The Bowls

I’ve got a thing about bowls. Love them. Love the way they sit in my hands. Love the weightiness. Love the gritty texture of the clay, the slick shine of the ceramic, the occasional handle that rests near my wrist. Love that they can contain. Full, the abundance. Empty, the potential.  

It’s hard to know exactly when we met, bowls and I, but I know exactly when we fell in love. It was the year 2000. My kids and I had just moved to Brecksville but, with the school year not quite over, we continued to drive morning and afternoon to and from the east side of Cleveland.  I was teaching. They were finishing first grade and preschool. I had recently stumbled upon a little pocket-sized book that offered a powerful parable from the Buddhist tradition. It was a story of the begging bowls. A story of the monks of long ago who left the ashram each morning carrying nothing but their begging bowl. As they traveled through the day, the monks sustained their lives on what was placed in their bowl. Sometime a nourishing and generous serving of dhal or a few coins. Sometimes a discouraging and disgusting cigar butt or worst, spit. The Buddhist tradition teaches walking peacefully the middle way. Without attachment. Without aversion.  And so the story tells of the monks expressing humble gratitude for the blessings shared and demonstrating no concern whatsoever over the less desirable offerings. Within this practice, the monks knew peace.

On the drive to school one day, I shared the story of the begging bowls with my kiddos. I could see their minds creating a picture of the story and their hearts making a connection to the truth. The truth that each of us walks from our homes every day with a similar bowl. Each of us receives from the world into our bowl. Each of us, similarly, makes offerings into the bowls of the other. And each of us determines how we perceive and receive the gifts of the day.  On the ride home, we shared our personal stories. We reported and discussed what had been placed in our bowls. The sharing was mature beyond the short lives that these young children had lived. And the topic became a ritual through the remaining days of the school year.

I can’t speak for my kids but I had fallen in love! Bowls took on new meaning in my heart and home. The print of three bowls that hung above the fireplace became significant to the three of us: each one personally assigned.  The bowl in the center of the living table was no longer a dumping spot for the miscellaneous pieces of life absent minded tossed in until ‘clean up’ day but a sacred space full of potential. The grade school pottery projects that decorate the end table, that sit near the bathroom sink and that adorn the dresser in the bedroom representing peace.  The serving bowls used at dinner time carefully chosen for their ability to offer a nourishing meal with love and gratitude. So powerful was this love affair with bowls that a new neighbor walked arrived at the house one day and handed me a beautiful old and worn wooden bowl. She said, “I saw this at a garage sale and I don’t know why but I knew you should have it.”

The kids are young adults now and it’s been quite a while since we’ve had a conversation about our bowls. I’m sure they’d smile with the memory but I doubt the experience made as lasting an impression on them as it has me. The lesson, however…the lesson has become a prayer. A prayer from my heart to theirs. A prayer that they gratefully and humbly receive the blessings life offers them. A prayer that they simply clean out the unfortunate offerings that life inevitably will present. A prayer that they walk the middle way. That they know peace in their hearts and in their homes. 

Here's a little love for your bowl: "Bowl of Light" by Trevor Hall