A Picture of Rice Cake
Ga means a picture, a painting, or a drawing, and byo means rice cake. Therefore gabyo means a rice cake painted in a picture. Needless to say, a picture of rice cake cannot satisfy an appetite. Therefore, in Buddhism, painted rice cakes have frequently been used as a symbol of something serving no useful purpose. Notably, they were used as a symbol for abstract theories and concepts, which are useless to realize Buddhism. But Master Dogen’s interpretation about painted rice cakes differed from this usual interpretation. He felt that a painted rice cake represents one half of the Universe-the conceptual or mental side of Reality. Therefore we can say that even though abstract theories and words have sometimes misled people who are studying Buddhism, if there were no theories or words it would be impossible to understand Buddhism systematically or to explain Buddhist philosophy to others. In this chapter Master Dogen explained the real meaning of painted rice cakes in Buddhism: painted rice cakes-theories and concepts-cannot satisfy hunger, but they can be utilized to understand and explain the Truth. Further, Master Dogen insists that all existence has both a physical, material side and a conceptual, mental side, and that these two aspects are inseparable in Reality. Thus without a picture of rice cake-that is, the concept “rice cake”-we can never find the real existence of rice cakes.