Empty Rice Bowl

If you find yourself in a place of grasping, forcing, or fumbling, empty your rice bowl.

There is a concept in Zen Buddhism that proposes the path to clarity is not what we think. Most often when we are trying to understand or accomplish something, the mind goes to work. The inner dialogue is something like “I’ve got a problem, I had better think about this… what do I do?”. Like a tape looping on repeat, we become mentally consumed with the task of figuring out what to do by thinking about the problem. We refer to past experiences, to other people’s experiences, and we also get fixated on the experiences we are trying to avoid.

Once the mind is full, we become sort of hemmed in by the details and specifics of the problem. We think we are tasked with finding the solution and therefore believe that we have to figure something out. In other words, we are un-teachable. There is a saying that every problem actually comes bearing its own unique solution. It is our need to conquer, control, and know that usually keeps us from recognizing the solutions being offered in any given situation.

The Buddhists recognize that the mind that is full, cannot receive guidance or creative inspiration from the Universe or what is sometimes referred to as the Higher Mind. When we think we must find or craft the answer all on our own, its like telling the Universe that we don’t want help. What many of us fail to recognize in times of struggle and confusion, is that we have blocked the flow of help by putting all of our attention on the problem. We become problem oriented and often end up making the problem bigger by focusing on it. After all, what we focus on, expands.

You have likely noticed that you get your best ideas or epiphanies when you aren’t even thinking about the topic in question. It’s usually when you are out with a group of friends or engaged in some form of physical activity that lights you up.

To empty the rice bowl is to become receptive to the wisdom and guidance of the Universe. The tricky part is to let go of the belief that we must think up some solution. We must become skillful in expanding the empty mind so that it may function as something like a receiver so the solution can be downloaded!