Thursday, September 29, 2011


Living in Korea, I've developed a different reaction to the word "fermentation" than I had in my old life. 

Fermented cabbage (kimchi) and fermented soy beans (dwenjang) are the staple of a healthy Korean diet and I spend about 300-400 dollars a year on premium fermented Chinese teas (not bad if you consider how much some people spend on coffee in a year, or fermented alcohol while we're at it...).

But over the last few weeks, I've come across several separate references that the Buddha made to "mental fermentations".

At first I was a little stuck on the term, taking it as a good thing, but also realizing the negative implication at the same time. Mental fermentations aren't of the same benefit as the kimchi that must make up a good percentage of my body, by now, even though kimchi and tea are what I've become accustomed to associating the word "fermented" with. When I really thought about mental fermentations, and what the word used to mean, I started seeing images along the lines of August compost buckets and other things like that...

Then, thinking back to kimchi and dwenjang and mind, instead of seeing their fermentations as good or bad, but instead just as something that is, I realized the similarity is that something in them changed and grew. Kimchi is no longer just cabage, dwenjang is no longer just soy beans and a mind is no longer pure but full of all the thoughts, opinion, ideas that I build my universe around. 

He who, knowing, declared
release for all beings
from the snare of death,
for beings human & divine,
the methodical Dhamma —
seeing & hearing which,
many people grow clear & calm;
who is skilled in what is & is not the path,
his task done, fermentation-free:
is called
one of great discernment,
bearing his last body,


-Vassakara Sutta

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