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head cook (tenzo 典座)

An officer in a monastic bureaucracy; one of the six stewards (roku chiji 六知事). The etymology of the term, which literally means "in charge of" (ten 典) "seating" (zo 座), is uncertain. In early Chinese translations of Indian Vinaya texts it referred to a monk in charge of nine miscellaneous tasks, including assigning seats, distributing robes and food, overseeing flowers and incense for offerings, etc. In Tang dynasty China (618-906), the term tenzo 典座 was sometimes used as a synonym for "monastery chief" (jishu, C. sizhu 寺主), one of three top officers (sankō, C. sangang 三綱), who was in charge of all practical and administrative affairs, such as supplies and finances. The job included overseeing the kitchen, so perhaps the later identification of tenzo as head cook derives from that.

In Song dynasty Chinese and medieval Japanese Zen monasteries, the head cook was the officer charged with providing meals for the great assembly of monks who were based in the sangha hall. Duties included planning the menu, obtaining ingredients, and overseeing a number of sous-chefs who cooked the rice, soup, and vegetables, and lay postulants who assisted them, served meals in the sangha hall, and cleaned up afterwards. In the Zen tradition the position of head cook came to be celebrated as epitomizing the ideals of frugality, resourcefulness, service to others, and mindfully practicing the dharma in the midst of everyday life.

In contemporary Soto Zen, only training monasteries have a functioning office of head cook. The position of head cook survives as an important one, however, in precepts-giving assembly (jukai e 授戒會) and all other gatherings that require feeding a large number of people at a temple. →"six stewards."