So many holidays center around a meal. In our multi-cultural country, it seems as if a festival is always being celebrated by some group, giving us a chance to enjoy so many different customs and foods. Even Satori, the Buddha’s enlightenment remembrance, really begins some days before with his accepting a bowl of sweet rice and milk from the village girl Sujata. He broke his fast and years of ascetic practice with this simple porridge-like meal. He gathered strength to meditate under the Bodhi tree, having realized that he needed to care for himself to reach mental clarity. How wonderful for all of us that he did!
I begin almost every day by cooking a bowl of cream of wheat with milk. As I make it and later clean the sticky metal pot, I’ve gotten to think about the Buddha’s simple meal and also about the Zen ceremonial meal called Oryoki. Oryoki means “just enough.” It has a special liturgy accompanying each part of the meal, from the beginning through washing out the bowls.
And nothing is wasted. The “just enough” Zen meal ends with cleaning the bowls and scraping out the serving pot and offering the water and remnants outdoors to the sentient beings there.
I got to thinking, “What about when I wash the hot cereal cook pot at home?” So, I decided to do the next clean-up mindfully and take a close look. Before filling the pot with water and soap, I saw how much was left sticking to the bottom and sides. Gee, I thought I’d spooned it all into my bowl! So I took the spoon and really scraped around. Amazing! The spoon was almost full, though some was a little browned from the burner’s heat. Big deal. One cold, gummy, singed spoonful? But… yes…with a little thought and mindfulness, this one soggy spoonful represented a very big deal.
How little that might look to me, but how much that would be to so many people near and far. I’d just read a Holocaust survivor’s interview about how desperate concentration camp inmates were to lick any spoon or bowl, in hopes of getting just enough food remnant to survive another day, another hour.
Post-war Buddhist teacher Ruth Denison, who lived through the war in Germany as a regular German citizen, wrote of having to lick the paste off wallpaper to survive after the war ended. I remembered the wrenching Japanese anime Grave of the Fireflies, where the children died of starvation after the war had ended. The TV shows the horror of Somalia and Yemen.
The local newspaper had a report about how many children and adults go to bed hungry each day in Pennsylvania, where I live. It is one in 8 people in general, and one in six children. That’s about one and a half million people, and 450, 000 children. Just in my state. They go to bed hungry. They wake up hungry. They go to work hungry. They go to school hungry. We know them but we likely don’t really know them. Or we wouldn’t let it happen, would we? Do we?
From that morning on, whenever I cook cereal…which is almost every day…I mindfully scrape the spoon all around the seemingly “empty” pot afterward, remember hungry beings while eating that small but large remnant, wash the pot with water, and empty it in the garden. Maybe this will help me remember to consume mindfully, not be wasteful, to take extra garden produce to the downtown free food kitchen or to share at the local Food Bank, or…to think what else I can do here, now, with what I have.
Why not consider making meal clean-up time a chance for some food for thought, too? Like the Buddha did. Really empty your bowl as a step to nourishing your self, your community, and the world, a spoonful at a time.
Ginny Geiyo Sensei is a Lay Minister with Bright Dawn Way of Oneness Sangha