How to Eat like a Zen Buddhist Master

Thich Nhat Hanh has devoted his life to studying, practicing and teaching Zen Buddhism; a journey which has led him to cultivate mindfulness and peace in each waking moment of life. He believes that this emphasis on being fully present in the current moment -even while eating- is the key to lasting happiness.

In his book How to Eat, activist and Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh provides simple meditations and tips on how to navigate your relationship with food and eating. The daily act of eating can easily take on the quality of celebratory, luxurious, mundane or guilt-inducing. However here are some tips to go beyond unconscious eating patterns to dive deeper into the experience that the moment brings.

Recognize that Nothing Comes from Nothing (The Cosmos is in Everything)

We often overlook just exactly what it is we are eating. Did you ever stop to think of it? How did that piece of bread or banana get to arrive on your plate? What was it before it became what it is? Take a moment to appreciate the earth, sunshine, clouds and rain that went into your meal. Even more, think about the baker, the farmer, the skill and work they exerted to produce your breakfast. Recognize that the whole cosmos came together so that you might eat this piece of bread. What a miracle!

Instead of Thinking, Try Awareness

At your next meal, try not to focus on the day ahead, your to-do list, or any other distractions. Simply be aware of the food you are eating. This means your thinking need not go beyond the focus of, ‘I am putting an apple into my mouth’. Then watch to see what new sensations become available to you.

Be Mindful of Breath

Take a few moments after sitting down, and quieting your mind, to focus on your breathing. According to Hanh, we nourish ourselves and others through our practice of mindful breathing.

Cook with Joy

Similar to taking the time to appreciate the work and resources that went into your slice of bread, be aware of the gifts that are your kitchen, running water, and electricity. See the wonderful nature that has ultimately made these conveniences possible.

Don’t Stress, Chew

Eating can be a time of great relaxation if we allow ourselves to simply perform the action required of the given moment. When you sit down to eat, nothing in the past or future should invade or spoil your present. All you have to do is eat, worries aside.

Choose Carefully

Just as a certain diet can be harmful to the earth or certain species, our way of eating can also be the healing force that can change the world. Cut down on unsustainable products that use up unnecessary amounts of grain and water, like meat and alcohol. Recognize that each time we choose what to eat, we are making a very significant decision.

Respect Your Sensitivities

As much as you may appreciate a bowl of pasta or surgery sweet desert, be aware of what your body is telling you. If certain foods negatively affect your digestion, recognize the foods which do bring you good health and consume those instead.

Smile in Gratitude

When eating, focus on two things: the food that you are consuming and the friends in your company. Smiling authentically during meals and snacks offers understanding and friendship. Be grateful for the friends and family that surround you, and when you’re finished eating smile in gratitude of the food you’ve just had the privilege to enjoy.

Celebrate a Full Life

We often turn to the fridge when we feel something is missing in our lives – when we feel a sense of loneliness or depression – and need to eat something to fill the void. Instead, try leaning on your community for support. Allow yourself to feel the harmonious joy that comes from being present in presence of others.
Do you practice mindfulness while eating? Share your favorite practices & experiences below!


Hanh, Thich Nhat. How To Eat. Berkeley: Parallax, 2014. Print.

“Thich Nhat Hanh.” Plum Village, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2017.

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