Friday, May 9, 2008

Bon Appetit

Nothing like a crisis to help you get things in perspective. Take the current world-wide food shortage. Of course the people in poor countries will suffer much more than in rich countries but even there the tripling of food prices is starting to make people sit up and take notice. Walking down Orchard Rd just yesterday I saw a large advertisement for an up-market shopping centre. It showed a young woman lounging of her couch looking at dozens of pairs of shoes scattered on the floor. The caption read ‘Spoiled for Choice.’ I wonder how this sign would go down if a boring, prosaic, ho-hum thing like rice suddenly became unavailable? There was a thing on the TV a few weeks ago about a guy who conducts courses teaching Singaporeans how to appreciate wine. You know the sort of thing - which wine to eat with what sort of meat, how to sniff it properly before drinking it, how to impress the waiter or your girlfriend by ordering a type of wine they have ever heard of. I wonder how quickly all this would become irreverent if the supply of rice dried up? I’m not saying that a veneer of ‘polish’ of ‘sophistication’ or of ‘style’ is not good. It is. But it is just a veneer and sometimes its good to be reminded of this. Helps you keep things in perspective. Brings home to you what is really important in life. What seemed so complicated before now looks quite simple. It also makes the the famous statement “All beings subsist on food” and the Buddha’s observation “the body comes into being because of food and is dependent on food” (A.II, 146) a bit more profound than they might appear on first reading. Ultimately its all about food. Food comes first and everything else later, sometimes much later. In the final analysis its about rice, wheat, salt and water. Man may not be able to live by bread alone, as the Bible contends, although many people seem to do so quite happily. But he certainly can’t live without it! That’s why the Buddha asked us to do a brief contemplation on the food we are about to eat. I always do the one mentioned in the Tipitaka. “I will be moderate in eating, I will reflect wisely and I will not take food for amusement, for intoxication, for physical beauty or for attractiveness, but only for the sake of the strengthening and continuing of the body, for ending the discomfort of hunger, for assisting in living the holy life and while thinking; “Thus I will end the old feelings without arousing new ones and I shall be healthy, blameless and live in comfort’” (e.g. M.I,273).

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