Study Days and Celery Root Snack Cake

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We’re two weeks into the second of two study retreats. It makes for busy days with much to reflect on. I’m using the time to ruminate on both the philosophical groundings of the life I’ve chosen, as well as the practical approach to facing situations where my vision or my style of communication feel at odds with the people around me. This is how we expand our sense of self until it is so vast that it evaporates. That’s the plan anyway.

I give you two quotes and one cake that colored the days of my last week.

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Before he left this world, the Buddha said this to his followers,

“Be attentive; take care to this: all phenomena are impermanent.

All that appears based on cause and condition is by nature impermanent. Whatever the phenomena, all that we acquire, all that appears, everything, finishes by coming apart, exhausting itself. All things eventually run out; sooner or later they fall to dust. All that is united finishes by coming apart. Even the greatest love, the closest relationship, sooner or later separates. All that is living finishes in death.”

Though this reflection is painful, its truth can carry us through both the deepest and most minor losses, for they could never be otherwise. All will one day be lost; we must then let it go.

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Yesterday we had a meeting with Jigme Rinpoche, the spiritual guide of the center, about the future direction of Dhagpo. He told us this,

“When we see what we want to obtain, this allows us to choose a path and make a commitment.”

I want to obtain the deepest understanding, the greatest love, and the capacity to aid beings. For that, I choose the path of practice, be it on the cushion or in the kitchen, developing confidence in enlightenment or in everyday life.

I have been taught that even the smallest act may yield the greatest result if the intention is pure. Mine’s not yet, but I’m working on it. Here’s to baking with loving-kindness.

As for the recipe, this was an experiment born from my deep love of carrot cake mixed with interminable curiosity regarding ingredient substitutions. The result was rather polarizing. Three-quarters a room full of people found this cake subtle and complex, an unexpected wonder. The other quarter thought it tasted like the ocean and this was weird and unpleasant. As far as tasting notes go, the flavor of this cake is the magical fifth taste discovered in Japan and called umami. The other four are sweet, salty, sour, and bitter, if you were wondering. Umami is a kind of richness that’s vaguely earthly with herbal tones. If you’re a traditionalist and you like dessert that tastes like dessert, better to wait for next time. If your tastebuds appreciate novelty and you’re a fan of sweet-savory combos, then this is for you.

Recipe…

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Like Every Fairytale Ever

IMG_0988I have arrived in France. For the next three months, I am a resident volunteer at Dhagpo Kagyu Ling, the European seat of HH Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje. What to say?

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For a few hours a day, I cook for and caretake Lama Pourtsela, our resident Tibetan monk who is getting on in years but as good-natured as ever. He likes to play pranks, such as taking me to the temple to recite mantras and then ditching me mid-syllable after having torn me away from washing the kitchen floors. Things like this. There are some other community chores, like cleaning the general kitchen after a meal or doing laundry, but it’s simple handwork, all underwritten by good intentions for supporting a community of learning and practice.

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In the morning, I wake in the woods in my leetle caravan, cozy, heated, permeated by early birdsong and the shadows of trees in dawn light. If a dozen good-looking Frenchmen could stand in for the seven dwarves, then I could be Snow White these days. This community, tucked amidst mossy hills, cached in countryside architecture, could be the setting for every fairy tale ever.

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At eight, there is pain de campagne or muesli for breakfast, and some one or other charming is forever offering me a hot coffee. At eight-thirty, we have an hour of class each day. I arrived at the perfect moment, as a new round of courses has just begun. I’m studying the fundamentals of meditation, The Way of the Bodhisattva, and The Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind Away from Cyclic Existence. In other words, the essentials. When I’m not working or studying, I’m free to practice in the temple or the study room, which both have beautiful shrines and shiny wood floors that lend themselves to prostration.

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Beyond that, there are woods to be wandered, friends to be made, stories to be read, and stories to be told. Bienvenue à Dhagpo.