That is why you have to see, sooner or later, that it all comes down to you. The whole catastrophe depends on you, however it manifests. Whether it manifests as joy or whether it manifests as pain and suffering, it all comes home to you. What you do and what happens to you are the same thing. Realize that fully and there is no way you can avoid taking responsibility. And when you take responsibility, you empower yourself; you bring freedom home. You can no longer blame. You can no longer say, “He made me angry,” because only you can make you angry. When you realize that completely you empower yourself to do something about anger. You may say that “I am tense, and my life is full of stress because of my lousy job.” But when you realize that the cause of stress and the effect of stress are the same thing, your way of working with it becomes very different. When you realize responsibility, you realize that sickness and medicine heal each other.

What we search for is everywhere—on the tips of a hundred thousand weeds, in the voice of a child, the growl of an adversary, the barriers we encounter in the workplace, the pain and suffering that we heap upon each other, the peace and joy that we try to create. All of it is samsara; all of it is nirvana. Samsara is precisely nirvana, nirvana is precisely samsara; they are not two separate things.

How can we doubt this incredible teaching of Dogen that takes us into the kitchen, and says, “Look! Chopping these carrots is a manifestation of the Way of the Buddha, cooking this cabbage leaf is a manifestation of the Way of the Buddha.”

There is a man who serves as cook when we do sesshins in New Zealand who embodies this teaching beautifully. He learned his trade from his father, and then became a cook in the New Zealand Air Force, and somehow ended up in Nelson, New Zealand, where we do our retreats. He makes the best vegetarian cooking I have ever had in my life. It is really beautiful and important how he cooks, the way he handles actual cabbage leaves during a caretaking period. He scalds cabbage leaves in boiling water. He puts one in, and takes it out, and feels it, and puts it in, and takes it out. He handles that cabbage leaf as if it were his child; he handles it with loving-kindness, with intimacy, with joy, and with profound respect. It makes all the difference in the world how that food is prepared, how it tastes, and the way it affects all of us. That is why the chief cook is one of the most important officers of a monastery. To nourish people is not just a matter of putting food in their belly; it is the nourishment of the whole body and mind. If there is anger and confusion in the preparation of the food, people eat anger and confusion; if there is wisdom, compassion and love, we eat wisdom, compassion and love. Life nourishes us, we in turn nourish each other, and return our lives to the ten thousand things.

From Bringing The Sacred To Life. Copyright © 2008 by Shambhala Publications. Reprinted by permission of Shambhala Publications.