Ōryōki (応量器?, "Just enough") is a meditative form of eating that originated in Japan that emphasizes mindfulness awareness practice by abiding to a strict order of precise movements. Oryoki translates to "Just enough" which refers to the efficiency and accuracy of the form. Each movement is a simple reference point for the mind that encourages one to become present and not wonder in discursive thought. An Oryoki set consists of nested bowls called a jihatsu, usually made of lacquered wood, and utensils all wrapped in a cloth and tied with a topknot resembling a lotus flower. This is the formal style of serving and eating meals practiced in Zen temples.[1]

Buddhist tradition emphasizes the monk's robe and bowl as symbolic of the two things most necessary to sustain life: with one, life is supported externally (clothing, shelter); with the other, internally (food). In many countries, as in early Buddhist practice, monks beg food and alms using a single Buddha bowl. Monks cultivate equanimity by gratefully accepting whatever is offered them, while those who give alms believe they accumulate merit by supporting the sangha.

Wooden ōryōki sets of today are like those developed in the monastic community of Hui Neng. The largest bowl, sometimes called the Buddha Bowl or zuhatsu,[2] symbolizes Buddha's head and his wisdom. The other bowls are progressively smaller. The bowls are accompanied by three utensils: a spoon, a cleaning stick (setsu), and chopsticks. Additionally, there may be a cloth container for the utensils, a napkin, a stiff placemat (hattan), and a wiping cloth. The entire set of bowls and accoutrements is stored in a kerchief-size cloth, which may be used during meals as a tablecloth. The exact number of bowls and accoutrements varies depending on the sect.

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.[2]

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. New Zen students may become aware of thoughts that include self-rebuke for making mistakes.

Meaning of Japanese word

In Japanese, three Sino-Japanese characters comprise the word ōryōki:

  • ō, the receiver's response to the offering of food
  • ryō, a measure, or an amount, to be received
  • ki, the bowl

Combined, these three connote "enough."


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