Red Cedar Zen Community, 1021 N Forest, Bellingham Washington

Soku Instructions for Served Oryoki Meals 

(edited 2/27/2017 by Tim Burnett)

SERVING ORYOKI MEALS AT RED CEDAR DHARMA HALL. Note that in smaller retreats we use the alternate method of having rows of students serve each other and the soku's job is bringing the food up from the kitchen but not serving it.

SEE ALSO: Zendo - Soku Tea Serving

General Instructions

Soku is the head server. The crew leader for a group of servers. The work begins in the kitchen during service (and during soji in the morning) helping the kitchen crew as appropriate setting up the trays of food. Then carrying the food up to the zendo as soji is ending (breakfast), or service is ending (lunch, dinner).

In sesshin we want one event to smoothly to the next. For example: service ends and the serving crew is there in the back of the room ready to begin the meal with no gap. It might feel strange but you do quietly enter while the sangha is finishing chanting and bowing.

Remind servers of the basics of serving, and you can refine after each meal:

1)    that serving is a practice, not a job.

2)    Moving swiftly and mindfully in the zendo helps the bodhisattvas be served more promptly (sometimes people think Zen is all slow-motion)

3)    try to synchronize the server pairs so they arrive at their beginning positions together, adjusting their pace to walk together.

4)    Have the next thing the pair of servers will pick up ready to go at the back table.
For example servers A & B go with with the first pot, servers C & D follow with the second pot. When A & B finish serving the first pot, they should be able to set down the 1st pot and pick up the 3rd pot in the same motion, bow to each other and enter the zendo immediately to start serving the 3rd pot.

5)    Trays are held at upper chest level (not above the head)

6)    Bows with the trays can be slight, not big and dramatic.

7)    Bow to the pair before serving, serve, bow after.

8)    Pots must be set of the floor to serve from. It is up to the server whether they kneel down, or stoop over. Be careful with the body.

9)    With trays also it’s more formal to kneel down but if that is difficult on the server’s body it’s fine to just bend over. Hold the tray at a good height for the person to take the condiment.

Preparation before meals

The soku and perhaps one other server get organized downstairs in the period prior to the meal. Other servers can participant in soji (breakfast) or service (lunch, dinner). You might have all servers downstairs the first time to be sure everyone understands what’s happening. But we don’t want it too crowded in the dinning/kitchen if people are just standing around waiting adjust accordingly. The soku is the crew leader deciding how to use your resources.

Have ready for when the server team arrives:

§  Buddha’s food offering (ideally passed formally with bows from tenzo to soku)

§  Server napkins (each server has a black napkin tucked in a pocket or belt)

§  Eight sets of condiments on trays

Two sets of everything else:

§  Two plates with cloths for ‘mealboard’ wiping, clean, damp, folded on plates

§  Trays holding two of each of the each of the three pots of food

§  Utensils for serving (confer with tenzo) laid next to each pot. Sometimes we miss a untensil – this is a stressor, do think it through.

§  Two teapots for hot water

§  Two buckets for receiving cleaning water (we use brown plant pots for this)

Order of Service

When people are seated with bowls in front of them
, pesent wiping towels: Wipe in front of teacher and give towel to next person in row. Otherwise give to first person of a row with no bow, pick up at far end of row with a bow.

After towels have been picked up, serve condiments: One to the end of each row. Server holds the tray at waist height, bows, lowers the tray so first person can reach, bows after item is taken, moves on to next spot.

(note: we don’t always have someone do the meal drum, it’s a form we’re just learning)

After condiments have been served the Soku presents Buddha tray synchronized with drumming:
* Soku starts at back of zendo holding the offering at head level, waits for four-hit intro on drum, then walks slowly to altar with drum roll. Drum roll ends with one hit synchronized with soku bow at bowing mat. 
* Drum roll begins again as soku approaches altar, sidesteps in front of altar, bows and passes tray over incense 3 times. Drum roll crescendos as soku raises tray to head level, then places tray on altar. Drum roll diminishes and ends with two hits.
* Soku bow after setting down tray is synchronized with second hit.
* Soku returns to front of bowing mat as drum roll begins again. Drum roll ends with three hits. Soku bow at bowing mat is synchronized with third hit.
* Soku returns to serving area.

A little before everyone has their oryoki set up, the soku and servers bow to the food, remove lids, pick up pots, then take positions in pairs at the ‘door’ to the zendo. Carry pots at eye level with all fingers outside of the pot (not thumbs hooked inside)

Begin serving food as the chanting of the names of Buddha begins.
 Soku and servers bow, servers enter the zendo at the clap after the first line, “Vairochana Buddha, pure dharmakaya.” Pairs walk in synchronized. As soon as a pair of servers is free, they pick up food for next bowl, enter zendo and proceed to the first serving positions. Continue until all food is served.

§  Servers serve students in pairs. Bow to a pair, the pair bows back. Server puts pot down. If possible kneel with feet away from altar.

§  Servers never take the Buddha bowl from students.

§  Servers always take second bowls (usually soup or other liquid).

§  Servers don’t take third bowl.

§  Generally, offer a full ladle to start with and a part-ladle subsequently. Watch students attentively for signals. We want to serve efficiently but it creates a difficulty if we give someone more food than they want to eat.

§  Server serves first then second person of pair. Picks up pot. Bows. Moves on to next pair.

After the first service, pots are returned to the back table if the two pots are uneven (much more taken from one than the other), the soku can even them out in preparation for seconds.

When 2/3 of people are 2/3 of done with their food, soku goes to the altar as before, and removes the Buddha tray. Then service of seconds begins. If there are limited seconds, announce it before while people are eating their first portions. The servers pass attentively, but not extremely slowly, bow if someone has hands in gassho (to a pair if there are 2 people side by side) and serve.

After seconds are served, servers retrieve condiments.

When condiments have been picked up,
Soku walks the floor with kentan cloth, held beneath rakusu if he/she wears one. If a spill is noticed or someone signals a spill with hands in gassho, soku bows, picks up food, wipes floor, bows again and continues.

When most have finished with scraping of bowls (including those first to be served),
Servers serve hot water in the same way food is served.

When most have finished with washing bowls (including those first to be served),
Ino starts chant, “The water with which we wash our bowls...” (Typically,  ino cues servers by starting chant.) Servers enter with buckets to pick up wash water.

When almost all of Oryokis are packed, present and pick up wiping towels as at the beginning of the meal.

Servers take all food and equipment downstairs. Server meal begins.

Dinner service

Much the same, but only 2 pots are served. There is no chanting and no Buddha tray. The only condiment will be gomasio.

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