These two short pieces are early products of an ongoing project, Selling Water by the River: Desert Koans. The author says, “Although I am fairly new to Soto Zen and meditation, working on these pieces has provided perfect moments to craft my Zen practice and my creative work.”
WHEN PEDRO MAKES chilaquiles for his family, he must prepare by first making his purchases. When he is at the market, his mind is focused upon the praise he expects for the delicious meal he has yet to prepare, not upon the color and ripeness of the cheese, the ticklish aroma of the chile pods, the heft and softness of the tortillas de maiz. When he is home cooking, his mind is focused on the embraces of his wife and children, bellies full and content, not on the consistency of the sauce, the delicacy of the grated cheese, the homey aroma of the fried tortillas. When he sits down, his mind does not register the abundant flavors flooding his mouth as he chews. He thinks of nothing but praise, and therefore his essential self is destroyed.
WHEN CRISTÓBAL MAKES tamales, he must follow many steps in his recipe before his grandchildren can happily unwrap and eat them. While he prepares the masa, his mind becomes as supple and yielding as the masa. He dips his fingers into it with relish. When he prepares the pork for the filling and boils the chiles for the sauce, his mind traces back to the fields from which this food came; the hands that caressed the hogs and gently picked the chiles are his. As he fills the husks, he imagines the corn, full and contented, hanging on its stalks. When he steams the tamales, Cristóbal becomes the steam itself, a suggestion of solidity, and is content.
When the time comes to serve his grandchildren, even then Cristóbal is unconcerned with praise. He is untroubled by his rumbling belly. He merely breaks a small piece off and chews, fully aware each time his jaws open, each time they close again, and therefore his essential self is born.