An ōryōki set consists of nested bowls called a jihatsu, usually made of lacquered wood, and utensils all bundled in a cloth. The largest bowl, sometimes called the Buddha Bowl or zuhatsu, symbolizes Buddha's head and his wisdom. The other bowls are progressively smaller. In describing the form of ōryōki used at John Daido Loori's Zen Mountain Monastery, author Jack Maguire wrote
The cantaloupe-sized bundle consists of three black plastic nesting bowls, two chopsticks, a wooden spoon, a small rubber spatula, a gray napkin, and a wiping cloth, all of which are wrapped tidily in a gray cloth with a topknot resembling a lotus blossom.
Buddhist tradition states that after Huineng received the monk's robe and bowl as evidence of his having received Dharma transmission, the bowl itself was considered a symbol of transmission from teacher to student.
Ōryōki have evolved in Buddhist monasteries in China and Japan over many years and are part of the Buddhist tradition that has now been transmitted to the West. Both monks and laypeople use ōryōki to eat formal meals in Zen monasteries and places of practice. A lineage was also transmitted from Kobun Chino Roshi to the Tibetan Buddhist sangha of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and is now practiced at all Shambhala retreat centers.
Zen teachers say that taking meals with ōryōki cultivates gratitude, mindfulness, and better understanding of self. (In this regard, it is not unlike zazen.) The intricacies of the form may require the practitioner to pay great attention to detail.
Meaning of Japanese word
According to Shohaku Okumura:
The initial ō in ōryōki means "in proportion to", ryō means "amount" or "quality," and ki means "container."
In Japanese, three Sino-Japanese characters comprise the word ōryōki:
- 応 ō, the receiver's response to the offering of food
- 量 ryō, a measure, or an amount, to be received
- 器 ki, the bowl.
- Maguire, Jack (2000). Waking Up: A Week Inside a Zen Monastery. Skylight Paths. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-893361-13-3.
- Kain, John (Fall 2003), "Eating Just The Right Amount", Tricycle: The Buddhist Review 13 (1): 62
- Okumura, Shohaku (2012). Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. p. 99. ISBN 1-61429-010-5.
- Maguire, Jack (2000). Waking Up: A Week Inside a Zen Monastery. Skylight Paths. pp. 108–109. ISBN 978-1-893361-13-3.
- Photos of Oryoki
- Photos of an Oryoki-Lunch at a Shambhala Buddhist Dathün
- Translation of Dogen Zenji commentary on head cook
- Translation of Dogen Zenji commentary on eating
- White Wind Zen Community meal chant translation
- Shambhala lineage use of Oryoki explained
- Patrick Reynolds briefly explains and demonstrates Soto oryoki
- Robin briefly explains and demonstrates oryoki as practiced in the Shambhala community