cross my legs and then put the cup right in front of my ankles. I sit without moving so I don’t accidentally spill the coffee. I straighten my posture and sip some coffee.

I feel my weight settling onto the cushion, lengthen the back of my neck, and sip some coffee. Taste, enjoy, soften, release. I bring my awareness to my breath moving in, flowing out. If I lose track of my breath, I am reminded to take another sip of coffee—robust, hearty, grounding. Come back to the coffee. Come back to the breath.

A distraction? A thought? Sip of coffee. Enjoy the coffee. Enjoy the breath. Focus on the present moment. Remembering the words of a Vipassana teacher of mine: “Wisdom in Buddhism is defined as the proper and efficacious use of caffeine.”

I stabilize my intention. “Now as I drink this cup of coffee, I vow with all beings to awaken body, mind, and spirit to the true taste of the dharma. May all beings attain complete awakening at this very moment. As I visualize the whole world awakening, my mind expands into the vastness.


Friends, this is one of the teaching stories that is shared in my new book, The Most Important Point. This offering comes to you with my gratitude for the efforts of Danny S. Parker, who edited over 60 of my Zen talks for inclusion in this volume.

Lastly, I invite you to try the Tea and Ginger Muffins recipe that accompanies this story. Danny must have enjoyed them!

Edward Espe Brown is a Zen Buddhist priest and was the first head cook at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center.

Danny S. Parker is a longtime student of Brown’s and is an ordained Zen Buddhist priest.

Pick up a copy of Edward Espe Brown’s newest book, The Most Important Point, today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

Edward Espe Brown: No Recipe

Edward Espe Brown is a renowned chef and Zen teacher who is best known as the first head cook at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. In addition to writing several cookbooks including the classic Tassajara Bread Book, Edward founded Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. With Sounds True, he has published No Recipe: Cooking as Spiritual Practice. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Edward about Zen teachings on what it means to have to feel our way through the dark—both in the kitchen and on the spiritual path. They talk about cooking as a form of offering and why working with food can be one of the most potent ways to express our hearts in wholeness. Edward shares what he learned in his turbulent first days as the head cook for a spiritual community, including insights from his first Zen teacher, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. Finally, Edward and Tami discuss what it means to seek out our heart’s true desire, as well as how to embody that search in all that we do. (72 minutes)

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Express Your Creativity to Jump-Start Vitality

Have you ever felt like you lost a part of yourself?

Sometimes it happens. Life changes, and we change with it. It could be a move, job change, marriage, kids, taking care of elders, or any sort of transition. Sometimes it’s not even a difficult transition that makes us lose a part of ourselves but a decision we make to keep on with some things and release the rest. And yet, we might regret leaving that part of us behind. Often, the part of ourselves we leave behind is a creative part of ourselves that we might think, in today’s world, is less important or less valued.

This certainly happened to me—for about fifteen years. Basically, I lost my voice. As much as I loved singing, for reasons I could not fully understand, I knew part of my path was to continue in my study of healing. Unfortunately, when I chose graduate school, I also decided there was no point in singing anymore if I was not “serious.” Not only did I relinquish my opportunity to prepare for a professional career in classical western opera singing—I simply stopped singing altogether. And by making that black-and-white decision, based more in perfectionism than in feeding my heart and soul, I lost a huge part of myself for more than fifteen years. Singing was a gift I was given to bring me back to my own creative bliss—but I had been blind to its purpose for most of my life. And a part of me literally felt like I had died.

I’ll bet many of you can relate. External circumstances seem to shift the tides of our lives so that sometimes we lose parts of ourselves society doesn’t necessarily directly reward. If we enjoyed art, dance, music, or other areas of creative expression when we were young, unless we pursued these passions as professional artists, we might have lost sight of them over the years. We often think we have to leave creative pursuits behind in our process of “adulting”—making money, providing for a family, and pursuing a career. However, losing that creative juice comes with real costs—we can end up losing our ability to innovate, our fluidity, and a great deal of our joy.

Thankfully, our creativity is never really lost. In my case, I found the joy of singing again spontaneously while singing to my kids when they were young. When they got a bit older, I decided to reclaim the fun of singing for myself. Out of the blue, I created a Guns N’ Roses cover band called Nuns N Moses. I searched for musicians and convinced them (all straight males) to dress as nuns while I dressed as Moses for part of the show, changing lyrics and singing songs from Moses’s perspective. It was hilarious fun while paying homage to one of my favorite childhood rock ‘n’ roll bands with excellent musicians. Soon after, I was asked to front an Iron Maiden tribute band called Up the Irons. The music was amazing, and the band was a hit, with thousands of fans and a busy gig schedule at the best venues in Southern California. I found myself blissfully singing my heart out—and I had more energy than I ever had in my life.

