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The Chocolate Cake Sutra: Ingredients for a Sweet Life

The Chocolate Cake Sutra: Ingredients for a Sweet Life

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by Geri Larkin

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Chock full of moving and enlightening stories, The Chocolate Cake Sutra will help you let go of perfectionism and celebrate the sacred nature of the life you already have.


Chock full of moving and enlightening stories, The Chocolate Cake Sutra will help you let go of perfectionism and celebrate the sacred nature of the life you already have.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Because everyone yearns for a recipe for a fruitful life, many may gravitate to this friendly, accessible "cookbook." A Buddhist priest and confessed chocolate cake devotee, Larkin (Stumbling Toward Enlightenment) started Still Point Zen center in inner city Detroit. In the best Zen tradition, she recounts many personal anecdotes that find their flavor percolating in that everyday existence. These stories rise to make vivid points in focused, economical chapters. Larkin points us toward joy, extreme ethics, tolerance, a capacity to keep going, clear headedness, a penchant for surprise adventure, and wisdom. Her previous career as a management consultant may contribute to her breezy, hip conversational style that may or may not stand the test of time. But such lingo as "Even after years of attending or leading long retreats, there is always a moment when most of me says, `This so sucks. I'm gone,' " may perfectly ring the unstruck bell to some modern ears. Her heart offerings, however, have an eternal chime of truth: "Everything and everyone is holy. And the point of our being on this sweet planet is to be of service to all of it. And when we understand this truth in our bones, joy fills our hearts." (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Detroit Free Press
“[A]rgues that when we’re stunned by life’s tragedies, that’s when we need to remember life’s potential for sweetness.”
Sylvia Boorstein
“Disarmingly blunt, direct, smart, and funny. I ate it in one sweet bite!”

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HarperCollins Publishers
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The Chocolate Cake Sutra

Ingredients for a Sweet Life
By Geri Larkin

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Geri Larkin
All right reserved.

Chapter One

The First Ingredient: Joy

Those who perform good deeds
do not experience remorse and woe.
they are happy now
and they are happy later--
in this world
and the next
they know bliss.
--The Buddha

I'm in Seattle for two weeks looking for a place to live. Suddenly fried clam necks are in all my dreams. Therapist friends would have a field day with this. I've had fried clam strips at least five times since I've been here, a personal record. It has been a long time since I've had access to so much hot, greasy, salty nuttiness in one bite. Better than toffee, closing in on chocolate cake.

Right now I'm sitting at a tiny corner table in a family-owned café close to the locks--they sell only fried fish, chicken, chips, and drinks. A gallon-sized tip jar on the counter has a sign, Karma Jar, on it. The jar is almost full, so their karma must be pretty good.

Halfway through more fried clams than I've ever eaten in one sitting a family comes in--mom, dad, two little girls. They order lunch then pull out a VISA to pay for it. The café doesn't take VISA. They also won't take a traveler's check. "Too many fakes." Between the two of them, the dad and mom don't have enough cash to pay for the meal.

Within minutes everyone in thecafé is watching to see what the owners will do. The mom, visibly embarrassed, asks if they will take a personal check; she has plenty of identification. "No checks."

The dad heads off to find an ATM machine, only to come back empty-handed. The money they had transferred into their account hasn't surfaced yet. We all hear the parents talking, voices raised.

They're screwed.

By now there are sixteen of us watching. The girls see their chicken and fries on the counter, ready to eat. The family behind the counter looks down.

I hesitate for a minute. I don't have a job or even a home, for that matter. But how much can a lunch here cost? Walking up to the mother, I tell her, "I have some cash." I'm afraid she will start crying, she looks so relieved. They only need seventeen dollars. She insists on writing me a check for the money. It says twenty dollars.

They get their food and sit down next to me. The mom introduces herself and asks if I've ever been to their town.


After some quiet she looks at me again. "People are good."

I agree and realize that I'm happier than she is about the whole incident. Why does it feel so good to be generous? Those Karma Jar folks missed a real opportunity to feel what I walked out feeling. Lucky, lucky me.

Four months earlier I knew that my last day at Still Point Zen Buddhist Temple would be July 31, 2005. It mattered to me that people coming to the temple identify with the teachings and not with a specific teacher. Plus, Koho Vince Anila, my longtime friend and dharma brother, was ready for me to step aside so he could take over. Moving into his thirties, he has the youth, smarts, courage, and spiritual energy that Detroit needs.

Throughout my tenure I expected to move back to Ann Arbor from Detroit. That way I would still be within driving distance of Still Point if they needed me or I needed them. I even had two new jobs in the works, one as a gardening assistant to a brilliant intuitive gardener from England, and the other as a possible salesclerk in a wonderful downtown garden shop. What I never expected to do was move across the country.

Yet three mornings following the end of our last five-day summer retreat together I woke up with one thought: "Move to Seattle." It's not that I don't love Seattle, it's that I just never again expected to give away everything but my books and paintings so I could put down roots in a new place.

As I sat with the thought of moving I realized that by the time the thought had surfaced fully formed, it was a done deal. So I packed up and started driving. By the end of day one I was tired of CDs and even Harry Potter. Missing Detroit already, I asked myself what the city had taught me. The answer was a surprise. Not that people are good; I knew that. Not that life sucks a lot of the time; I knew that too. Detroit had taught me the behaviors that lead to this life in which I get to see the divine--or God or whatever label you need to use--in the eyes of everyone, infusing everything. It had taught me joy.

In Buddhism we accept that there are ten thousand sorrows in every life. At the same time there are ten thousand joys. In the Dhammapada, a much-beloved sutra, the teaching is clear: "Live in joy." For the more than forty years that he taught, the Buddha focused on behaviors that would pull us toward joy if we acted on the teachings. Generosity is the behavior that starts the joy parade. Generosity is the practice of giving joy.

Maybe I would have figured out the behaviors without Detroit. I doubt it, given my inherent laziness. It took the rawness and intensity of the Midwest to push me past meditation in all its forms. It took the city to clarify the specific behaviors that feed transformation. Starting out on day one of the drive from Detroit to Seattle, I had a sense of this. And 2,342.39 miles later, I'd stake all the rest of my lives on it. We can nurture our own spiritual maturity through specific behaviors.


Excerpted from The Chocolate Cake Sutra by Geri Larkin Copyright © 2007 by Geri Larkin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This

Sylvia Boorstein
“Disarmingly blunt, direct, smart, and funny. I ate it in one sweet bite!”

Meet the Author

Geri Larkin gave up a successful career as a management consultant to become a Buddhist teacher. A practicing Buddhist since 1988, she completed seminary and was ordained in 1995. Four years later, she decided to start a Zen meditation center in the heart of inner-city Detroit. She is the author of Stumbling Toward Enlightenment, Building a Business the Buddhist Way, Tap Dancing in Zen, First You Shave Your Head, and The Still Point Dhammapada.

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