A Zen’s-Eye View: How much is ‘just enough’?

Web Lead

In the retreats at Creston zendo, mealtimes are an essential aspect of spiritual training. The mealtime ceremony is called oryoki, which means “just enough”. Oryoki bowls are small — the largest contains only one-and-a-half cups. The size of the bowls is our first reminder to eat just enough to remain healthy, alert and strong.

“Just enough” changes with circumstance and to know how much is enough requires mindfulness. We have to be aware of changing conditions. Did we work hard outside before the meal, or did we sit at a table and catalogue library books? What’s the weather like? If it’s cold we need more calories to stay warm; if it’s hot we need less. Considering matters such as these, we decide how much food to put into our bowls. Zen masters recommend that we eat until we are two-thirds full. A Japanese proverb says that eight parts of a full stomach sustain the person; the other two parts sustain the doctor.

Before eating, we chant five thoughts. The first thought tells us to reflect on how the food got into our bowls. We generate gratitude for the sun, water and soil that nourished the seed, and the people who tended, picked, transported and prepared the meal. The second thought considers whether the life that the food will sustain has been used to benefit others. The third thought reminds us to be on guard against the arousal of greed. The fourth thought tells us that the main purpose for eating is to promote and sustain health, and the fifth asks us to remember that the primary purpose of human life is to realize enlightenment. Having directed our minds to these considerations, we begin our silent meal, mindful of the textures and tastes of the food as we chew and swallow.

An important aspect of mindful eating is to be fully aware when the meal is over. In our culture, we don’t have sayings that tell us the meal is over. We tend to sit at the table chatting and nibbling long after we eaten enough. In mindful eating, we avoid this mistake by reciting a meal closing verse. We remind ourselves of where we actually are: “The universe is as the boundless sky.” We remember that we have the capacity for enlightenment in the messiness of daily life: “As lotus blossoms above muddy waters, pure and beyond the world is the mind of the trainee.” And then we root ourselves in loving-kindness before returning to the work of the day: “Oh, sweet compassion! We take refuge in thee.” Then we leave the table and put away the food.

Suggested practice: Before you eat, look at the food and assess how much you need to be two-thirds full. Reflect: “I am eating this food for the good health of my body.” If your plate has been filled by another, remember that you are not a child. No one can make you clean your plate. Stop eating when you’ve had “just enough”.

Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information, she can be reached at 250-428-6500.