I share this personal story with you for two reasons. One is to remind you that the parts of you that you think are forgotten actually live on inside of you—particularly the creative parts of you. These are the parts that long for authentic expression, in whatever ways they are able to manifest. They do not die, and when we give them voice, we actually provide healing for ourselves—an ability to bring us to a greater sense of self-awareness, self expression, connection, and ultimately transcendence. The second reason is to challenge you to consider ways you can step out into a more authentic expression of yourself—even if it feels risky to you. The best thing you can do is to break the false idol of yourself. Creative expression gives you the tools to connect with yourself beyond your cultural and social conditioning and to connect with others in true heart and soul expression. Nothing can be more freeing and more healing.

PUTTING CREATIVITY INTO PRACTICE

Fostering Our Flow

How do we begin to jump-start our experience of creativity and its links to flow, improved mood, and vitality to augment our own deeper, more authentic expression of ourselves and our healing? Following is an easy guide:

First, recognize that you are a creative being. The more you identify yourself as a creator, the easier it will be for you to create in different settings, even at work. Even the scientific data suggest this.

Start simple. Remember that no one defines what is creative except you. Is there a particular creative activity that draws you to it? It does not matter whether you have prior experience with

  • It does not need to be a specific art form, either (putting creative outfits together or improvising a meal without a recipe are examples). Pick something easy for you to engage in at least once a week for six weeks, and do something that you can easily fit into your day or week. (Singing in the car or dancing around the house for fifteen minutes a day counts!)

Go beyond judgment. Suspend your and others’ judgment, and move beyond your discomfort. Believe me, I know what it’s like when the kids beg you to stop singing in the car! You will encounter a whole slew of judgmental statements, most of them likely from yourself. As Nike loves to say, “Just Do It.” (In my case, when encountering my children’s complaints, I keep singing, but I do it more softly so as not to irritate their eardrums beyond belief.) When feeling uncomfortable, do it anyway and tap into the bodily, energetic feeling that you have when you are being creative. That will help you break through those negative self-judgments and clear those vrittis, or mind disturbances!

Observe, persist, and enjoy. Notice how you feel after engaging in your creative act. Be your own scientist. Explore how you feel after the first time, and then the second time, and so on. How did the rest of your day go after you allowed yourself some time for creativity? Keep at it, and even try your hand at something new. You might feel more comfortable working with an art form you have learned in the past. However, remember that your goal is not perfection—it is connecting with the energy of creativity. There is something to be said for examining an art form with “beginner’s mind.” Keep honing your creativity by focusing on both things you know and things you don’t know, and see what insights come to you as a result.

 

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The Biofield: The Missing Link Between Healing and Con...

Dr. Shamini Jain is a clinical psychologist, researcher, public speaker, and the founder of the nonprofit Consciousness and Healing Initiative. With Sounds True, she’s released the new book Healing Ourselves: Biofield Science and the Future of Health. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon has a conversation with Shamini about the interconnections between human consciousness, the biological world, and our ability to heal. Shamini explains “the biofield” and how it relates to both our physical and spiritual selves. She and Tami discuss already existing healing modalities that work with the biofield (such as Reiki and qigong), as well as recent scientific discoveries that support and expand those fields. Finally, Tami and Shamini talk about the essential step of surrendering to the healing process, the mystery and potential of the placebo effect, and our fundamental connection to all of life.  

The Core of Belonging

Rev. angel Kyodo williams is an author, activist, Zen priest, and founder of the organization Transformative Change, which centers on the link between inner work, wholeness, and social transformation at scale. With Sounds True, Rev. angel has created a new six-part audio series called Belonging: From Fear to Freedom on the Path to True Community. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Rev. angel about how society shapes our sense of belonging, and what it means to take back our power to belong. They discuss how embodied belonging transcends that which our entire sense of self and reality is based upon, and offers us a deep awareness of our essential truth. Tami and Rev. angel also touch on: forgiveness as a healing self-practice, the meaning of true community, and how growing comfortable in our own skin gives us the capacity to heal, enact conscious change, and belong in any environment.

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