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November 27, 2013

Food Justice Meditation

I know it is a bit cliché to talk about thanksgiving and thankfulness, so please bear with me. I would like to introduce a unique way to cultivate thankfulness through the Buddhist practice of Metta (meaning lovingkindness). Metta is just a desire that others be happy and free from suffering. We recognize that everyone seeks happiness, but it can be challenging to find. Life is hard. Even people you really dislike experience this same essence of being human. When you wish others well, whether out loud or in your head, you are cultivating Metta. There is, however, a more concrete practice to cultivate Metta: Lovingkindness Meditation. Over the years, meditators in the Buddhist tradition have developed a structured meditation with 5 stages. Just because there is an ancient meditation tradition to pull from doesn’t mean we can’t get creative.

First, I’ll give a quick overview of traditional Lovingkindness Meditation. Check out this detailed guide to Lovingkindness Mediation if you would like to practice it yourself.  Basically, it is a practice where you remember that everyone wants the same things and from this basis, you wish a number of people (and possibly an animal or two) well. You start with yourself, and then move to someone who you naturally have warm, fuzzy feelings towards. That can be your best friend, pet, lover, etc. Then you do a neutral person. This would be someone you run into and may chat briefly with but don’t really know anything about. Good examples are the bus driver, neighbor you don’t really know, or the cashier you recognize from the store. In the next stage you wish someone who frustrates you well. And then you conclude with wishing everyone you just thought about, including yourself, well.

Now for the Thanksgiving Twist… I apologize if this is too New Age for you, but it is a nice exercise.

Food is so central to Thanksgiving.  So, as you gather with your loved ones over a bounty of food, consider what it took to get this food to you. Wish all the people and animals involved well. Set aside a few minutes. Sit somewhere relatively quiet (if possible) and close your eyes.

First, think about your favorite Thanksgiving foods. Imagine the smells, tastes and textures. Visualize your loved ones sharing it with you. Now pick just one food. Consider the chain by which it arrived on your table. Start at the beginning. Was it grown on a field, or raised on a farm (or factory farm)? Thank the farmer for devoting his/her life to making this food available to you. Think of the workers involved in growing or raising the food. Think of the back-breaking work they do everyday. Think of the low pay they may receive. Thank them all and wish them well. Here you can silently drop lines like, “May you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering.” If the food you are thinking of is an animal or animal product, think of the animal involved. Imagine what it is like to be that animal. If the food you are imagining is meat, think about how it might be to give your life for others. Thank the animal and wish them well. If they are no longer living, wish other animals like it well.

Now think about what was involved in the processing and packaging of the food. Think about the workers (or it still may be the farmer) who had to take the steps to make that food palatable to you. Or at least ready for your kitchen. Thank them and wish them well. Now think about the workers involved in transporting and selling you the food. If your food is from a local farm, this may still be the farmer. Or it may be a truck driver and grocery store employee. Think about what it would be like to drive a truck or work in a grocery store. Think about the food workers who are not paid sufficiently for their work. Thank them and wish them well. Finally, think about what home food-preparation was involved in creating this dish. If you cooked it yourself, thank yourself and wish yourself well. If someone else cooked it, imagine the work that was put into it. Thank them and wish them well. Lastly, think of those who do not have the plentiful food that you have. They might be across the world, but unknown to you, they might be your neighbors or child’s playmate. Wish them well.

Now you can open your eyes and dig in!

 Finally, I must give credit to my meditation teacher, Bodhipaksa. The link I included to the Lovingkindness Meditation guide is from his fabulous website, Wildmind.org.  Wildmind is an amazing resource for everything meditation, if you're interested in more.

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving.

 

Ilana Barach is an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Presbyterian Hunger Program. She is working in Indianapolis on projects that promote access to healthy, local food. When she's not at work, you might find her in the kitchen, cooking soup, in a yoga pose, or curled up with a book.


  1. Ilana- I was browsing the website for a meditation on justice, and this blog came up. How lovely! As a progressive Christian, I find great wisdom in the teachings of my own religion as well as other religions and disciplines. Thank you for sharing these beautiful words and promoting a sense of inclusion. Our hurting world needs more of this.

    by April Schaefer-Ayers

    September 24, 2014

  2. Matthew 7:13-14 - "13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." And we wonder why people accuse the PCUSA of compromising the gospel message. To move beyond Christianity is to abandon it.

