I borrowed this title from the first two lines of a Zen meal gatha I learned awhile ago as I studied meditation at San Francisco Zen Center. It begins: “… 72 laborers brought us this food, we should know how it comes to us …” (the entire gatha follows below).
We (both my wife Marilyn and I) were sent to San Francisco from Boulder, Colorado by Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche (born in Tibet; now deceased; can be found in wikipedia) to study Zen Buddhism and meditation technique. Trungpa is credited with bringing Tibetan vajrayana Buddhism to the West and to America, which is an advanced method for mindfulness training from the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism. Chogyam Trungpa was the eleventh incarnation of Trungpa in the Kagyu tradition, which dates back to the early 16th century. I was introduced to and instructed by him in meditation and in art also, as he was invited to teach form and spacial arrangement at the University of Colorado, where I was enrolled to study advanced color theory after graduating from art school.
At Zen Center we sat zazen (meditation) and shared meals and conversation with the initiates—some monks wearing their popular black and grey robes—and participated in rituals (of which I was not particularly fond) while renting a small flat nearby. These first two lines of the gatha have stayed with me down through the years and capsulize my growing interest in farming technology, farm workers and farm communities.
This interest sprang from many years’ living in California, exploring and observing (at a distance) the natural work rhythms of the field and farm workers that dot the countryside. Their dance-like movements exude a charisma that express to me a poise and grace that is ages old, the liveliness of which I sometimes attempt to capture in paint before it gets lost in the mechanization of farming and urbanization of our contemporary cultures.
Coalescing with that, this same, time-worn gatha finds its way into my thoughts as I do this work, and brings with it the fragrance of damp earth, tramp of feet, and sights of stacked boxes and farm equipment, trucks, table-cloths, forks and napkins … all which populate my panels. A moment of mindful recollection of this gatha sparks visions of the entire chain of 72 hands required to experience the appearance of my food, including not only agricultural hands, but truckers and transportation, boxing, packaging, delivering, food preparation hands, servers, waiters, busboys … all that has brought about the experience in nowness.
I too, have the conviction that to remain an independent people, we must bring our technological focus to bear on the conservation and preservation of our greatest natural assets—sustainable good air, fresh water, abundant food chain and renewable energy resources. It is well that we, in our passion for liberation, consider how our food comes to us—by whose hands that is. By increasing our awareness of not only who it is among us that is providing our food, but as important, that we remain capable of feeding not only ourselves but retain the ability to share with others.
My desire is to extend these thoughts outward with a 72 Laborers collection of studies.
First, seventy-two laborers brought us this food,
We should know how it comes to us.
Second, as we receive this offering, we should consider
Whether our virtue and practice deserve it.
Third, as we desire the natural order of mind, to be free from
clinging, We must be free of greed.
Fourth, to support our life, we take this food.
Fifth, to attain our way we take this food.
First, this food is for the Three Treasures.
Second, it is for our teachers, parents, nation, and all sentient beings.
Third, it is for all beings in the three worlds.
Thus, we eat this food with everyone,
We eat to stop all evil, to practice good, to save all sentient beings,
And to accomplish the buddha way (manner of awakening; my parenthesis).
(Oryoki is the word for a formal Zen meal eaten in the zendo (meditation hall). This gatha however, extends to all meals.)