The Training of a Temple Cook


I find myself early this morning preparing my first meal by myself for the sesshin work crew at the new Madison dojo, Daikozen-ji. Mornings have always been special to me, the stillness, coolness, the sounds of the birds rising to greet the day. How this manifests in my body has always been there, but until more recently I didn’t have the physical training to explore those depths; the nuances.

I was drawn to Zen like many people, it was and is a philosophy that resonates with me. Searching for meaning after a painful loss. Learning to shoulder others (and in doing so, yourself) without becoming overwhelmed. Remaining calm and focused in the face of hardships. With so many injustices in the world, I honestly still struggle. And while those skills have strengthened with my training, they now seem cursory, a side effect of my training. The training is deeper.

I hear that one enters Zen when the right teacher crosses their path. For me that was true. Having read Kushner Roshi’s book years previously, I was pleased to hear that he lived and taught in the city I had recently moved to, Madison. However, I wasn’t prepared for what Zen had to offer. I still thought of it has a mental exercise. Zen is a physical experience.

Years later Kushner Roshi is still my teacher. With the opening of Daikozen-ji I also have a new teacher, the tenzo (chef at a Buddhist temple) at Spring Green, Roshi Pat Greene. Presently I am training to be tenzo in Madison. This opportunity to be of service to others provides a new depth to my training. I am honing my senses to the layers of flavors, aromas, appearances, textures, and sounds. I am learning to recognize that vegetables, like stones, have a natural way to rest. I am developing an awareness of what those I am nourishing need.

I am grateful for the amazing teachers, community of fellow students, and facilities that have allowed this physical experience and compassion, already within me, to deepen.

So I make oatmeal. I sit. I stir. I skim. I serve.
I relax my shoulders, tune into my posture, and breathe.


Nathan Smith, Tenzo in Training

Nathan Smith