- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Snow offers an outrageously funny and honest account of her adventures as head cook at a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center. With her earthy sensibility and sharp sense of humor, the author shows this world in a light devoid of preciousness—while expressing with heart the integrity of the spiritual work being undertaken. We come away from our visit to this exotic realm having found it both extraordinary and surprisingly familiar. The neuroses, obsessions, and petty ...
Snow offers an outrageously funny and honest account of her adventures as head cook at a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center. With her earthy sensibility and sharp sense of humor, the author shows this world in a light devoid of preciousness—while expressing with heart the integrity of the spiritual work being undertaken. We come away from our visit to this exotic realm having found it both extraordinary and surprisingly familiar. The neuroses, obsessions, and petty concerns exposed by Snow—both in herself and her fellow staff members—prove to be grist for the mill for discovering the grace inherent in life just as it is.
"Snow cooks up a sumptuous meal, rich with laughter and wisdom."—Philip Zaleski, editor of the Best Spiritual Writing series
8: They Used to Call Me God, but They'll Never Call Me Buddha
This morning, I got a postcard from my friend Sally in the English department, a picture of a palm-lined stretch of white beach. "Really envy you all that quiet and peace, but aren't you ever coming home? We miss you."
The fall quarter at the university had come and gone without me. There was too much to do at Dorje Ling to even think about leaving. A few phone calls was all it took to burn my bridges. Now my family and friends seemed to think that I
occupied a blissful cocoon, lapped round with serenity and love.
What did they know? How could I explain that these past six months at Dorje Ling had been the most challenging of my whole life, that moments of quiet and peace were few and as rare as daytime stars. Furthermore, hard as I worked physically, it seemed a vacation compared to my hard-hat level of mental activity. Everything I had ever thought, every hang-up and habit, turned this way and that until underlying assumptions yielded up their patterns and distortions, their hooked claws of attachment.
In my childhood, my grandfather once gave me a microscope and let me make slides out of anything I wanted: a flower, a fly's wing, a bit of bread dough, a piece of yarn. Understanding that there were levels and levels of vision affected me profoundly, leading me to daydream that by twisting my ear, I could turn my eyes into microscopes, enabling me to see through whatever baffled me. I felt that at Dorje Ling, I'd turned such a microscope back on myself but had been unprepared for its disclosures.
think a lot about anger these days. How the commercial kitchen used to run on rage. How appropriate it felt to indulge in tirades about what should or shouldn't be done. I'd seen anger as a divine dance, something I'd earned a right to express. Besides, hadn't I worked my way up from kitchen help by being unrelentingly precise and demanding in every detail? Hadn't I made a point of never faltering in my zealous control of both the process and the product?
Anger released adrenaline, energy, force. It kept the kitchen going. But at
Dorje Ling I discovered that it has a big price tag hanging from its toe.
People dislike you afterward, so you have to keep feeling angry, keep feeding it, keep pushing that energy outward in order not to wind up with the letdown,
not to take in the effects of your anger on other people.
Tashi once said that when someone gets angry at you, it's as if they were shooting arrows. If you respond with more anger, it is as if you picked up the arrows that fell at your feet and proceeded to stab yourself over and over.
cook isn't necessarily angry, but a chef is almost always furious on some level. Why? Will. Control and perfection. Professional entitlement. And what happens to all of this anger in the kitchen at a Buddhist center? To begin with, it starts to feel like damage rather than privilege. I would track the impact of anger, follow its effects on myself and others. I noted my racing heart, narrowed eyes, intense concentration outward onto something that others,
were doing wrong. An inner dialogue raged over flaws, the rightness of my position,
my method, my perfect food, my idea of how a dish should look, should taste. In short, I concentrated on myself, my own assumptions. I would take what was inside my head, project it outward—reify it—think it was real in itself. I'm right,
are wrong. Puff, puff. But the center of energy still raged on inside my own being.
That in itself, I came to realize, isn't the whole problem. When I engage with anger, nothing else can happen. Nothing. No love. No joy. Only rage. And it feeds itself. It comes in waves, say the psychologists. The first wave of anger tends to be fairly mild, but then, after we've pumped it up a bit, after we've fanned the flames with words and memories of earlier outrages, it becomes stronger, deeper, meaner.
soon found that getting in touch with rage as a source of power, as the self-help books advise, doesn't work except in the very short term. When I
really began to watch the effects of my words, I saw that anger couldn't do me or anyone else a bit of good. But how to control it?
ask Lama P. when he comes into the kitchen to melt coconut oil for butter lamps. Dorje Ling buys the oil in five-gallon tins from somewhere in Thailand.
When visitors melt the oil, they tend to mess up the stove, slopping it over the burners, creating a real fire hazard. This particular lama never spills a drop.
what do you do with anger? Stuff it?"
"Watch it. Feel it without acting on it. Don't identify with it. See it as a poison.
Different from stuffing it. Watch it. Oil's melted, got to go."
P. picks up the huge pot of hot oil and heads toward the porch where he's already set out the butter lamps, each with a wick in the gobletlike brass holders.
