The word “oryoki” means “just enough” so the bowls that we use for these traditional Zen meals can be called “bowls for just enough.”
The meal with oryoki bowls is a form of Zen practice that emphasizes lack of greed (taking just enough), awareness (meticulous care in opening and using the bowls), and respect (those served and the server bow in mutual respect.)
At the Milwaukee Zen Center we use a set of three bowls wrapped in cloths that serve as a mat to go beneath them, a lap cloth and a wiping cloth. Eating utensils are a large spoon and chopsticks, and a flat wooden stick tipped with cloth (setsu) used for the initial cleaning of the bowls.
The serving of the meal is accompanied by an offering of the same meal to the Buddha on the altar, the chanting of the names of Buddha and a chant of gratitude that begins: “Innumerable labors have brought us this food, we should know how it comes to us.”
A meal with oryoki is served after Saturday morning service and for all meals during the two-day sittings. Everyone is cordially invited to learn this sincere practice. New people are paired with an experienced practitioner who can assist them, and no one should ever feel that eating with oryoki bowls is “too hard.” Rather, it is an elegant expression of the care with which a Zen practitioner approaches life.