Psych Central

A meal is an event.  Eating is the process behind it.  Mindless eating, without any awareness of the process itself, turns a meal-event into a belly-aching non-event. A potential of an event, wiped out by mindlessness, is both an existential loss (a loss of an eating moment is a loss of a moment of living) and a loss of meditative opportunity.

Imagine you are in the business of teaching people to meditate, literally.  Indeed, imagine yourself as a medieval Zen master charged with managing a Buddhist monastery.  Day in, day out you got a bunch of bums banging on your door seeking admission, refuge, protection, i.e. room and board.  Unable to read minds and screen out dharma bums from sincerely-motivated seekers, you come up with a brilliant scheme.  You decide to turn the dining hall into a meditation hall.  You come up with “oryoki” – a highly codified eating protocol that emphasizes a precise order of movements, stopping when you are full, cleaning up for yourself, and liturgical chanting.

This brilliant solution kills several birds with one stone.  First, you’ve got a captive audience: a hungry stomach means an attentive mind.  Second, insisting on mindful consumption assures that monks do not mindlessly overeat and monastery food supplies are appropriately utilized.  Thirdly, by instituting a carefully choreographed, synchronized-eating ritual, you are making sure that a) the rag-tag team of bums that walked into the door acts as a united community, b) that the individualistic maniacs who still over-value their ego have it repeatedly challenged at each meal by being told when to open and close their mouths, and c) that there is not that much of a mess in the mess-hall when everyone’s done eating.

Lastly, most importantly, by turning eating into a platform for meditation, you assure a complete integration of meditation into the nuts and bolts of daily living, modeling “internalization” and “generalization” of mindfulness precedents into daily living.  Good deal, huh?

But here’s the problem: rituals, like bones, tend to ossify, traditions designed to keep the mind flowing become stagnated and crystallized, and form begins to eclipse the essence.  An Oryoki meal is, frankly, a hassle.  A beautiful, metronomical choreography of body and mind that is largely irrelevant – in its classic form – to modern-day living.  An oryoki meal – unless you are monk in residence – is a must-have exotic experience, not unlike say a night over at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater or 28 days at a rehab.  Let’s face it: any one can relax, recover and regain their sense of mindfulness in a serene atmosphere.  The challenge is to import the attitude of mindfulness into day-to-day living without having to go on a sabbatical at every meal.

What am I proposing?  Oryoki-lite.

Oryoki-lite requires no set of begging bowls; any bowl or plate (even paper plate) will do.  Oryoki-lite doesn’t call for a half-lotus asana on the floor; a chair at your regular dining table will do.  Oryoki-lite is not about the protocol but about breaking the protocol; it is about waking yourself up with something as simple as using your non-dominant hand to eat or using an unfamiliar set of utensils to throw your eating kinesthetics off balance so as to wake up your mind.

Oryoki-lite requires no need for knowledge of Tibetan chants; a simple “mm”-mantra of savoring in between mindful bites will do.  Oryoki-lite isn’t about Buddhist-form but about Buddhist-essence, about just waking yourself up without Buddhist fanfare.  After all, that’s what the word “buddha” means: the one who is awake – not the one in an orange robe with a set of begging bowls and a mantra in his/her mouth, but anyone – you, for example – being simply present, not full-time (that’s for monks), but at least, now and then, perhaps, as rarely as one mindful eating moment per meal.

Enough said about just eating.  Grab a paper plate and give your mind a try.



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    Last reviewed: 9 Jul 2011

APA Reference
Somov, P. (2010). Oryoki Reconsidered. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 24, 2014, from


Reinventing the Meal
Reinventing the Meal
Present Perfect
Eating the Moment
The Lotus Effect The Smoke-Free Smoke Break
Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. is the author of The Lotus Effect, Present Perfect, The Smoke-Free Smoke Break, and Eating the Moment: 141 Mindful Practices to Overcome Overeating One Meal at a Time.

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