One thing about this center, the one with lamas rather than horses, they don't spoon-feed you, they throw you into the deep end. Sink or swim. Whatever personal assistance I get, I usually receive on the fly, while working by the stove. I sometimes watch the lamas with the newbies, answering questions, being patient, kind, loving. I remember those days, but I'm not a newbie anymore. I'm supposed to know what's what.
My eyes narrow and my heart begins to race as I think about how much better the newbies are treated than I am. Even though I work long hours in the kitchen while some of them just sit around soaking up the sun, chatting up the lamas.
Pretty useless in the kitchen, too, most of these new people.
grow up, a voice in my head interrupts my looming rant about what is wrong with others. Blaming
the administration, the center, the lamas—for not giftwrapping the answers and presenting them tied with a bow to precious little me. But, in fact, I
been given all of the teachings on the emotional poisons—ignorance, anger,
attachment, pride, and jealousy—over and over again. Even with Lama P's most recent concise instruction, I'd listened at first, but then a deeply entrenched habit began to color my response, leading me to seek out and dwell on the faults of others. By concentrating on the newbies, I'd distanced myself from taking in, from applying the teachings where they were most needed—in my own mind.
I sighed deeply, growing up is hard. And endless.
After the first month, I'd gone to Lama Tashi in tears, saying that I was hopeless,
that my mind seethed and wriggled with poisons, that I had the attention of a flea, the motivation of a cat. Hopeless, just hopeless.
He'd smiled very kindly, nodded cheerfully. Oh, yes, he agreed, my mind had always been hopelessly out of control, but I just hadn't noticed. Now I was beginning to pay attention. This was a good sign. "Progress having" was the way he put it.
Dealing with food management in a retreat center was in some ways no different from working in any kitchen. I looked around the kitchen at Dorje Ling. There's heat, mess, perishable materials, deadlines, difficult or untrained people, et cetera. What's different? The need to watch your mind. Me, I corrected myself.
not yours. Your mind is none of my business. What is of concern is to stop creating harm, learn to be helpful. And not just when it's convenient, but all the time. I was finding that this journey from anger to compassion is one I
took baby-step by baby-step.
New York arrived at Dorje Ling early in the week, her red Blazer packed with stacks of notebooks, leather bags stuffed with papers, cameras, and tripods. A
tiny dog named Lhasa-la sat curled on the front seat. She had come to interview the Tibetans for a book she was writing on the loss of their country.
had no idea that Lama Nyingpo, the little monk who smiled at me so sweetly when
I brought him a lunch tray, had spent ten years in a prison camp, that he was repeatedly tortured and almost starved to death. When I brought his food, he always beamed at me, thanked me profusely, went out of his way to smile and nod. Yet this same man lost his monastery in Tibet, watched it being blown up by the Chinese, saw hundreds of his fellow monks die, his family wiped out.
complain when anyone comes in and tries to talk to me while I'm cooking" I
said to Lama P., "but what if someone came into the kitchen and started shooting the way the Chinese did in the Tibetan monasteries? What if the kitchen itself were gone, blown up? I can't imagine what it's like for a
Tibetan to watch us in the States."
"Especially here in California," Lama P. said. "Lama Tashi once told us that we might rate our suffering on the scale of 1
10, but the real scale goes from 1
100 and we just don't know it."
Nyingpo had given the group a teaching once on impermanence, on how you can't count on anything being around for very long, on how we should be happy with each other just because we're here together in this beautiful place. Life is uncertain. You never know if you're going to have another day. But he never mentioned Tibet, prison, his blown-up monastery, the torture, his dead family.
When something bad happens to me, I realized, I tell everyone, usually several times. But Lama Nyingpo never mentioned himself or his own losses, just that we should be more careful with each other, that we should appreciate what we have in the moment. That the moment is all we have.
I thought as I watched the hot bubbles come to the surface and break as I
stirred the stew, are as impermanent as these bubbles, rising and popping,
rising and popping. Yet I feel—not just think, but actually feel deep in my body—that I
real and solid. Despite all the evidence to the contrary. Other people die, but
I'm going to keep on forever and ever.
Only recently had I perceived tiny fissures in my own sense of ongoing solidity.
Glimpses into something Out There that didn't exclude me, but just wasn't based on me. Unlike in the stories of the great yogis, this hadn't occurred on my cushion during formal meditation sessions—few things happened there except misery—but as I'd been walking across the broad grassy field in front of the main building at Dorje Ling. Just a sudden glimpse into . . . what? I had no name for it. Just this inner coming together that allowed something to open,
creating a clear channel for some sort of expanded perception.
gave up trying to analyze what I'd seen or how it had come into being. I just tried to remember the sudden shift in the universe when everything was just startlingly
One: Boned, Minced, Reduced by Half
Nina, the Evil Kitchen Elf
They Used to Call Me God, but They'll Never Call Me Buddha
Two: Don't Expect Applause
My Short but Violent Career As a Chef 104
Transcending Dualism While Whipping Egg
Whites into High, Stiff Peaks 140
Relaxing the Mind
A Cup of Tea
Dzogchenpa among the Presbyterians
On Having a Teacher