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  • Writer's pictureSweet Orange

#32 おかげさま(4)Thankfully (Okagesama) 4

Rev. Kodo Tanaka 田中孝道

Title: Thankfully (Okagesama) 4


In the last column, I introduced how our ancestry can be appreciated from the Buddhist point of view. Our ancestry is the very condition that enables our present lives to exist in this world. Also, it is not merely the bloodline or family lineage but the succession of love and affection, worries and patience, passed on from a parent to child, generation to generation. When we ascend the time axis, it becomes apparent that our ancestry is the condition that supports our present lives vertically from the past. Here, let us look at other conditions that support our present lives from the perspective of space. Without exception to anyone, what makes us live each day? It is food. Let us look into this matter by disassembling a hamburger.

Lettuce, tomato, onions, burger, and buns. In general, these are what you see when you disassemble a hamburger. All vegetable in front of us is the result of a harvest that is made possible by the growth of seeds and the enormous efforts of farmers who patiently cultivate them. All seeds require such conditions as sun, rain, and good soil to grow. Buns are made from flour, which is originally a seed of wheat, and flour needs a baker to produce buns from it. And beef putty is originally a body part of cattle. It is not sufficient that these ingredients are produced at each farm. They are required to be delivered to a kitchen by a truck with enough fuels and a driver. And finally, it needs a cook for these ingredients to be assembled as a hamburger. Just a hamburger is something that is made possible when all required conditions meet. If so, all food in front of us is something made possible by countless conditions.

“Why do I have to say itadaki-masu (I humbly take this) at every meal?” It is often said, “To thank those who cook them or blessings of the earth.” But if it is only to thank them, Japanese words before meals should have been “arigato” instead of “itadaki-masu”. Christian grace shows appreciation to God who gave food to people. Why it is “itadaki-masu (I humbly take this)” in Japanese and what is it we are taking?

It is life. All meals are regarded as an act of taking the lives of other living beings, animals and plants, and it is called “se-ssho (taking life)” in Buddhism. Although the form of beings is different from humans, all animals, mountains, rivers, plants, and trees are regarded to have the seed that would grow to be a Buddha. We humans cannot live without consuming food for nourishment by taking the lives of other living beings. In Japanese, the act of eating is expressed in three ways. It is “ku-u” that we gluttonize to only satisfy hunger and appetite. It is “taberu” that we eat food sorting out ingredients for health. Finally, it is “itadaku” that we eat food regarding it as an act of taking lives and pledging that we would reward these lost lives by receiving them fully to energize ourselves to live.

“Why do I have to clear the plate each meal?” In an interview, Mr. Ichiro Suzuki, who was a famous major league baseball player, explained a reason why he would cook only a slice of beef at a time on a plate when dining at a BBQ restaurant. “Because”, he said, “life of a cattle is sacrificed for this meal. I thought about how I should be respectful to this fact and found that it is to cook carefully and taste every slice of beef at its best.”

“Clear the plate”, which is a very familiar phrase for people in Japan, is a message that teaches us not to waste life but to make the most out of it. It is the only way to reward lost lives that are served as our food that we make all of them fully as the energy of our lives. While thankfulness in Christian grace is addressed to God, “itadaki-masu” with a bow pressing the palms together in front of our chest is directly addressed to food (life) in front of us. “Itadaki-masu” is a word to apologize for lost lives and swear to live fully by making all energy for us to survive.


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