Kakuho Aoe is a Jodo Shin-shu Buddhist priest, who is revitalising Buddhism with his techno-savvy and his passion for food, both of which he is using as tools for awakening. Aoe has helped to create a virtual Buddhist temple that utilises social media techniques to bring Buddhism into the digital age. But it is his interesting approach to food as meditation that interests us here: once a month he holds a special meal event at his temple in Asakusa (Tokyo), Ryokusenji, in which the guests eat a beautifully prepared shojin-ryori meal, but which they cannot see because they are wearing blindfolds (sleep masks). This event is called “kurayami-gohan” 暗闇ごはん, “meal in the dark.”
Taking away your sense of sight, says Aoe, forces you pay more attention to your other senses of taste, smell, hearing and touch, and so you experience eating a meal in a completely different way. While sitting in the unusual setting of a temple room surrounded by people you don’t know, your level of awareness of everything involved in the act of eating a meal is significantly raised. Rather than just eating in perfunctory way, you become completely focussed on every moment of eating: the feel of the different textures of the ingredients, the different sounds of the food as you bite into it, trying to imagine what it is you are eating, etc, all contribute to experiencing the meal on a completely new level of appreciation. Eating becomes a meditation.
Rev Aoe has also published several cookbooks about shojin-ryori.