In this playful and enlightening documentary by Doris Dorrie, Zen Master Edward Espe Brown says: "When you're cooking you're not just cooking, not just working on food, you are also working on yourself, on other people." Here we see him at his cooking classes at the Buddhist center Scheibbs in Austria and two California Buddhist centers, the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and the Zen Center in San Francisco.
Brown helped run the enormously successful Greens restaurant and is the author of three well-loved books in Buddhist and natural foods circles: The Tassajara Bread Book, The Tassajara Recipe Book, and Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings. He was ordained in 1971 as a Zen priest by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind). His advice to Brown when he was starting to cook was:
"When you wash the rice, wash the rice, when you cut the carrots, cut the carrots, when you stir the soup, stir the soup."
It is not lost on Brown that Zen meditation and cooking are intimately related with their emphasis on being present and paying close attention to what is happening. But giving 100 percent of ourselves while we are cooking is a spiritual practice that goes against the grain of this culture's emphasis on multitasking. Brown challenges us to see the unitasking of cutting carrots, making bread, and stirring ingredients of a recipe.
Cooking is about using the body and savoring the senses. Brown makes a good point that we seldom get to use our hands and keep them active in this convenience culture where 80 percent of people don't eat at home and don't cook. He has many wise and entertaining things to say about sharp knives and yeast and impenetrable packages. He conveys his enthusiasm for cooking and passes it on to a varied group of students of all ages. Dorrie divides the film into fascinating thematic sections which enable us to enjoy Brown's teachings while riding along on her imaginative jaunts: free your hands, fiasco, cutting through the confusion, anger, affluence, no preferences-no aversions, incomparable, imperfection and blemishes.
There are many magic moments in How to Cook Your Life. One pertains to a homeless woman who creates her own meals by scavenging fruit from trees and leftovers from grocery stores. Another comes when Brown breaks into tears while gazing at some battered teapots which convey the good news to him that he can go on despite his imperfections. He admits that in the kitchen some of his personal flaws have come to the surface: namely anger, impatience, and arrogance. This wonderful collaboration of Brown and Dorrie results in a pleasant and edifying Zen experience.