Samadhi, Schamadhi

My family knows I love to eat rice and natto, or fermented soy beans, in the morning. Often with Korean kimchi. It’s a breakfast habit I started about 10-15 years ago, and never looked back. Thanks to the crunch of the pandemic, and inflation, shipments from Japan have become a trickle, and so our local Asian market will sometimes have no natto in stock, other times it will have a huge stock that quickly disappears. My wife found this new brand recently after the latest shipment came in, and the name of the product gave me a good chuckle.

The name of this product is nattō zanmai (納豆三昧), with “zanmai” being a Japanese transliteration of the Chinese-Buddhist term from the Sanskrit word samādhi. The word samadhi is something used in Indian religion in general, but refers to a state of intense concentration through meditation. It appears in a wide variety of contexts, but for now we’ll focus on the Buddhist ones. It helps to think of samādhi as being “in the zone”, but in a deeper, meditative sense.

Usually when people think of meditation, they think of the classic mindfulness meditation (a.k.a. vipassana meditation) and sometimes when one meditates here, they get into a deep, absorbed state. However, meditation is a broad subject in Buddhism, and with other kinds, including walking meditation, mantra-chanting, visualization of the Buddha, etc. In each such practice, some kind of samadhi is possible too. Even in the context of Pure Land Buddhism, chanting the nembutsu (the name of Amitabha Buddha) is said to bring about something called nembutsu samadhi if done as a long-term, dedicated practice. Honen was said to have seen the Pure Land around him during this intense state of recitation. Similarly, the intense practices of the Tendai sect were said to bring about powerful samadhi experiences as well if carried to fruition.

However, while all that is interesting for Buddhist-nerds like me, it is not the context being used for the brand of natto. The term “zanmai”, which still retains it Buddhist context, can also mean in a regular day to day context something that you’re just really into. You might even say “absorbed” by. 😎 Day to day Japanese has a lot of old Buddhist terms that have changed meaning over time and reflect cultural attitude even as their religion meaning is obscured. The term aisatsu (挨拶) refers generically to the formalities people use to greet one another, but originally derived from a Zen-Buddhist term for when a teacher would quiz his student on their grasp of Zen. Even the common phrase ganbaru (頑張る, “hang in there”) originally derived from a Zen context as well.

Of course, we do this in English too: many Christian-religious terms have gradually taken on a more pop-culture meaning as well. I have heard from an old Palestinian co-worker that this happens with Islamic terms in Arabic as well. It is a natural cultural phenomenon.

All this is to say that while natto over warm rice does not lead to meditate absorption, it is really darn good, and if like me, you eat it almost every day, you might say you’ve been pretty absorbed by it.

I’ll see myself out.

P.S. If you do like natto, this is a great brand. Definitely pick it up if you can.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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