The Buddha taught that we have four nutriments–the literal and metaphorical food that feeds our existence and keeps it going. Ultimately, one who has attained nirvana is said to have “exhausted” all nutriments, have no food to give future existences. From my perspective, since I don’t think I’ll become enlightened anytime soon, this all seems rather abstract. I had heard of the teaching of the nutriments before, but it went in one ear and out the other. But recently I started reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. He breaks down the four nutriments in a really relatable way and makes it something that I can work with at an everyday level.
The Four Nutriments
1. Edible Food. “What we eat or drink can bring about mental or physical suffering.” (p 32) And this is not only what we eat, but how we eat it. Are we appreciative of our food and understand the work, suffering, and sacrifice it took to make it to our mouths, or do we just shovel it in? (I’m pretty guilty of the latter.) Do we use food for things that have nothing to do with food, like eating out of boredom or stress?
2. Sense Impressions. This relates not only to what we see, smell, taste, touch, hear, and think (Buddhism considers mind to be the sixth sense) as we walk down the street or go about our lives, but also what kind of media we consume.
3. Volition/intention/will. What we fundamentally believe about life, and believe to be our goal in life, will determine how we act and where we place our attention. Sometimes these beliefs are so deeply believed that we don’t even notice them as beliefs even though they motivate everything we do. Examples of non-helpful volitions would be, “My dad is to blame for all the problems in my life” or “once I own my own home, I’ll finally be happy” or “life is always going to be hard and unfair.” I know one volition that drove my actions for many years was, “My purpose is to be a professor of literature.” Letting go of volitions can be very freeing.
4. Consciousness. Consciousness is the ultimate repository for all the other nutriments and the place from which we act in response to them. “Every day our thoughts, words, and actions flow into the sea of our consciousness and create our body, mind, and world. [. . .] Our consciousness is eating all the time, day and night, and what it consumed becomes the substance of our life. We have to be very careful which nutriments we ingest.” (p. 36)
When I read this today, the thought popped into my head: this would make a great tarot spread! I mean, it seems esoteric, but Thich Nhat Hanh has a point: we are what we eat, literally and metaphorically. Over the past few years, I have come to understand this more clearly through my own experience. He advises: “Use your Buddha eyes to look at each nutriment you are about to ingest. If you see that it is toxic, refuse to look at it, listen to it, taste it, or touch it.” (p. 34)
Ultimately, what we choose to consume determines so much about our lives. Paying attention to how we feed ourselves is useful for well-being on a daily level, even if we have no plans to exhaust all nutriments any time soon!
I think it’s important to look at what we consume and really experience it, but I also think tarot can be a supplemental set of Buddha eyes. So I thought, OK, let’s make this a spread.Continue reading “Nutriments Spread”