Higher Consciousness and Food

By Rev. Noriaki Fujimori

The Pandemic forced us to change our behavior and the way we think. It forced me to think about how and why I eat.

Before, people often told me, “You’re a real foodie.” My wife would say, “You eat everything.” I lived many years on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where there weren’t many restaurants. Then I moved to the foodie paradise of Honolulu. Many restaurants tempted me to go out and eat, which happily I did.

However, the onset of the Coronavirus forced me to reflect on my selfish desires for specialty foods and all the things I wanted. It really changed my view of how and why I eat.

Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008), a Japanese farmer and philosopher, once said, “Extravagance of desire is the fundamental cause which has led the world into its present predicament. Fast rather than slow, more rather than less—this flashy ‘development’ is linked directly to society’s impending collapse.”

In Buddhism, Vasubandhu (4th to 5th century CE), talked about Yogācāra (Japanese: Yuishiki 唯識) and the “Consciousness Only” teaching of eight consciousnesses. Vasubandhu is the second patriarch of Shin Buddhism and Shinran drew heavily from his ideas.

According to Vasubandhu, we perceive the world through eight layers of consciousness. There are the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, as well as thoughts, along with two deeper layers of consciousness.

Related to food, we perceive food through five senses (1. Through the eyes, we see food and judge it; (2. Through the ears, we hear about food and judge it; (3. Through the nose, we smell and judge it; (4. Through the mouth, we taste; (5. Through the body, we touch and judge it; and (6. Through the mind, we think about and judge it.

Furthermore “Consciousness Only” teaches there are two layers of subconsciousness discerning the world.

The seventh consciousness is manas consciousness. Basic awareness of the self originates at this level, as well as our attachment to ego. These “karma” include self-stupidity, leading to ignorance of one’s true nature; self-pride turning into arrogance; self-biased views leading to false views; and self-love as a form of greed. Overall, manas consciousness is based on selfishness.

The eighth consciousness is araya. It is the mind that is fair, open, and reflects universal truth. It is a level beyond our selfishness. This understanding of “Consciousness Only” encourages us to connect to this Eighth consciousness.

Before the pandemic, I think I pursued food based on the 7th consciousness, in other words selfishly. I was attached to food that tasted good. I boasted to my friends about going to fancy restaurants and trying different specialty dishes. This was based on the 7th consciousness.

However, the 8th consciousness of araya teaches us to value foods that benefit the whole community, that are good, nutritious and healthy, and that are environmentally friendly. Contrast that with expensive foods and dishes that only rich people can afford, and that may be environmentally unsustainable.

I believe our Palolo Mini-Market, started by Palolo Hongwanji temple members, operates in the spirit of this eighth consciousness, based on food mindfulness. It sells many unique, homemade , slow cooked foods that are healthy and organic. Through the Mini-Market, many participants have become aware that we need to change the way we think about food.

As a society, we need to think about the 8th consciousness related to food. Usually, nutritious organic food is a luxury, expensive and available mostly in exclusive high-end markets. I strongly believe this kind of food must reach everyone, especially those with little money. This 8th consciousness moves us to help others, regardless of whether they are rich or poor.

The State of Hawaii has started a program that I feel reflects the 8th consciousness. The vast majority of food in Hawaii is imported. Estimates are as high as 90 percent. This was not always the case. Years earlier, Hawaii produced many agricultural, dairy and ranch products, but such food production has drastically declined. That’s why the Department of Agriculture started a Grant program meant to provide support for small-scale gardening, herding, and livestock operations that will produce food locally. The total grant amount is about 2 million dollars.

In Hawaii, we need to raise our food self-sufficiency rate, otherwise in times of disaster, our food will be in short supply. Palolo Hongwanji has applied for a grant to help us share organic healthy foods with our community friends and members in the spirit of 8th consciousness food mindfulness.

I now realize the fallacy of pursuing food to fulfill my personal desires. From now on, let us follow the eighth consciousness, making available and sharing with everyone good, organic and healthy foods.

-Rev. Fujimori is minister of Palolo Higashi Hongwanji Temple in Hawaii.