    by Sam Knight

    March 19, 2014

  3. Oh boy! I hate to open another can of worms, but here goes . . . Personally, I have no problem with the utilization of another form of spiritual practice, and it doesn't mean to me that Ilana or anyone else is less of a Christian or not following Jesus, who is The Way. But I do have a problem with thanking those who brought the turkey - or the eggs or milk - to the table. Most of the turkeys, eggs, and dairy products came to us through horribly cruel methods. For larger animals, and possibly turkeys, this extends right down to the transportation, where animals are exposed to extreme temperatures for extended periods of time in open carriers without food or water, and in their own excrement. I would extend my sorrow to the immigrant worker in the slaughterhouse, who has no real choice about his employment, and whose health needs are subject to the whim of his mega-Ag employer. I would extend my pleas that these large corporations who have our food chain by the throat would repent of their greed and that we would wake up to how we have enabled this to happen through our own greed. (Dare I say gluttony . . . exacerbating world hunger and condemning our own poor to non-nutritious diets that further the obesity epidemic?) Our prayer of thanksgiving to God should be paired with an apology to the nephesh hayah (enspirited flesh, in Genesis) of the animals we have put through tortuous lives and deaths in industrialized "farms" and our repentance for these acts, our corporate idolatry of money and our corporate sin of greed. And then we should move forward in true repentence (turning) and attempt to follow the two greatest commandments - to love God and neighbor, recalling that Godself covenanted with the earth, the animals, and human animals in the covenanat after the flood. That's the can of worms I choose to open. We in the North American continent live with blinders on. Wishing us ALL true peace, joy, and love -- and Jesus called all to himself, sinners, Samaritans, tax collecters, Jews and Greeks, male and female, insiders and outsiders. He was the most inclusive of all.

    by Rev Robin Lostetter

    December 30, 2013

  4. Ilana: I studied briefly with a Buddhist monk when I was in college, including most of the classical texts of that religion. Buddhism does not recognize the existence of any God or supreme being, much less a belief in the Trinity or the true and living God who became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ. The Buddha taught "You are your own salvation," and that we must save ourselves. He also taught that all suffering is an illusion, which is not what we as Christians believe. This is so far from the Christian faith that I cannot imagine why you would recommend that Christians practice the disciplines of Buddhism. To me, it shows the poverty of spiritual, theological and Biblical truth in the PC(USA) that such a blog would appear on an official denominational website.

    by Peter Larson

    December 4, 2013

  5. Melody Peters, which words of Jesus are you referring to? "I am the way, the truth and the life -- no one comes to the Father except through me." "On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then I will declared to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.'" "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?" "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. God therefore and make disciples of all nations...." "He who believes in [the Son] is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the only Son of God." "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life." "I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am [the Messiah]." "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires..." "You do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I shall give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand." These apparently are not the words of Jesus that you are thinking of. And yet this is a small sampling of Jesus' exclusionary teachings. The distinction is this: Jesus is radically exclusive in his claim that salvation and wholeness can be found only in and through him; he is radically inclusive in his invitation for all human beings (regardless of race, background, moral standing, etc.) This is perfectly summed up in the universal teaching of 1 John 5:12 -- "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." Perhaps a little closer look at all the words of Jesus would help ease your difficulty over the "exclusionary thoughts" you are finding in the comments section.

    by Mateen Elass

    December 4, 2013

  6. there are people of many faiths that also are practitioners of Buddhism. Buddhism is not so much a religion as a discipline. I have known many people of faith that profess their love of god and their practice of meditation and well wishing. Even athiests and agnostics are welcome to explore the practice. I find it difficult to hold the words of Jesus Christ and his inclusion of all types and faiths with the exclusionary thoughts expressed here. I would think that loving kindness and well wishing would fit very well with the faith based on the words of Christ.

    by Melody Peters

    December 3, 2013

  7. Ilana, your post would be a wonderful offering for "Wellwishing Day," had we such a holiday. But you have confused wishing good for others with giving thanks to others. To wish others well shows an attitude of lovingkindness. To thank others shows a heart of gratitude. The two may exist side by side, but they are not the same. Christians indeed are called to wish others well; even more to do good to others, including our enemies. But Thanksgiving is the time to remind ourselves that all our blessings past, present and future, either directly or indirectly, are due to the beneficence and grace of God. It saddens me that your well-intentioned words muddy the waters, injecting a Buddhist practice that has nothing to do with thanksgiving into a celebration which is meant to showcase our gratitude to God -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- from Whom all blessings flow.

