The meaning of OGU – by Guy Mokuhô Mercier
The Meaning of OGU – By Guy Mokuhô Mercier
Ōgu expresses the “transmission”.
We transmit through our practice this same form and rituals that have been transmitted and taught by teachers for centuries. They are still practiced today in the temples of our Sôtô school. This transmission allows us to preserve and protect what the Buddha taught : keep one’s own attention steady and continuous, whatever the circumstances, to see and understand the truth of impermanence and emptiness. We learn this directly during zazen : to remain motionless and to see the impermanence of things, to remain in the Consciousness-Presence that sees the world appear and disappear.
To keep this stable and calm mind that observes and contemplates is a difficult practice that requires us to seek the advice, recommendations and experience of our masters. Our mind is accustomed to divide itself by identifying itself with the things it perceives, by projecting onto them to try to seize them to gain a satisfaction that it cannot manage to see as useless and even perverse. To identify oneself with something impermanent can only produce in us a feeling of total insecurity, while creating in us the fear of missing something. We spend our life in the contradiction of wanting to grasp what makes us suffer and simultaneously trying in vain to escape this suffering.
Keeping the attention steady is really the basis of the Buddha’s teaching (expressed very explicitly in the Satipatthana sutra) to learn through meditation and the practice of the paramitas, to dwell in this gaze that contemplates the appearance and disappearance of things. In meditation, we realize this, without even being aware of it. Unfortunately, it is difficult and even impossible to contemplate 24 hours a day. Life and energy push us to undertake things, to act, to create, and so the difficulty is to keep this stability of consciousness perceiving things themselves, equally in activity and in meditation. This is what Zen teaches in the care given to the details of everyday life, in the spirit of gesture, these ways which are the foundation of spiritual and monastic life, to make us reach the other bank. The other bank qualifies the spirit that dwells in stability, motionless within the very heart of the movements of impermanence.
One of the most delicate and profound practices transmitted in Zen Soto is the one we do while eating in the Öryoki. It is a practice that symbolizes the gift and the non-attachment. For those who do not know our tradition, the Oryoki are the set of bowls, five bowls, sometimes even seven, in which the Zen monks take the meals. This ritual is extremely precise and requires us to maintain constant attention throughout our meal.
The word ” Ōryoki ” is composed of three ideograms (kanji) :” Ō ” means the response of the recipient to the food offering. ” Ryō “, is the quantity that we receive in our bowl.” Ki “, is the bowl itself.
Let’s start with the bowl – Ki.t is in itself a symbol. It is the bowl that receives and contains the life that nourishes our existence. The largest of the bowls, the one that contains all the others, is called hatsu.u. and it symbolizes the transmission of life, of the Dharma, and also of the teaching of Buddha. Dogen writes that it is «the unimaginable, extraordinary, incomparable, wonderful, miraculous utensil in which this extraordinary event is realised, the gift of food, this exchange with others and with nature. And for this event to take on its dharmic, extraordinary dimension, it takes place in Presence «. Eating in this bowl is an act of presence, Consciousness-Presence. This is the very place of enlightenment. The bowl transcends the idea of the bowl itself, its material form. It becomes by the attentive presence the place where practice and awakening are realized. In the Buddhist tradition, this bowl is also used as a bowl of alms. At the time of the Buddha the monks went to the villages to beg for food. This practice is still ongoing, although rare today.
Ryō “,is the measure, the quantity we receive in the bowl, the quantity given to us. Whether small or large, it is not for granted or by right. We must learn contentment and truly consider that it is a gift made to us. The contents of our bowl, “Ryõ”, is the life that presents itself to us at this very moment and invites us to consciously consider eating, the pleasure of tasting the universe in flavors and colors. Our greed often turns this food into something banal, by the carelessness we bring to it and by the judgments we make in our minds about the contents of our bowl. This very quantity of food, “Ryo”, reveals to us the power of our attachments and our dependence on the world of our sensation of taste.
Ryō, is not only the food itself in our bowls, but it is also the abilities, skills, qualities that each of us has received and that we must put at the service of others. As the Buddha teaches us, there is nothing that belongs to us. As a result, we can consider our body itself as a bowl that receives food and restores it to others in the relationship of love and sharing. The bowl receives food and it transmits life! We also receive, transform and return this food. It disappears in us and turns into an activity that we must transmit and put at the service of all beings.
” Ō “, is the response of the one who receives, to the food offering. We can always complain about what’s in our bowl! The spirit with which we receive food can either make us sick or wake up and nourish our spirituality. Whatever is in our bowl, we can taste it and discover the flavors, the textures and see the colors and go beyond the judgment of thoughts, to study this and see if we can take the time to enjoy, to chew, to be conscious with food. This is the teaching of Õryokis. Our attitude of mind determines how this food will be transformed and used by our body. The response to the food offering is a quality of care devoid of judgment and greed and is the expression of our gratitude. Zen expresses the relationship between the one who gives, the one who receives and what is given by the term “Ogu”. We have already seen what» O «means. The response of the monk who receives his food in his bowl is to give back to beings by teaching and transmitting the Dharma. This is his «task» in the play of interdependence between all beings. ”
“ Gu “, is the offering itself that fills the bowl, the action that the donor accomplishes, the action of giving, the gift itself, without a mind of profit. The true gift does not wait for a reward. “Ogu” really corresponds to «Dana», the gift, the first of the paramita practices of perfection. The lay person gives the food and the monk gives the Dharma, the teaching, of which it is said that, of all the gifts, it is the most important.
“ Ōgu “, is also the perfect uniqueness that is created in the action between the one who gives and the one who receives. It is the heart of Zen to give and receive. They are synonymous, one does not go without the other. We do not come to the dojo to get something for ourselves. We come to discover who we are and restore this truth to all beings. The practice of “Ogu” therefore includes ourselves and others.
” Ōgu ” is the name we have chosen for the seminar we will be doing in Lanau at the end of October 2019, followed by a sesshin (we could also say Ö-sesshin). The idea contained in this term is to transmit generously what we have received. It is the transmission that continues to live beyond the form, the body and the things that pass. The way of the Buddha is a way of humanity for all beings. As his disciples we must through our practice convey the path that allows the return to That which we are.