‘The gruel was known as ‘ceiling gruel’ because it consisted primarily of barley and was so watered down that the ceiling was reflected in it. In order to prepare it, water was first boiled in a large pot into which barley that had been dried and ground into flour with a stone mortar was mixed. The result was a smooth, almost drinkable substance that looked just like muddy water. Served with this were a few pickled vegetables.
In the fall, when daikon were abundant, the neighboring farmers would make generous donations of them to us. Our pickles were made either from the leaves of these daikon or those which the farmers threw away. These leaves were put in vats and sprinkled with salt at several different stages in the pickling process. When they were ready to be eaten, the monk in charge of this work would take them out beside the Zendo and carefully cut up a week’s supply for the monk community, piling the pickles up in a large basin. Because of their saltiness they would last a whole week without growing moldy.
Lunch consisted of cooked grain that was actually almost all barley rather than rice, although there were times when rice, amounting to about ten percent of the total, was mixed in. In addition, there was miso (bean paste) soup into which vegetables grown in the nearby fields were put.’ (Daiun Sogaku Jiden)
Like the post the other day from Uchiyama Roshi’s experience of doing takuhatsu (ritualised monastice begging), this desription, from about a hundred years ago, reminds us that while American practice can be pretty strict, there are many parts of the Japanese experience that we don’t have to deal with.