    by Mateen Elass

    December 3, 2013

  8. Thanks, Ilana, for encouraging a posture of awareness and intentionality entering into our Thanksgiving celebrations. I appreciate the way your reflections provide an open space for what faiths may have in common rather than focusing on differences that divide. Readers may also be interested in these reflections on common messages in Christianity and Buddhism: http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2010/03/Lessons-Christians-Can-Learn-From-Zen.aspx

    by Tracey Horan

    December 3, 2013

  9. Ilana, please consider your relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything necessary for salvation and a deep spiritual life is found in him. It is unprofitable to be seeking after false gods and the practices of their worshipers. Moreover, it is displeasing to the Lord for any of us to be promoting idolatry and synchretism. Perhaps if you would dig deeper into Christianity you would find what you seem to be looking for in other religions.

    by Jerry Iamurri

    December 3, 2013

  10. Thank you for your insights, Ilana. I wish you well.

    by Casey Henry

    December 2, 2013

  11. Time spent on the Buddhist practice of Metta would better be served on ones hands and knees praying to our one God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Ilana, my take on your posting is that you don't see the forest for the trees. If this site is to be considered a Christian (assuming PCUSA is still considered Christian) site, then your posting is very much out of line.

    by Aubrey Lester

    December 2, 2013

  12. With respect, I think it shows extraordinarily poor judgment for the website of an officially Christian denomination to be promoting the practices and beliefs of another faith. My goodness, does not our own faith have wonderful resources in itself for giving thanks?

    by John Erthein

    December 1, 2013

  13. In all due respect to Buddism,Hinduism,Islam,and other major religions of the world, my understanding is that according to the Word as identified in the PCUSA Book of Order, Scripture instructs us from the very mouth of our Lord, Jesus, that he is the way and the only way to eternal salvation. I've always thought that we should pray for those who are following anything but Christ, and here we seem to be an advocate for a religion that would take us away from salvation. Reading this and mnay other items of late coming out of PCUSA, I would urge us to consider a new confessional statement whereby we reaffirm what we believe to be the Word of God and the pathway to eternal life. This may be well intentioned but I agree with those who were suggesting that a more appropriate thanks should be directed to God alone.

    by Greg Kateff

    December 1, 2013

  14. Thank you for your thoughtful post. I consider myself a "Buddhist Presbyterian": Presbyterian in my theology, and both Presbyterian/Christian and Buddhist in the way I live out that theology. I love the lovingkindness meditation of Buddhism, and I love the way you tied it to Thanksgiving.

    by Connie Knapp

    November 30, 2013

  15. Ilana, you seem to write with sincerity, but it is not necessary to justify "wishing others well" by using Buddhist precepts. It is difficult to see the intent to wish others well by dismissing and patronizing them ("I apologize if this is too New Age for you.") Your article actually brings sadness - and not wellness - for those who grieve that you do not see that Buddhism is incompatible with Christianity; that Buddhism is atheistic at worst and gnostic at best. The fact that you are spiritually curious is a good thing - but as you suggest, before one "digs in", one should open one's eyes. May God reward your search with the truth about Christ, our Savior.

    by Deborah Hollifield

    November 30, 2013

  16. As far as I know, Christ wanted us to love one another and recognize that we are all brothers and sisters. That is exactly what this post is about. I appreciate your comments but challenge you to see past the Buddhist part (or whatever part is troubling you). The practice of wishing others well is Christian at its core. Wishing you all well.

    by Ilana Barach

    November 28, 2013

  17. When I read such a posting on a PCUSA blog I wonder what denomination I am a part of.

    by Jeff Winter

    November 28, 2013

  18. Hopefully, the day will come when you find Christ; in the meantime the PC(USA) has no business tripe like this. Further proof that the denomination is no longer Christian.

    by Carolyn George

    November 27, 2013

  19. Thank you for your comments. Giving thanks towards God would certainly be a meaningful inclusion to this meditation. The reason why I did not include God here is because the concept of Metta (a volition that others be well) cannot be wished upon God. Metta is about the human condition. The critical part of being human (or animal for that matter) is trying to find happiness, but struggling to do so. The idea of Metta is that we want other beings to find happiness, just as we want to find it. Generally, we do not see God as struggling for happiness, like us humans. (Note that this doesn't mean we don't love God).

    by Ilana Barach

    November 27, 2013

  20. So now the Presbyterian Church promotes Buddism? What happened to Thanking GOD for the gifts he has given us? Is this still a Christian website?

    by Rev Suzanne Zampella

    November 27, 2013

  21. Ilana you are right to thank so many people, but you forgot someone. The only Lord God; you forgot to thank God the Father for creating and preserving you; God the Son for dying on a cross for you; and the Holy Spirit for guidance. May you find the love of our Savior a reason to be thankful above all other reasons.

    by Viola Larson

    November 27, 2013

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