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Lions Roar : July 2017
THIS DHARMA LIFE How I Got Comfortable with My Imperfections JOHN MANDERINO stumbles through Zen meal practice—and decides that’s perfectly okay. ANDRÉSLOB IT’S CALLED ORYOKI, this very for- mal, ceremonial-type Zen Buddhist meal where every little thing you do has to be absolutely correct. It’s supposed to help you be mindful—be here, be now, be Zen. At yesterday’s breakfast, they held a sort of run-through for us newcomers. What a disaster. Someone who’d been at the monastery a while was sitting across the table, and I was supposed to try to follow his lead, but I was so nervous that my brain seized up. For example, when he placed his little spatula at the bottom left-hand corner of his miniature tablecloth, facing out, and laid his chopsticks above the spatula, facing in, I couldn’t work out his left from mine, above from below, in versus out. Meanwhile I had this monk named Hosho—they all take Japanese names here—sitting next to me and whispering in my ear, “Something is wrong with your bowls and utensils. Can you see what it is?” I looked around, hoping to see the other two newcomers struggling like me, but they seemed to be doing fine. “Pay attention,” Hosho whispered. “Relax and place your mind entirely on your bowls and utensils. They are not aligned properly.” I came this close to walking out and driving home where I could align my bowls and uten- sils any damn way I pleased. JOHN MANDERINO’s latest book is a story collection called But You Scared Me the Most. Then there was the actual Eating of the Meal. I figured we were probably supposed to eat very slowly, putting extra attention on the tastes and textures of the food. So that’s what I was trying to do, eyes lowered, chewing ponderously, like a cow. But after a while I noticed Hosho next to me was already done, sitting there with his hands in his lap. Then I noticed every- one was sitting there with their hands in their laps, waiting for me to finish. And I still had several little cantaloupe chunks to go. I like cantaloupe and had taken a lot. So now I began stabbing each of the chunks with a chopstick and chewing like mad. Then I started swallowing them almost whole. The very last one got stuck in my throat—oh God, not like this—and I stood straight up and threw my arms out wide, as if blessing everyone, man- aged to swallow, and sat back down. “Are you all right?” Hosho whispered. I nodded. Some chanting after that. Then the Washing of the Bowls, which I got through okay, as there wasn’t any- thing you could screw up. But then we had to tie up our oryoki kits—our bowls and utensils—using our little tablecloth/ napkin. “Make a lotus flower,” Hosho whispered. “Sorry?” “Make one tail of your knot resemble a lotus flower.” Was he serious? He nodded towards the guy across from LION’S ROAR | JULY 2017 23