Random Xpat Rantings

Contemplative dominance for the modern man

The beauty of beta

Posted by xsplat on November 23, 2012

The head server was giving us last minute instructions, moments before we were to enter the shrine room. The five servers each held a single metal bowl, for all five bowls used in the lunchtime Orioki ritual.

“Be cheerful. You are making an offering to each person. Part of what you are offering is your cheerfulness.”

Clack! The signal sounded for us to enter. In single file we marched up through the two rows of meditators, bowed to the shrine, then faced each other holding the bowls of food up to eye level.

The group is chanting the heart sutra.

Addressed in this way, noble Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, said to venerable Sariputra, “O Sariputra, a son or daughter of noble family who wishes to practice the profound prajñaparamita should see in this way: seeing the five skandhas to be empty of nature.

Form is empty; emptiness is also form. Emptiness is no other than form; form is no other than emptiness.

In the same way, feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness are empty.

Thus, Sariputra, all dharmas are emptiness. There are no characteristics.

There is no birth and no cessation. There is no impurity and no purity. There is no decrease and no increase.

Therefore, Sariputra, in emptiness, there is no form, no feeling, no perception, no formation, no consciousness;

No eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind;

No appearance, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no dharmas;

No eye dhatu up to no mind dhatu, no dhatu of dharmas, no mind consciousness dhatu;

No ignorance and no end of ignorance up to no old age and death, no end of old age and death;

No suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation of suffering, no path, no wisdom, no attainment, and no nonattainment.

Therefore, Sariputra, since the bodhisattvas have no attainment, they abide by means of prajñaparamita. Since there is no obscuration of mind, there is no fear. They transcend falsity and attain complete nirvana. All the buddhas of the three times, by means of prajñaparamita, fully awaken to unsurpassable, true, complete enlightenment.


The servers bow to each other, and the first server walks to the first two people, sitting on the floor on their zafus and gomdens, their plush stuffed meditation mats and pillows, in front of them their 5 black laquered orioki bowls, laid out on the large blue square of cloth. The server bows, and so do the two servees, hungry from a long morning of silent meditation.

And it’s at that precise moment when the power of the orioki service is manifest. The bow.

We’ll let that moment pass with nothing more said.

Then comes the next moment of magic. The first servee holds out her bowl. I am the first server, and so I have the big bowl of grain. It’s brown rice today. I take a big spoonful and scoop a generous portion, being mindful not to apportion too much, but not too little such that she has to ask for many servings.

Plop. She holds her spoon parallel with her bowl, without moving. This is the signal to hit her again with another scoop. I look at her in the eyes before scooping out another portion. She raises her spoon. I do the same for the next person in the row. Then stand up, then bow again.

Did you catch the magic? Maybe you had to be there. It was a prayer. Giving food was service. There was a beauty in it. A recognition. A joy in service. A happiness. I was serving myself, recognizing myself, giving from that precious space in my heart to another precious space.

From that first time I participated, I had a feeling for that service. Over the years when there were special feasts I’d often be asked to be a server, or a head server. I think people liked to be served by me, and I liked to serve. Especially I enjoyed serving the alcoholic sake rice wine during the wet feasts.

I grew up in the suburbs, and when the bros would party together it was the same feeling. When you say “cheers” before pounding a shot. When you sing along to a song together. The whole ethos of party. Revelers have brotherly love – it’s a common understanding – that our situation is to be celebrated.

“Be cheerful as your offering”, I was told.

It’s good to put a finger on it sometimes.


I was sitting on the cliff, shrouded in three arctic sleeping bags that I had converted into ponchos, staring out over the ice packs that stretch out from Cape Breton shores, staring out past ice to ocean to where the ocean meets the clouded sky. Ravens are playing in the air. I want to do the best that I can in this moment, and it occurs to me – what if my mind were an offering. An offering, to… the Queen of our Commonwealth. White and blue and rock and height and vista and distance and depth, and only me here to see it, and how to make that a good thing, a really good gift. What with all my training.

The question is the answer, as Trungpa Rinpoche used to say. So I gazed, and did my best to make a good gift of my perception. The question is the answer.

The question was how to make this a gift, and the answer was wanting to.

5 Responses to “The beauty of beta”

  1. Revo Luzione said

    Great post. These posts on spiritual evolution are solid, and the writing here is especially good.

    The last one on spiritual love was fantastic too.

  2. Jacob Ian Stalk said

    This story is about the emergence of Zeta, not Beta. Alpha is perfectly and heroically self-centred. Beta emulates Alpha without the heroism – selfishness, greed and avarice is the result. Zeta inverts both into selflessness. Zeta is the way home.

    Gautama Buddha represents Alpha. Mohammad represents Beta. Jesus represents Zeta.

  3. crackpot lunatic said

    Mohammad is more ‘Alpha” than Buddha and Jesus in every way.

    wielding mass social and political power with 7 wives, beating trained wrestlers as an old man, and going from illiterate to the most important person in a 1400 year old faith while being eternally remembered by 1 billion and counting for character

    aleister crowley and hitler specifically praised mohammedans for their ability to get shit done by force and criticized christianity for being meek and timid.

    If alpha is described as selfishness and a will to power.

    modern day radical islamists are a crew of whining joke though, but ottomans and saracens were quite an admirable group of people.

    jesus is still a better role model for the principles of love without a doubt.

    siddhartha was a moneymakingmachine and denounced his status as numero uno. status is king to an alpha.

    • Jacob Ian Stalk said

      It might be possible to swap Buddha and Mohammad in this hierarchy, but it really depends on your level of understanding. I toyed with that combination but it seemed to me that the Fundamentalist Mohammedans chutzpah, being derived mainly from defiance rather than a primary will to goodness, is probably too reactive to be Alpha. Alpha is neither defiant nor reactive – he just is. Alpha doesn’t care about being number one either – he just is. Alpha seeks only his own fulfillment, which is Gautama Buddha in a nutshell. Jesus did something quite different – he sacrificed himself for others, which marks him as an inversion of Alpha – i.e. Zeta.

  4. David Alexander said


    I like your line of thinking. I was under the impression that Mohammatens were animals who believed in something and sought to take over the world. Simple as that. World domination. A cliche goal, but an alpha goal nonetheless. Akin to planting a flag on the moon, akin to penetrating and busting a nut in a woman and enslaving her and commanding her to take her last name, akin to taking a wild horse and taming it,etc. etc.

    You make a great point there in the way you word it, and I will actually adopt your persepctive if you don’t mind.

    In many movies and films, the villain “just sets off to do his plan and work” and the heroes attempt to protect the innocent or thwart his plans in a reactionary manner. The villain’s selfish incentive comes off as ingenious, creative, and;full of ambition whereas heroes are just slave-like guardians doing what’s good.

    And coincidentally, many women have crushes on the villain.

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