If I Eat Rice

Zen Koans are short questions, riddles, or dialogue designed to help us find the truth. A catalyst to awaken awareness that’s hidden behind the mind, Koans aren’t logical questions with rational answers, so oftentimes they’re left unanswered. Below is an example:

Photo taken at the Idaho Botanical Gardens — a short bicycle ride from our home in Boise

The student Doken was told to go on a long journey to another monastery. He was extremely upset because he felt the trip would interrupt his studies, so he said to his friend, the advanced student Sogen, “Please ask permission to come with me on this trip. There are so many things I don’t know, but if you come along we can discuss them and I can learn as we travel.”

“All right,” said Sogen. “But let me ask you a question. If you’re hungry, what satisfaction is it to you if I eat rice?”

Is anyone eating rice for you?

© lauriebuchanan.com

62 thoughts on “If I Eat Rice

  1. Oh a really tough question Laurie! I immediately want to go for the logic – what does it mean to eat rice? Then I think, I like rice – is it bad to eat rice? Do I have to decide if it is good or bad to eat rice before I decide if anyone is eating rice for me? Possibly, eating rice is about eating poorly? What would it look like if someone was eating rice for me?…… And so my mind questions on and on. I have absolutely no idea if anyone is eating rice for me as I travel this life’s journey. But you can bet I will keep thinking about your question for a long while.

  2. I think there is a risk nowadays of having everything so processed and all the information digested beforehand that we forget how to think or learn by ourselves, and the process of acquiring experience and learning is highly individual. Good question..

  3. Koans are not intended to be answered, but I’ll venture a guess: We must construct our own answers from knowledge we have. We must think for ourselves and not expect to be spoon-fed.

    You nailed it with the right category today: food for thought.

  4. After a few moments of thought, I would have to interpret it like this, from a Christian’s point of view….If all of my family; mother, father, sister and brother were saved and going to Heaven, does that mean that I get a Free Pass to ride in on their coat tails? No, of course not! You can learn a great deal from others but you cannot live a true live built on the experiences of others. You break and make your own trails to arrive at your own destination. Good question!

  5. Perhaps Duken was intentionally sent on the long journey alone because he had become too dependent on other students who had done the thinking work for themselves. Most of my “Aha” moments come when I am alone and in a quiet setting.

    When I was young at the dinner table, my Mother would get irritated with family members when additional requests for condiments or special accommodations made it necessary for her to get up from the table each time. Her favorite comment was, “Would you like me to eat the food for you, too?”

    Last weekend I attended a three day intensive teacher certification class for Holy Fire Reiki. Although my instructor taught the foundations of this new modality, we had to do our own self-healing. I am still on a high from the experience.

    One of my teachers in high school insisted that the process of how to learn was more important than the knowledge gained on a specific topic because the skill of how to learn would serve one for a lifetime.

    Laurie, I love learning about Boise via your blog.

    • Chris — I suspect your mother is a person I would have enjoyed knowing. And I love the observation your high school teacher made:

      “…the process of how to learn is more important than the knowledge gained on a specific topic because the skill of how to learn will serve one for a lifetime.”

  6. Hi Laurie, this is not so much a koan as it a test of correct conduct. The logical answer being: if hungry – eat, if other’s are hungry – feed them. All answers to koan are insufficient as the point is to illicit a response beyond mind. That’s like scratching your left foot when your right foot itches. 🙂

  7. Hi Laurie I reckon that I have learnt to eat my own rice in the last couple of days and I have made it into risotto .
    We had a new car the weekend ,and like all new cars it had a mind of its own . My husband is the practical one and learnt its ways quickly …I refused to learn… I REFUSED TO GO IN THAT DAM CAR!!! . Then Col had to go away for a couple of days on business . So it was just and me and the DAM CAR!!!! . It’s amazing how well we got on when alls said and done …me and the DAM CAR!!! …either that or walk .

  8. Great metaphor!


    [image: Inline image 1]

    *”I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining.* *I believe in love, even when I’m alone* *I believe in God, even when He is silent.” *

  9. My satisfaction would come from understanding, if you are eating rice, there is rice to be had – regardless of whether or not I can see where the rice is at the moment.

