One of the first things that brought a smile to my face when reading the writing of Daisaku Ikeda was the practical personal touch at the end of most of his letters to members of Soka Gakkai worldtwide. He would end with a word of caution like "take care not to catch a cold," or something similar. To my conditioned mind, this was not how a leader of a global movement spoke. This was not the summer of love after all.
Even Nichiren displayed the same attentiveness to matters of everyday practicality, like when he cautioned Shijo Kingo at a time when his life was at risk, writing “You must not go out alone at night under any circumstance.” At another time, he wrote, “If you should have to travel, do not spare the cost of a good horse”.
Daisaku Ikeda made it easy for me to understand Nichiren's Buddhism, that speaks of enlightenment not as a reality distant from everyday life, but as an achievable potential here and now, existing even if clouded over like a "tarnished mirror." One of the main aspects that sets Nichiren's Buddhism apart from other schools of Buddhist thought is the fact that it places the world of Buddhahood in the saha world of suffering and struggle, not as a world separate from us, and the Buddha also mutually possesses the lower worlds, and is not devoid of them. The philosopher Gurdjieff wrote, "Religion is doing; a man does not merely think his religion or feel it, he "lives" his religion as much as he is able, otherwise it is not religion but fantasy or philosophy."
From mundane tasks of daily life to the larger projects that make up our action list, from the casual interactions with acquaintances to the complex relationship of love, trust, interdependence and discipleship, from the stray thoughts that flicker through our minds to the values that make up who we are as people, faith in daily life encompasses all of it. Each action of ours can become an instrument of seeking the higher worlds of learning and realization, compassion and freedom. I try and keep this in mind when I cook. The food tastes heavenly when my life condition is high.
The Basic Bhindi Fry
Okra 250 g (sliced 1-mm thick evenly)
Vegetable cooking oil 2 tbsp
Red chili powder to taste (approx 1/4 tsp)
Salt to taste (approx 1/4 tsp)
- Wash and pat dry the okra before chopping. I try and do this half an hour before chopping so that it dries totally. Wet okra makes the fry go sticky and unmanageable. Chop into even sized slices not more than 2 mm thick.
- Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet. Once smoking, add the sliced okra. Stir on high flame just enough to ensure that all the okra gets smeared with the oil. Reduce the flame to low, and let it cook open. Sprinkle salt over.
- Stir only enough to turn the bhindi over once every three minutes for the first 10 minutes, and then once every two min. If you dont like eating charcoal, proceed to next step once it starts browning. For charcoal, let it cook till the last of the green hue starts to disappear.
- Turn the flame back to high, let the sizzle get louder, add the red chili powder and immediately turn the flame off. Stir to get the chili powder evenly mixed. Stir till sizzle stops. Keep in the skillet till just before serving. If serving later, reheat by putting it in a very hot skillet and tossing for 2 minutes.
1. The charcoal. Let it cook till you can hear the okra rattle in the skillet if you stir it. It gives it a nice burnt and smoky taste and a crunchy feel that can add magic to a rice and dal meal.
2. The hedonista. Chop 1 small onion finely. Fry in the oil with a small pinch of cumin seeds and a small pinch of kalonji before adding the okra. Chop 4 large cloves garlic fine. Add along with the salt. Proceed till okra rattles.
3. The gay hedonista. Follow instructions for hedonista. Garnish with 1 tsp finely chopped cilantro.
4. The Gonglu. Mix 1/4 cup rice flour, 1/2 tsp besan, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp ground black pepper into a powder. Put the sliced okra along with this powder into a paper bag or a medium size ziploc and shake, shake, shake for the duration of the national anthem. The sticky okra will pick up almost all of the powder and also become easier to handle, but will still require the same cooking time. Proceed as per basic bhindi fry or the charcoal variation. (Named Gonglu after my aunt who makes a smashing microwave version of the same.)