Before the meal begins, the TENZO prepares a small bowl or plate containing small portions of all the food being served to offer to the local deities and spirits at the Green Tara Shrine in the kitchen. The TENZO and SERVERS join the others for the meal opening chants.

The CHANT LEADER (ABBOT) hits the wooden clappers twice and everyone chants:

  • “Buddha was born in Lumbini,
  • Enlightened in Bodhgaya,
  • Taught in Sarnath,
  • Entered nirvana in Kusinara.”

Everyone (including cook and servers) unwraps their bowls and utensils making sure the ends of the ties point toward the right. Using the first two fingers and thumb of the left hand to steady the Oryoki set, pull the small tie of the wrapping cloth with the right hand while chanting:

  • “Now we set out Buddha’s bowls:
  • May we, with all living beings,
  • Realize the emptiness of the three wheels:
  • Giver, receiver, and gift.”

Open the wrapping (outer) cloth and smooth out the left and right corners on each side. Pick up the white terrycloth drying cloth and place in lap. Place utensil holder on top of drying cloth. Make sure two corners of the napkin are on the upper left on the bowls. Grasp top corner of napkin with right hand and the other corner with left. Pull hands apart, unfolding napkin and spread on lap.

Open the remaining two corners of wrapping cloth; the top one away from you first the other one toward you second. Trace down about half way and make a fold in the part closest to you and then repeat on the other side away from you. Fold the cloth into a “lotus” shape placemat by folding under a part of each side, but leaving the tips sticking out, first on the left, and doing the right side last.

With both hands, pick up the entire set of bowls and move them to the left, staying on the folded wrapping cloth, which has now become your placemat. Take out the two smallest bowls and place them on the right, then place the second largest bowl in the middle. For breakfast, this is enough, using only three bowls. For lunch, place the smallest bowl to the far right, using all four bowls. There should always be a little more space between the second and third bowls, as this is where the spatula  will go.

Remove the chopsticks from the utensil holder and add to left below the largest bowl, tips pointing toward the right. Add spoon below chopsticks with bowl pointing right (only for breakfast and lunch. You DO NOT use the spoon during evening snack). Add spatula between second and third bowls with handle pointing away and extended over edge of placemat. Put utensil holder on drying cloth under your napkin.

Certain chants and offerings are then recited and the servers leave to bring in the food. When the server comes before or next to one’s sitting place, take first bowl in both hands and receive the food. When one has received an appropriate amount, interrupt serving by raising one’s right hand (first two fingers, palm up), bow again to server, and set bowl down. The next server will repeat this procedure for the second bowl and so forth until all the bowls are filled. All receiving of food is preceded and followed by a bow.

After food is served the SERVERS join the group and the “Five Contemplations” is chanted:

  • “Innumerable labors brought us this food.
  • We should know how it comes to us.
  • Receiving this offering, let us consider whether our virtue and practice deserve it.
  • Desiring the natural order of mind, let us be free from greed, hate and delusion.
  • We regard this meal as medicine to sustain our life
  • For the sake of enlightenment we now receive this food.”

At lunch a small piece of food is offered to the spirits or hungry ghosts on the tip of your spatual handle followed by the chant:

  • Oh spirits, we now give you this offering. This food is for all of you in the ten directions. (This procedure is not done at either breakfast or during the evening snack.)

Then put spoon in the first bowl, handle facing out away from you, chopsticks across the second bowl, handles away from you at 11:00 AM position and points at 5:00 PM.

Return hands to gassho (palms together) and chant:

  • “First, this is for the Three Treasures (the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha);
  • Next for the four benefactors (parents, country including its rulers and the environment, all living beings, and the three jewels);
  • Finally, for the beings of the six realms (hell, ghosts, animal, human, demi-gods, and gods/devas).
  • May all be equally nourished”

Pick up the Oryoki or first bowl, with three fingers only (thumb first and middle fingers), holding it with both hands at eye level and chant:

  • The first portion is to end all evil;
  • The second is to cultivate every good;
  • The third is the free all beings.
  • May we all realize the Buddha’s way

Then immediately begin eating. For eating, the spoon is used for rice porridge (okayu) or whatever is in the Buddha Bowl; for all other food, chopsticks are used; when eating from any vessel whatsoever, the proper procedure is to hold it in the other hand.

Eat fairly quickly so that you finish with others. When most have finished the first serving, the Chant Leader may announce: “SECONDS.”  If you do not wish seconds, just continue eating and bow as server passes. If you do want seconds, place palms together (gassho) to signal server that you want seconds.

At lunch only, as soon as seconds have been served, the Chant Leader announces: “COLLECTING FOOD FOR  SPIRITS.”  Servers gather up food offering for spirits. (When servers come, press down on spatula with fingers, making it easier for them to remove food offering or just give them the offering.)

At evening snack there is no Buddha Bowl and no spoon and no chanting, since this is not considered a meal. The Buddha Bowl should be put to the side. Some may elect to not participate. On long retreats, it is not uncommon to find you need very little food. If you do decide to fast or miss a meal, please tell the cook so that the quantities of food can be adjusted.

After we are finished eating the food, we replace the spoon with the spatula; then clean and place spoon and then the chopsticks below the bowls, shielding open mouth with left hand. Place on far right with chopsticks above spoon and pointing both toward center. We clean the Oryoki bowl and the other small bowls with a spatula/scraper, eating any remaining food. When finished, return the spatula to the first bowl. This will signal the server to bring hot water to clean the bowls.

The hot water is served the same as the food and in the same sequence and with bowing before and after it is received. The first bowl is offered to receive the water with the spatula held parallel to bowl in the right hand. It is raised to signal when you have enough water. Using spatula, wash first bowl, then pour water and place spatula in the next bowl. Take drying cloth an put in first bowl with left thumb inside bowl at 12 o’clock position and right thumb at 3:00 pm position. Using both thumbs wipe the entire rim of bowl. Roll cloth inside bowl with the point of cloth sticking away from you. Clean spoon and then chopsticks in second bowl. Dry with cloth remaining in the first bowl. Transfer spoon and then chopsticks to the utensil case. Repeat process always leaving drying cloth in the first bowl.

To avoid wasting any food, we clean the bowls with water. We drink PART of the water, which is then collected by the TENZO/Server to offer to the various spirits. If tea is to be served (decision made by the TENZO), it should be brewed at this time before the water is collected. While the water is being collected, we chant the following verse:  

The water with which we wash our bowls

Tastes like nectar

We offer it to many spirits:

May they be satisfied.

The TENZO or server takes water outside and offers to a tree or plant as an offering to the local spirits (If there is not time, to the kitchen and offers it after the meal is completed) and returns and may then bring hot tea and serve in second bowl (never in Buddha Bowl). Do not put away drying cloth until TENZO and SERVERS return to their seats. Wipe bowl when finished, stack bowls and wrap.

When everyone has finished wrapping bowls, put palms together and chant:

Abiding in this ephemeral world 

Like a lotus in muddy waters the mind is pure and goes beyond.

Thus we bow to Buddha.

Everyone bows.

Clappers are hit once by the Chant Leader to signal end of meal.