Ed Brown • interview with the Zen Baker • entrevista com o Padeiro Zen

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“Bread makes itself, by your kindness, with your help, with imagination streaming though you, with dough under hand, you are breadmaking itself, wich is why breadmaking is so fulfilling and rewarding.” Ed Brown

Every 15 days there is a batch of bread here in São Paulo in the urban monastery of Sangha Therigatha. Fifty years ago Tassajara was already producing bread and Ed Brown wrote and released the book “The Tassajara Bread Book”. It seems that Japanese Zen when it arrived in the American continent, both in the south and in the north, found in the activity of making bread a fertile and tasty practice!

Realizing the connection between these two moments and places, I decided to talk to Ed Brown and see how his experience can enrich ours in São Paulo and for evrywhere and everyone who is interested in Zen and bread!

Entreview with Ed Brown

ASSIGNMENT x Fulfilling

All my life I’ve been aiming to find what I’ve been called to do. Where to put the energy of my life? This is such a profound and important shift from what’s the assignment to what am I drawn to do? How am I inspired to use my energy, my life force, my being? Then the more you do that, the more you have the sense of fulfilling your heart’s desire.

discovering bread

When I was 10, I went with my brother on a vacation to Washington D.C, we stayed with my aunt, my father’s sister and her husband. She made homemade bread and it was unbelievably delicious. We’d go sightseeing to different places so we get home and the house would be full of the smell of homemade bread.

I was transported and I thought what happened? Why aren’t we all eating bread like this? What went wrong and why are we eating commercial bread? My heart was just being pulled. And I thought, I’m going to learn how to make bread and I will teach other people to make bread. Ten years old is often a very important age when these things come to you. If somewhere along the way we were listening and we were awake.

learning how to make bread at tassajara

When I got to Tassajara I was already a Zen student but I was there the last year it was a resort. They were making this amazing bread which eventually got into the Tassajara Bread book and I said can you teach me and they said sure and then I was the dishwasher, the pot scrubber and the bread baker and somehow just who I am, I know how to take the energy of my life and put it into something.

Zen was good for that but also put it into washing the dishes, put it in the scrub in the pots, put it into making bread and you know manifest something with your energy. When you make bread, you manifest something with your hands, with your body. There’s a great joy in giving life to life and receiving the life and seeing the life grow and that’s what happens with bread.  

doing something with devotion

Later that summer they asked me to become one of the cooks, and when I started being one of the cooks they needed two people to do my job. What had just been a job simple, easy job for me, I had time off, washing the pots, scrubbing the pans, making the bread, they needed two people. You can do something with devotion, energy and your heart. I started making bread and then I started studying how to make bread and it was so enjoyable and fulfilling and so much a labor of love.

The Zen Center Bought Tassajara

The Zen Center bought Tassajara and because I was already a Zen student and I was 21 years old and Zen Center said why don’t you be the head cook? I had no idea that how overwhelming it would be and I said sure. People don’t have a clue, I know there was fewer guests than there was like 40 guests and not 70 or 80. I was the tenzo, the baker the head guest cook and the head of student cooking.

First students

Bread is one of those amazing things that speaks to a lot of people. I started cooking and I had four jobs and people would say do you have a recipe for making that bread, “that bread is so good” and I said you know “I’m sorry, I don’t have time to write down recipes, if you want to learn how to make bread you come to the kitchen at five in the morning tomorrow” so those are my first students.

People would come to the kitchen, I would teach them and I would get them started and do this and I could just do something else and I’d check back with them and then they’d complete one part and I’d say okay well now we’re gonna let it rise come back in half an hour. They’d go away they’d have some coffee they’d come back, now you’re gonna benfolding in the flour and then I teach them how to knead and I did that a lot, teaching people to bake bread there was basically no book about how to make bread.

Hands want to be hands

Hands want to be hands, they don’t want to just be appendages that only can interact with keyboards and actually maybe not even the fingers but only the thumbs done on phones. When you make bread, your hands get happy because you’re  kneading the bread, the bread is needing your hands and then afterwards your hands are like “oh thank you I’m so awake I’m so alive this is so great”. There’s this whole circle of  I’m giving life, life is given to me. I’m so grateful I am nourished and the Shakers, the old religious group, used to have an expression “the work is a gift to the person working”.

The beginning – baby edward

I was born three weeks premature, my mother came home from the hospital a week later, I didn’t come home for three weeks. They weren’t holding babies in those days then, so you get nurse now and again and my picture of it is just lying there. I’m convinced that that was my first sesshin, 24 hours a day pretty much.

Depending on how you look, the way that I look at it, the spiritual way, or mythical it’s a mythological way. If you look at it from the psychological point of view, you were wounded, that’s going to give you abandonment issues, that’s going to give you self-judgment. Or you can look at it as training to become a zen teacher.

High school

When I was in high school there were two books about zen, one was “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones” by Paul Reps. He  is one of my absolute heroes. He had a book  of short little commentaries on the Mumonkan, The Gateless Gate, and there’s a whole section of stories which are not about the cases. One of the stories was a young man, who was in school and writes home to his mother and says “Dear mom I’m getting really good grades, I’m studying a lot of interesting things, I’m writing, I’m helping the other students study and learn. He gets a letter back with his mom “Dear son, I didn’t raise you to be a walking dictionary”.

I got that like that’s right, I’m not here to be a walking dictionary. Then it says why don’t you go to the mountains and attain true realization? I thought, yeah why don’t I do that? The end of the school year came and I dropped out and then they give you a form a dropping out form and on the form they ask the reason for leaving, I wrote to go to the mountains and attain true realization. Two years later I was at Tassajara and then a year after that Zen Center bought Tassajara. I feel very fortunate to have found cooking and bread baking and Zen.  If you’re drawn to doing something then take it on, see what you can find out and learn how to do it and you keep studying it.

It keeps unfolding in your body mind and your heart is unfolding, your life is unfolding, you’re feeding, you’re nourishing. You’re giving, you’re receiving and you’re part of this huge web of life and you may or may not get much credit for that but you know you’re having a wholesome time you’re fulfilling your calling.

Is it an orphanage or is it a Buddha field?

I’ve been an orphan all my life. There’s different kinds of orphanages and you get these metaphors, in some ways the orphanage is everywhere.

Is it an orphanage or is it a Buddha field? And is this all divine or when you’re in an orphanage are you separate from the divine? Is there such a thing as not being in an orphanage? Do you undo that to get to get home or are do we make ourselves at home in the orphanage? What changes as far as our awareness?

words for today’s practice – Entre ZEN

I love your name “Entre”, in between, to enter. There you have it. There’s so much in between and to enter. If we’re fortunate with practice we have a great deal of more confidence in being in between and entering. We’re always in between lives, we’re always entering into a new moment, and that we arrive is so brief. I think we have much more trust to be in between, to be entering and finding out how to enter. Find it out. Entry, you can’t do it the same way twice.

You think you know how to enter and then the bread doesn’t rise or something happens in your life or you can’t get back to the States or you thought you had it sorted out, figured out and at one point this is a conversation called it’s stepladder’s end. I’m going to understand this and I will enter now and then there’s how do you do that and then you have to say “well, I guess I’m in between I’m finding out how to enter”, I’ll keep saying there’s a way to enter.

How the quarantine can change our life

Well, hopefully we all, or at least some of us have a chance to reflect, we don’t need to get back to that life. There’s no way to get back to that life and actually that life was not as satisfying as I’d like life to be and I want to figure out how to have a more satisfying life and then let’s do that with some other people. Why don’t have a life that more engages our heart, our hands, our heart.

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