  10. Wow – I just shared this…what a great question….Teaching ethics for so many years, there were always students asking me what the “answer” is….I told them I was about asking the questions and assisting them in finding the answers with more questions and writing out there thoughts… The College I taught at used to have 5 sections of Philosophy offered – presently the students only have a 2 week taste offered in another class because the work is too hard Thus I seem to be asking the questions and writing about them alone (unemployed) I am not an entertainer

    I have one person in my book group who always asks me what the book was about – I reply with a question and everyone comes to the rescue with just surface responses They do not understand Metaphor and symbolism in the books.

    4 of the 12 have just phoned me to ask for help in voting – my question – Where do you find justice and how do you find out if greed is footing the bills? I am just happy they are voting.

    • Leanne — Clearly you’re well respected as evidenced by the number of people who look to you for guidance. By the way, I think the most recent question you’ve posed to your group is excellent food for thought!

  11. I think it is hard to eat your own rice. ‘They’ (the knowledgeable ones) abound in our world–on the net, TV, radio, in spiritual circles. And ‘they’ are so quick to judge.
    “If you eat this kind of rice that means you are (fill in the blank),” they tell us.
    And this judging leads us rejecting certain types of rice–even without tasting it.
    Have others eaten my rice for me?
    Yes. But as I grow older I am relying less on them and more on myself.

  12. Reading this reminded me, Laurie of something I once said to someone who was going off on an adventure so wanted to take myself. I said; “ah, you are living my dream: and they said; “well, somebody has to”. Over the years I know I “thought” others could eat my rice, however, I eventually realized that I am the only one who can do that. Excellent post, thank you:)

  13. Insightful post Laurie. I love Zen Koans and the Zen Stories that always challenge me to think outside the square. I am guilty of having plenty of of people in my life eat rice for me, until I discovered I could do it on my own, and that was when I discovered “empowerment.”

  14. This is a very subtle but telling wake up call for all those -myself included- who sometimes lean on others for leverage. The tough decisions are never easy to negotiate, but the consequences of not moving forward are far worse than towing the party line so to speak. This is an enlightening variation on the idea that each must undergo their own experiences and not go by the experiences of others. Great post Laurie!

    • Sam — I’m so glad this post resonated with you. I love what you said, “…the consequences of not moving forward are far worse than towing the party line…” As always, thank you for your presence 🙂

  15. Oh yes, that really is a loaded question, Laurie! I think it can depend on so many factors, including what stage of life you are at (perhaps someone who is young, and dreams of the days, which will soon arrive, when they can take their own journeys alone, yet are still living the dreams for their own future lives through the lives of others) or whether you have reached an age where you realise your life is your own to live, and you have the freedom to do so. I think I began to eat my own rice about eight years ago. A very thought provoking post, thank you! 🙂

  16. Ah, I love how you make me think! 🙂 I looked deep down into myself, and into my life, to answer this question, and no one is eating rice for me. Yay! I’m definitely “doing my own thing,” making my own mistakes, loving and learning in my own way. And yes, that’s the way to do it. It’s nice to have company on a journey, but we do need to figure out the directions ourselves, don’t we?

    • Roughwighting — I love what you said: “…making my own mistakes, loving and learning in my own way.” Yes, indeed. I agree with you that each of us needs to figure out the directions ourselves 🙂

  17. Laurie,

    My iPhone refused to accept my first attempt to comment. That’s not a very Zen excuse, is it?

    I enjoy the way you make a double Koan out of this story. The story itself and then your question, which gives it just a slight twist. Wise woman. That’s you.

  18. Love these trains of thoughts you have sparked Laurie. I was with Jeff on this … And then realized if we are all together on the journey it doesn’t matter if someone is there eating rice or not. The students question was irrelevant as was the older students one In response.. But it sure does bring up mind stuff to be aware of 🙂

  19. I wonder! I don’t know for sure, but I do learn a lot by paying attention to other people and their choices and decision-making…I think of this “vicarious” learning as a strength, but I’ll have to think about whether I’m influenced by that more than jumping in with my own instincts. That’s worth thinking about, perhaps!

  20. interesting and wise question, Miss Laurie… 🙂 I’ve loved rice since my childhood and as an adult I do have rice about twice/week… so I’m my own rice eater! 😉

  21. This is a great post Laurie and I love the photo! What rings for me is much of what everyone here has stated. Keep moving forward, trust in your heart’s direction and keep opening! Sometimes it’s scary, sometimes it’s lonely but it is far better to eat your own rice! 🙂 hugs, Richard

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