Being one with chocolate, how does that work?

image © 2019 David S. Thompson

I’m confused about name and form, and the idea that if you end the subject-object relationship, and see what was formerly an object as part of yourself, you drop the attachment to it— practically speaking, how does that work? If I have a piece of chocolate, and try to end the subject-object relationship with that piece of chocolate, it’s a part of me, but I still want to eat it.


According to Buddha when we sit letting go of thought, or keep our karmic consciousness idling, then name and form (namarupa) disappears, ceases to exist. Do you believe this? I really believe this. This [holds marker] ceases to be a brown marker to me, this is just as it is. We let go of the name and evaluation, and try not to do anything with this. It’s there, but this is not a brown marker, we don’t make a judgment whether this is useful or not useful. It’s still here but it ceases to be namarupa. At that time, as in Dogen Zenji’s expression, it starts to be the Buddha Dharma, or to reveal itself just as it is. This is not namarupa or the object of my perception, but this is just as it is. That is just what Dogen Zenji says at the very beginning of Genjokoan, “When all dharmas are Buddha Dharma, there is delusion and realization, practice, life and death, buddhas and living beings.” When we let go of all of our different thoughts in zazen, all things cease to be namarupa and start to be Buddha Dharma. That is the time we can practice with all different dharmas. But still this is it. It doesn’t change, but the relationship between this person and this thing has changed. We encounter this not as a namarupa or object of my judgment or evaluation, but this is just as it is. It has its own form, nature, body, energy, and function. That is when I can practice with this [holds marker], when this starts to show the reality of all beings, impermanence, egolessness, and interdependent origination. As far as I perceive this as a brown marker, I have some connection or relationship. I’m hooked within this connection of a person who has a desire and the object of my desire to write or do something meaningful or valuable for this person. If we stop all those hooks, this thing starts to reveal the reality of all beings. It becomes a buddha that teaches us and shows us the reality of all beings. So it becomes a teacher. The relationship and meaning of this being becomes different. It’s still here but it ceases to be namarupa and starts to be Buddha Dharma.

In our zazen we can really completely let go of all perceptions or thinking or evaluation or anything. But when we get out of the zendo this starts to be namarupa again and we have of deal with namarupa. Practice within our daily lives is more complicated. What Buddha taught in the Sutta Nipata is not the end of the teaching. There is the Mahayana teaching and also what Dogen teaches: how we can live based on this teaching of Buddha. As a Mahayana Buddhist or bodhisattva we have to work within the society with all beings. We cannot sit twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. Somehow, we have to work or interact with other people with different ideas, opinions or views. We have to deal with namarupa. How can we deal with namarupa if we cannot avoid contact with namarupa?

I think what Dogen is saying, and what Mahayana Buddhism is teaching, is that there is another way to avoid contact even though we are working together with things, and that is to become one with this. As Dogen Zenji said in Tenzo Kyokun, when you work in the kitchen you should be one with the rice, water, or fire. That is another way this ceases to be namarupa, and yet remain a part of my life. One way of “avoiding” contact is to really let go of everything and sit facing the wall. Another way is to encounter this as one thing. That is the question Dogen is answering in Bendowa: whether this can be applied only during zazen or if this can also be applied in our daily lives. This is a kind of difficult point, a delicate point. We have to really think deeply.

As far as the chocolate— I think you can eat it; but it depends on your physical condition. Sugar can be a poison depending upon your condition. You have to consider the relationship between the chocolate and you. A baby doesn’t have a concept of the mother’s milk. Cats and dogs also don’t have names or concepts, still they know what they can eat, or what they need to keep them alive. Probably there is no “perception” in Buddhist terms, but they have five skandhas and food is probably something to them. Maybe cats and dogs don’t eat what they need out of desire but out of necessity. Cats don’t eat more than they need, but we humans eat even when we know it’s a poison. To eat too much delicious food harms our bodies, but still I want to eat it. That is because we think this is important, this is expensive, or this is delicious, or I cannot eat if I don’t eat right now. I think this is a problem caused by our mind or thinking, and I think that is desire. But the appetite of babies or cats and dogs is not desire. It’s a necessity, they only eat as much as they need. They are more enlightened than us.

But if I want the chocolate, then the chocolate is namarupa, an object of my desire. If I just eat it without thinking or considering my healthy condition, we are in need of wisdom. Even if this brown marker ceases to exist as namarupa, still this can be used as a marker. But this cannot be a piece of chocolate, we cannot eat this. When we start to think whether to eat this piece of chocolate or not, a kind of wisdom arises to see what happens when I eat this. That is what we do in our daily lives— we have to deal with this. When we start to question our relationship with this chocolate, then the chocolate becomes Buddha Dharma. Chocolate is teaching us to consider whether we are being led by our desire or wisdom. I think that is our practice in our daily lives. We have to deal with this. If we eat it without thinking, just because we want to eat it, just because I like it, then this is really namarupa. But when we stop one moment and think whether this is a good thing or not or what the action of eating this causes to these five skandhas, then we start to learn about this thing and that thing.

Even from one piece of chocolate we can see the entire universe, because everything is connected with this one piece of chocolate. The chocolate is in front of me because of the farmers who grow the cocoa plants and the people who worked making chocolate at a factory, and people who transported it from where it was made to in front of me. When we see this chocolate, we can see the entire net of interdependent origination. After that we have to make a decision to eat it or not. Then the chocolate really becomes a teacher of dharma. It’s not a mystical thing, this is really a day-to-day ordinary thing. But if we are careful, we can study dharma even from one piece of chocolate. I think that is what Dogen is saying. Does it make sense?

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Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

The Dōgen Institute offers an occasional series of questions from students with responses from Okumura Roshi  about practice and study. These questions and responses are from Okumura Roshi’s recorded lectures, and are lightly edited.

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For further study:

> Other Questions and responses

Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

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