Yesterday in the late morning, after a long session of watchful meditation, Sensei invited the monks to gather around and sit with him on the communal table. It was nearing noon and the monks were hungry.
Just as the monks sat down, Sensei gently placed a tray in the center of the table. The tray was ornate and beautiful, with etchings on the side. Inside, there was a bowl of white steaming rice, a small serving of soya sauce and a pair of quaint wooden chopsticks. The bowl was made of blue ceramic and looked precious. The entire ensemble looked very artistic and royal.
Sensei smiled and said, “The Monk who observes this tray carefully and tells me what is most important, will be its rightful owner.”
The Monks stared at the ensemble for a moment and began to take turns speaking.
Truthful Monk was the first to speak. He said, “Obviously it’s the rice. Without it, the tray is useless. Sensei has taught us that only the truth matters. The truth of the tray is the rice.”
Sensei smiled at him gently.
Loving Monk sighed said, “It’s the tray. The tray is what holds the rice or ‘the truth’ as my fellow Monk just said. What holds the truth is love and that in this case is the tray. The tray is the most important item.”
Sensei acknowledged Loving Monk’s reasoning.
Logical Monk almost interrupted the discussion and said, “Stop Monking around and accept that without the chopsticks nothing will be relevant. How will you eat the rice? What is the use of the ‘truth’ without the means to understand it? Obviously the chopsticks are the most important item!”
Sensei grinned at Logical Monk (who thought he had won).
Angry Monk began to shout! He said, “Sensei just tell us that the food is over in the kitchen today and you are doing all this to make us go hungry and not blame you! What is important is my lunch – you can keep the tray for yourself.”
While Angry Monk’s comment offended the other monks, Sensei laughed loudly and asked Angry Monk to settle down.
Artistic Monk sought permission to speak. He said, “All of you may not have noticed, but the beautiful blue bowl is the most important item. It resembles beauty in the midst the mundane. What is the beauty of rice and chopsticks when compared to this beautiful object? The bowl makes the rice beautiful!”
Sensei nodded twice at him as if agreeing.
Shy Monk broke out his shyness and spoke! He said, “Please listen to me. It’s the small serving of soya. You see, in the midst of the ‘truth’ or rice, the chopsticks, the bowl and the tray, it’s the soya that will add to the greatest joy to the meal, while being so tiny and insignificant. The soya is shy like me, but will make everyone happy…”
All the Monks clapped at the explanation of Shy Monk.
Sensei then asked Head Monk to speak.
Head Monk bowed to Buddha, to Sensei and said, “Sensei what is most important is not in the tray but within us. It is our Hunger. Without hunger, none of us will feel like looking at the tray. As with this example, the most important things are within us, not outside…”
Sensei clapped three times and said, “When you are hungry, you seek. And when you seek you find. A master can only satiate your hunger but the hunger must come from within. Pray and meditate that Buddha grants you hunger, forever, forever…”