Buddhist Novice in Today's World: Can a Buddhist Go to Fast Food?

- through Francois Leclercq

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This chronicle recounts my daily tribulations in a society from which I moved away for almost ten years to do, as my master recommended, solitary Buddhist retreats. At the end of this cycle of intensive practice, I had to move from an isolated house in the northern region of Quebec to a city existence, and this was for me a source of permanent questioning. A novice in the Vajrayana tradition, before devoting myself fully to the life of a monk, my master asked me to immerse myself in the daily life of everyone. This confrontation with this reality led me to ask myself some questions.Do Buddha and burgers go together? A priori, it is hard to imagine the monks joining the shangas of McDonald's, KFC, Quick et cie. Concretely, how would it be in a fast food restaurant for a Buddhist novice or a lay practitioner of this same tradition? Before passing the door of the stars of street food, let's restore some truths. Firstly, although they are more concerned about their organism and the environment, Buddhists, and even less hermits, are no more discerning gourmets than the others. Second, fast food is not as indigestible as some would have us believe, especially in terms of Buddhist relativity.

And, it is even a great opportunity for a convinced Buddhist to test his progress in practice. If his mind is fully in the present, free from past identifications about what an ad hoc dish should look like, he expects nothing in particular and can therefore savor each dish with gratitude.

But all the same, the novice who, let us remember, is not yet experienced in this kind of approach, will prefer to go his way rather than enter this sanctuary of animal suffering. As far as I'm concerned, between the beef steaks no thicker than fried eggs, the chicken McNuggets which only have breaded nuggets in the name and the principles of Buddhist benevolence which are very difficult to apply in front of the demands of my stomach, lunch may not pass. But let my novice companions be reassured: as a good vegetarian, the novice can order a salad in plastic wrap, a "deluxe potatoe" (i.e. a fattier fry) and a chocolate sundae (i.e. an ice cream covered with decorative bits and pieces). It's colorful, if not appetizing.

From Dogen to Mister Fast food

In line, the young Buddhist will not fail to ask himself a few questions: how to reconcile impermanence and the concept of fast food? The time of quiet wisdom and that of a snack on the go? How to practice your faith in this ambient hubbub?
First observation: meditating between two orders risks creating traffic jams in the queue. Second observation: no need to bring your alms bowl, here the meals are paid for in euros. However, after seeing Instructions d'un cook zen, the novice will observe the place with a new eye and will realize that between McDonalds, Quick, KFC and Dôgen, the link is more tenuous than it seems. You have to see these "team members" cook and fry with dexterity and speed, applying Zanshin, the spirit of the right gesture specific to Zen. At the rate of two million meals served a day, this is ballet. Dogen dreamed it, fast food restaurants did it.

Dogen: “Zen is simply sitting down, without thinking, forgetting body and mind”. Practicing it in fast food restaurants is possible!

While nibbling on his cookie, the novice will marvel at these formidable signs. More than a chain of restaurants, a human chain, where everyone plays their part within a perfectly greased symphony: the buns manager passes his rolls to the tomato slices manager, who garnishes then sends to the ketchup/mayonnaise manager, who then send it to the steak manager, and so on until the dish, nicely packaged, ends up on your tray. Better than the concept of interdependence of phenomena, versatility at all levels! A great work on the ego for those who go through the practice in fast food!

So it's true, the Happy Meal is quickly swallowed and digested for a long time, but the novice will be happy to have more time to mature this teaching of Dôgen: "Zen is simply sitting down, without thinking, in forgetting the body and the spirit”. Like in fast food.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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