Eating the Zen Way

Eat slowly, savor your food, and take in deep breaths between each bite.


(aijiro /

Eating a good meal should involve all the senses and really be enjoyed. We like the way our food looks on the plate, the colors, smells, and tastes. Meals should be savored and thoroughly enjoyed. 

But today, to-go coffee mugs, drive-thru counters, and fast food are the way we consume food quickly and without much thought. By rushing through a meal, we lose the connection with the food, and all those who toiled and labored to bring those ingredients to our tables.

Without that connection to food, many people eat more than they should or consume the wrong things. Many fad diets talk about quick fixes to lose weight and eat more nutritiously. But eating healthy in moderation doesn’t need to be quite so complicated. Just turn to the Zen masters:

“This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard and loving work. May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive this food. May we recognize and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed and learn to eat with moderation.

"May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that reduces the suffering of living beings, stops contributing to climate change, and heals and preserves our precious planet. We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our Sangha, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.” - Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

The Zen masters teach us to eat mindfully, showing gratitude for the source of life during a meal. This way of thinking comes from a centuries-old Eastern philosophy called Zen Buddhism.

What Is Zen?
You may already know of the word Zen as a phrase meaning to go with the flow, or something along those lines. But did you know that the word refers to a religion called Zen Buddhism practiced by millions of people? If you travel to places like Japan, China, Korea, or Vietnam, you’ll likely come across Zen monasteries with monks and followers in quiet meditation. 

The word Zen is Japanese and comes from the Chinese word Ch’an, meaning meditation. The Chan school of Buddhism originated in China in the 9th Century before spreading across to other parts of Asia. 

Zen is Meditation
Zen strips down the layers of scripture, doctrines, and rituals of Buddhism. It simplifies the practice to its core: we are all Buddhas who can seek enlightenment by going inward. Training our mind through meditation, we release ourselves from the slavery of our thoughts and connect with our source, the Buddha-nature.

Many may have a restricted view of meditation in the form of sitting, cross-legged chanting or focused on the breath. But actually, one can practice meditation during any activity. In doing so, you bring awareness to every moment, allowing you to live mindfully in the present.

Turning a Meal Into Meditation
The meal provides an ideal moment for meditation. It means bringing intention to food preparation, savoring every bite, and showing gratitude for nourishment brought from the universe.

Mindful eating begins with its preparation. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh explains: “When you prepare a meal with artful awareness, it’s delicious and healthy. You have put your mindfulness, love, and care into the meal. Then people will be eating your love.”

Create a quiet atmosphere with little distractions. As you prepare your meal, meditate on the sensations. Bring awareness to the aroma of the ingredients and express gratitude for each. Notice the textures as you assemble your meal. Listen to the sounds of the food as you prepare Perhaps you hear the crunching, chopping, or running of water as you rinse each ingredient.

Now it’s time to sit and savor each bite.Meditation while eating gives a chance to appreciate the foods that nourish us. In quiet contemplation, we can savor and reflect upon every bite. Inhale and exhale rhythmically as you chew slowly.

Think of all those who worked hard –  raising the animals, toiling the soil, shipping ingredients from far away –  to bring the food to your plate. Consider the plants and animals that give up their existence to fuel yours. Does this not cultivate a greater connection with the source of life and the connectivity of ourselves with the earth?

Finally, bow in a moment of gratitude. Once you have finished your food, take a moment to give thanks to the food that nourishes you and the process that it took to bring those ingredients to your plate. Place your hands in prayer and bow in humble recognition.

The Zen masters teach us that by eating mindfully, we appreciate the source of life and create a stronger connection with our world. In this way, we become more aware of the foods we consume and eat in moderation with gratitude.

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