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“Feeding Others We Are Fed”

It’s delicious to feel well-nourished in life. However, many of us live as if we were children expecting others to provide for our needs. We turn to our partners much as we turned to our parents, concerned basically about what they are giving us. This is the idea of the infant, take care of me and all will be well.

“Most people seek to be loved, rather than to be loving.”

Erich Fromm

Zen practice teaches us how to grow up, become giving and develop parental mind. Parental mind is the mind that takes care of the world, offers what it has unconditionally. When we live this way, oddly enough, we feel nourished all the time. The truth is that to be happy we do not need to be loved, we need to learn what it means to be loving.

Zen Cooking

In the zendo the cook is called the tenzo. During retreats the tenzo may have to feed fifty people or more. The meals must be cooked with great mindfulness and care, with not a drop of food wasted and served at exactly the right moment. The very cooking itself becomes a deep training in offering, not only food, but one’s entire self.

When one is in this state of being, it is impossible to be hungry or discontent.

Feeding Others

Being the cook means learning how to appreciate the needs of others, and being willing to completely fill them, on time. Rather than compulsively focusing upon on our own hunger, we attend to the needs of others. As we do this, a strange thing happens, feeding others, we are fed ourselves. It no longer becomes a question of what the other is or isn’t giving. It’s a question of what can be offered to him or to her.

Parental Mind

Parental mind is the state of mind that wants to care for and nourish others. It is the mind of the mother with unconditional regard for her newborn child. It is not a mind which keeps accounts, lists of grudges or continually needs to be attended to.

As parental mind develops it is easy to discover a never-ending source of nourishment within. No matter who does or does not give to us, we need never feel empty or deprived again. The more we attend to the needs of others, the more complete and full we feel.

For many of us it is hard to give because we feel empty. If we do give it is often with resentment and expectation of receiving in return. That kind of giving is barter, not true giving. When we give in that manner, there is a silent demand that turns our gifts into obligation and debt.

True giving asks nothing in return. We give for the joy of giving, and the more we give the fuller we feel. When we give, hoping, expecting and demanding a return, we are left more full than when we began. The best way to stop feeling deprived and empty, is to open up and give what you have – a smile, a word of encouragement, a letter, a song, some food.

Giving And Receiving

Often we try to hold on by giving to others. Or we give to others to feel good about ourselves. Sometimes we give gifts that are too costly for us. This balance between true giving and receiving is vital for a healthy life. As we continue our zazen practice, this balance is established naturally. We breathe in and then offer the return breath back to the universe. No problem at all.

I Wish I Could Give Him The Moon

There’s a wonderful Zen story of an old Zen Master who lived alone in a hut with very few possessions. One day a robber broke into his hut and stole everything he had, including the thin robe we wore on his back. Sitting there naked, the Zen Master looked out the window. A beautiful moon was shining in. The Zen Master sighed and said, “If only I could have given him this beautiful moon.”

No matter what was taken, the Zen Master had no sense of loss. All he thought about was being of benefit, sharing whatever he had.

Don’t Look For A Reward

In order to offer ourselves so fully and freely we must be able to let go of the need for a reward or receiving praise for what we have offered.

“Dried salmon received

And oranges given in return.”


True giving and receiving are one. When we give fully without wanting anything in return, we receive as much as we give. Burden, resentment and clinging falls away. As we learn to engage in this kind of giving and receiving we begin to taste the fruit of real love. Real love makes no claims or demands. It gives the loved one freedom and space. It is always available and as plentiful as the air we breathe. Ultimately we see that it is the very act of holding on that keeps all true nourishment and love away.


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