love of life

To look for life
is to find death.
The thirteen organs of our living
are the thirteen organs of our dying.
Why are the organs of our life
where death enters us?
Because we hold too hard to living.

So I’ve heard
if you live in the right way,
when you cross the country
you needn’t fear to meet a mad bull or tiger;
when you’re in battle
you needn’t fear the weapons.
The bull would find nowhere to jab its horns,
the tiger nowhere to stick its claws,
the sword nowhere for its point to go.
Why? Because there’s nowhere in you
for death to enter.

Lao Tzu
Ursula K Le Guin’s version

Last night we began the new season of Chef’s Table, which begins with the monk Jeong Kwan, which is fascinating for a lot of reasons, but especially within the context of the show. Chef’s Table is centered around the greatest chefs in the world and the story of their careers. Often these have a sort of rags to riches feel, where a young child becomes inspired by food, seeks skill in the big cities, only to discover a beauty and culinary transcendence in their native cultural cuisine, which leads to world renown.

But Jeong Kwan has no career. She has no restaurant. She’s simply a Buddhist monk at a temple in South Korea. She lives simply, cooks simply, and has simple beliefs about food and life.

It was beautiful. My favorite episode of the series, which is saying something since I really really love this show. But the pure joy you see in Jeong Kwan is impossible to ignore. Even if you weren’t having world renown chefs and critics talk about her food being on par with any world class chef on the planet, it would still be inspiring.

Something I don’t think I’ve ever talked with anyone about is that I often have the desire to become a monk. Less so these days, now that I’m married and have a different sort of life. But before I met Chelsea, I really never thought I’d get married, and there was so much of life that I found…distasteful.

The life of a monk held a certain appeal. Sometimes a very strong appeal. And, oddly, I imagined doing it in the same way Jeong Kwan did–to just disappear one day and go to a temple.

And, who knows, maybe some day I’ll come back to that, when this path I’ve taken in life winds down.

I find it a strange desire, since I’m not a Buddhist or anything even similar. As I’ve said, I’m not even a Taoist, despite these daily meditations on the Tao.

I think it’s the simplicity of that life. The beauty in simplicity. The stillness. The quietness.

It’s something I’m always trying to discover through my own art, and always failing, I fear. But I’ve always been drawn to the beauty of stillness and silence. I think because my life is so loud. Because life itself is so loud. But even my own life. Right now, I’m listening to music. I’m almost always listening to something. I spend very little of my life in silence, and I think it’s because I’m afraid of silence, as much as I desire it.

It’s a strange thing to talk about.

This poem, today, makes me think of Jeong Kwan. Especially the second stanza, because I can imagine her facing down armies or beasts and coming away unharmed, still smiling.

Her philosophy of cooking is her philosophy of life. It’s Buddhism, obviously, and there’s a certain appeal to Buddhism. It’s not for me, for a variety of reasons, but I do like it in practice, through I often find it philosophically unpleasant. Or, I should even qualify the appeal of its practice, since Buddhism is very different in different places, and it’s sometimes quite bloody and vicious.

Anyrate, Jeong Kwan talks about food and life and the body almost as if they’re one thing. And I love that. I love the transience of life that it represents. I love how life and death are wild and unknowable but never unexpected. There’s a beauty there, in not clinging to life, but in accepting it. Accepting it along with death, as natural processes, no different than farming or eating.

And ultimately, this poem is about the transience of life. How clinging to life will bring misery upon us. Rather, we should enjoy life for what it is. We should absolutely revel in the sunlight and the moonlight, sing and dance for the beauty of existence. But we should accept that we will grow old. We will die. And there’s a beauty there, in acceptance.

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