Buddha Shakyamuni is often depicted holding a bowl in his left hand while his right hand makes a teaching gesture. This fact clearly means that the teaching has to do with food. But what exactly is it?
We are all gathered here today in a moment of shared awareness of food, represented by the Milan Charter, because for most religions food has a value that goes far beyond a substance or a product. It ought to be a substance of awareness, for everyone: but we are so used to eating hurriedly, alone, standing up, and often busy performing various other multitasking actions at the same time, that we are unable to give it any value beyond its taste quality and our personal pleasure. If it has been felt necessary to dedicate nothing less than a Universal Exposition to food, it means that our relationship with food needs a 360° overhaul. In its Original Nature, for all religions, food was not something to be traded for profit or power, as it has become. Food needs to go back to being a nourishment of awareness for human beings, restoring our awareness that our body is the food we eat, and our mind and our spirit are the food we eat too: for Buddhism, mind, body and spirit are a single essence.
Helping to restore this important vision of unity is one of the practices of Zen in relation to food. Helping to restore the true value of the food that is our life, that we are, encourages us to understand the importance of food and of nourishment for us and for all living things, and to understand that food and nourishment is a spiritual thing because it involves a sharing of interdependence and interconnection with the entire planet… and beyond. Too many human beings in the world today are denied food, and denying someone food is not just a matter of making them hungry, it means denying them the dignity of being human, denying them the possibility of growth and self-awareness, or spiritual awareness one would say in other religious contexts.
And beyond. To not help human beings, but also animals, plants and all beings of Earth to nourish themselves adequately, means impeding all of us and the Planet from carrying out our journeys of realization, of illumination, of awakening to our real nature of universal beings.