The Empty Rice Bowl

As a society, we place a great deal of emphasis on having all the answers. It is a highly valued trait that is first cultivated in grade school and continues to be highly valued right on into adulthood. While it’s certainly great to have the answers, when we make this an all-important trait we are missing out in a variety of ways. When having the answer takes top billing, we often miss the golden opportunity of sitting in the question.

When we think we know the answer, or pretend we do, we aren’t open to insight, intuition and other data that might completely change our approach and offer a novel, unique solution. There is a well-known story based on wisdom from the Zen Buddhist tradition called, the Empty Rice Bowl. It illustrates the concept known as “beginner’s mind”. Essentially stating that if our rice bowl (mind) is full of our own knowledge, ideas, preferences, likes/dislikes, etc. how can anything else be added?

This approach leaves no opening for new input, new understanding, new approaches or new solutions. Unfortunately, the older we get the more we tend to suffer from this approach. We think we’ve heard it all, saw it all and understand far more than we do. In actuality, what we know when we approach a question or problem is the data set of our own experiences. When we become more comfortable with the truth that there is more we don’t know than that which we do know, we open up new space in our rice bowl to be filled with that wisdom.

A common slogan in various recovery programs is, “Your best thinking got you here”. This is a reflection of what is currently happening in our world. Our best thinking as a collective society has resulted in the myriad of serious issues facing our planet and humanity. It is time to sit in the question with an open mind and an open heart and ask ourselves what type of world we want to create and leave for the next generation. As we become comfortable with not-knowing the answers or how to enact all that is needed, we become empty vessels that can be filled and used for the highest good of all humanity.