Saturday, October 22, 2011

I ⼼ Oryoki

Eating Oryoki has become one of my favorite parts of practice, so I got up early this morning and went down to City Center for the early morning sit, service and breakfast served in the Zendo. When I got there, just before the 6:30 AM sitting, there was a line of people doing slow walking meditation in the Gaitan and the Zendo looked crowded from what I could see looking down the hallway. I ended up in an awkward spot when the clackers signaling the end of Kinhin sounded, but managed to get a spot in the Zendo on the floor at the Ino's direction.
People were being particularly quiet after Zazen, we went upstairs for service in the Buddha Hall. The hall was almost full when I got in, and I picked a spot in the front row because I couldn't see another one on the tatami. The new Tanto came over and kindly pointed out I was in the spot that the priest would take when they arrived. Whoops. Coming out of service I noticed the seat assignment board and housing assignment sheet typical of a One Day Sitting, which means it's silent in the building for the day.
I was at the end of the Soji line and all the good jobs (meaning toilets) were taken so I helped setup the Buddha Hall for the public lecture, which mostly consists of moving chairs from the dining room to the hall and lining them up at the edge of the tatami and along the walls. During Soji there was a minor incursion, two men, separately, walked in the open front door and sat down on a bench in the hallway. I was walking into the dining room to get more chairs and the Guest Student Manager (that's the job title on the farm at least, it might be slightly different at City Center) asked me to go close the front door, on my way to go do that I noticed one of the residents taking up station at the door just across from the bench. The situation was clearly under control so I continued to help setup the Buddha Hall and went down for breakfast when the gong was struck to indicate the end of the cleaning period.
I hate to jump to conclusions but it wouldn't suppress me if one or both of the men who walked in were homeless, in any case they were sitting quietly and not being disruptive, and given the Zen Center's history of doing homeless outreach and general concern for the welfare of everyone I'm confident the situation was handled very gently and skillfully. Considering the potential for bit of a scene I'm glad it happened after everyone was down in the Zendo for breakfast.
The Oryoki Weight Loss Plan
Oryoki has been a great practice for me because I have some food issues. Like an alarming number of people I'm carrying around some extra pounds, which I'm looking to lose sooner than later. The very word 'Oryoki' (オリヨキ or 応量器) means something like "just enough in the bowl", so portion control is built into the program. Reading my initial post on the process you can see that I've been fascinated by the form for a while, it's the most complex of the Zendo forms, and the one in which a mistake can be dramatic: hot water being poured from bowl to bowl, the occasional setsu hitting the floor, ceramic bowls which shatter if dropped from the narrow edge of the ton. It turns breakfast, lunch and to a lesser extent dinner (which has an abbreviated, two bowl form) into a bit of a performance, and in that performance my relationship to food has profoundly changed.
First, Set the table. Before eating the bowls are set out and the implements prepared for eating. The unpacking process is a little complicated, to the point where I took a series of photographs depicting the process. Packing it back up is a simple matter of unpacking in reverse, and looking at the full priests set of five bowls (instead of the student set of three) and an additional bowl stand and placemat you start to get a feel for the care that can be taken in setting out your table:
Buddha was born in Kapilavastu,Enlightened in Magadha,Taught in Varanasi,Entered nirvana in Kushinagara.Now we set out Buddha's bowls.May we, with all beings,Realize the emptiness of the three wheels: Giver, receiver, and gift.
Second, Wait to eat. The food is served in succession, one item at a time. The Abbot is first in line, then their Jika, then so on along the ton, where people are typically seated in order of seniority. Only when everyone has been served all three dishes does the meal begin, as a result you have to sit with your food for some time before eating. I can smell the food, notice my body beginning to prepare for it: saliva starts to flow, the stomach starts to rumble, peristalsis starts up and my belly gurgles, a little insulin flows out of my pancreas immediately dropping my blood sugar to almost nothing, hunger intensifies. But I have to wait to eat, and just sit there and feel my body getting hungry for a few minutes, don't react, just feel the hunger and the desire to eat. Just sit with it for a few minutes, then, before eating we chant the Verse of Five Contemplations:
We reflect on the effort that brought us this food and consider how it comes to us.We reflect on our virtue and practice, and whether we are worthy of this offeringWe regard it as essential to keep the mind free from excesses such as greed.We regard this food as good medicine to sustain our life.For the sake of enlightenment we now receive this food.
Third, Consider why I'm eating. "We regard this food as good medicine to sustain our life", i.e. it's not entertainment, it's not pleasure, it's what we need to continue our lives, as much as possible we should make that just enough. The food that's served reflects that, simple, hearty and never spicy. Rice or porridge in the first bowl, which you may season with gamasho only. Soup, fruit or pudding in the second bowl, and something delightful in the third, often roasted nuts or a small salad. Once all the good medicine is served, we chant the bowl raising verse:
First, this is for the three treasures.
Next, for the four benefactors.
Finally, for the beings in the six realms.
May all be equally nourished.
Finally, I think of our visitors from earlier. They have wandered into this place looking for nourishment, I hope they got some, and in reflecting can only think of what a great gift it is in life to have more food that you need, and what a waste it is to over-eat when others are hungry and have no roof over their head. Oryoki gives me the time and permission to think about all these things, how and when I eat instead of unconsciously stuffing myself with whatever I can get my hands on.
An Oryoki Disaster
The silence of the One Day Sitting makes the Saturday public program a a little subdued, the Zendo gets crowded when people come in for the 9:25 period of Zazen, and they won't serve lunch today so I decided to leave after breakfast. I ran into a friend on the way out and had a lovely chat while I snacked on a rather large apricot with some less than perfect spots on it, they went in for the sit and I sat for a while finishing my fruit. It would have been nice to hear Paul's talk, but the smile I got when he came back in for Zazen was enough.
I headed home to do some soji around the house (finally, a toilet to clean!) After parking, walking back from the car with my hands full, the unthinkable happened:
IMG 0250
everything in impermanent
Time to get that fancy five bowl set, I guess…