I’m sitting here by the old closed-up pool at a picnic table listening to the wind stir the oak leaves and breathing in the perfume of onions drifting over from the dining hall. Each time I take a deep inhale of the sour spiciness, there’s something inside me that says, yeeees, gooood, and thinks both that for a split second, everything is perfect, and also that if only I could possess that smell or immerse myself in that smell, if I could just exist within that smell, then everything could always be perfect. I’m like that with all food, all the time. The hours passed poring over food blogs, daydreaming, planning step-by-step in repetition the recipes I’m going to make, imagining the taste and texture of this, that, or the other thing I envision eating—it’s a deep need to believe that happiness exists within these objects and experiences.
But what is the nature of this imagined happiness?
I want to bask in the glory of sifting and mixing and pouring and measuring, what I want, how I want, with no interruptions, light pouring through the windows and antique every-kitchen-tool-ever to complete my quaint existence. I want to pull perfect tarts from the oven and slide them onto trivets in front of smiling faces and give all of my love without error or hesitation and have it received without doubt or miscommunication. I want to turn all of my anguish into something beautiful to be shared without ever having to meet the world between the experience of pain and the act of creation. I want a life where it doesn’t hurt to hurt and where all of my joy is heralded by a joyful reception from others.
But since I can’t have this, what do I make of the wishes I can’t help making?
Peace. I am wishing for peace. Peace in the kitchen, at least. Someday, I would like a kitchen that is mine. From which I can share, and with the intention to share, but one which itself facilitates that sharing.
Should I be wishing for the patience and vastness of mind to manifest sharing, or benefit, or whatever vague feel-good altruistic term avoids talking about self and volition? Patience and vastness of mind, yes, definitely, maybe. But also, I am wishing for good conditions. I am wishing to grow and do the hard work such that someday I no longer need to be roughed up by the universe in order to develop peace in the kitchen. I am wishing to develop such a deep inner peace that my life manifests the outer conditions for peace because when you no longer need to be bothered to learn how to deal with being bothered it becomes more efficient to just do the work. When I am ready for peace in the kitchen and the life in the world that goes with it, it will come.
Underneath everything else, I just want my motivation to be good. Sometimes I feel completely nonsensical, talking from one side of my mouth about enlightenment and then, on the everyday level, being so, so invested in um…cake, and nostalgia-inducing photos with vintage linens and weathered wooden cutting boards. It’s hard to know what I should want, or maybe just what it’s okay to want. I want whatever’s right, you know?
But then, inside of that, there are all of these very specific, personal wantings that feel right to me, but also they’re just there, and it’s hard to know if they’re for the good or not. They feel absurd in their specificity. I stumble, wondering what due I have to want such and such a thing, because if my goal is truly to benefit all beings, shouldn’t I not want anything specific and just let it all come to me?
But what is “it all,” and how will it come? We must act, after all. Perhaps it’s not better to make specific wishes or open ones, so long as you’re clear about the purpose of your wishes. Specific wishes come naturally to me; I better just make worthwhile ones.
I want a peaceful kitchen, Universe, with a big south facing window, a sturdy oven, and a lot of cast iron pans and wooden bowls and cake stands. But I want a peaceful kitchen if and only if it will let me help more, only if I can be the best me in a peaceful kitchen. If I only want a peaceful kitchen to be unbothered, and to never have to face others and myself, please Universe, never let me have it.
About the tart. It’s basically the best lemon bar filling on top of chocolate shortbread. Because even though lemon and chocolate come together less often than chocolate and orange, they really are a good pair. And lemon bars are great, and shortbread is great, so what could be wrong with this? Nothing, unless the slices are too slight and the crowd too numerous. There are worse ills to be faced in the world, fortunately, and more tarts to be made. Happy baking, whether yours is a peaceful kitchen or a rather more chaotic one.
Today I went to Sarojini market, bought flowing Indian pants, and drank a pineapple milkshake. I came home, had lunch at the yellow food stand across the street, put on my new pants, and walked to the temple. I stood on the steps just behind Karmapa while everyone posed for a photo, sweating in the sudden March heat, and then I sat in the crowd of three hundred people, listening to the history of KIBI and watching my friends who have been here for four years receive diplomas.
I cried. I didn’t expect to. I expected to sit through a bunch of formalities and squirm and yawn and zone in for Karmapa’s speech and zone out again after. Instead, I became aware of just how special this place is, just how precious our opportunity is to be here, and how much it changes us. Every individual who comes to KIBI comes with the intention to learn and grow, to embrace our faults, to face our doubts, to challenge our beliefs. We come because we see suffering in the world, and in ourselves, and we want to help. We come because we see joy and wisdom in the world, and in ourselves, and we want to develop it.
Buddhists are not perfect people. We’re like anybody. Some of us are short-tempered, some wildly opinionated, some painfully shy, others other things. We step on each other’s toes and ruffle each other’s feathers and some times we fight about it and some times we complain about it. But, along with all that, each and every person sitting around me today shares an aspiration to cultivate our very best nature, the part of us that helps instead of harms, for our own happiness and so that others can be happy also.
Most Buddhists know how to admit they made a mistake. Most know how to apologize. Many know how to ask questions and how to take a joke about their imperfections. I’m not saying that Buddhists are so special in this regard. There are other spiritual and ideological communities that espouse these qualities, and I rejoice in all of them. I talk and hear others talk a lot about the state of the world, the degeneration of society, the selfishness of people. But we also live in a world where great kindness and vast wisdom exist, and where we can seek and follow them if we choose.
In a Q and A last week, some one asked Karmapa whether he believes that peace is possible. He replied that opportunities for peace are all around us; it is a question of whether or not we choose to take them. I realized then that peace is not a choice you make once and have done with. I always say that I’m a pacifist, yet how many times have I rolled my eyes when frustrated with some one or spoken condescendingly when my patience runs thin? These are not acts of peace. And peace is not created on the scale of governments or economic systems, though we see the effects of its absence in those places. Peace is every moment within us, and every act we make can be one of antagonism or one of tranquility. Today reminded me how lucky I am to live and study in a community that says point blank: peace begins with you. Make peace with yourself; make peace with others; be among friends as you learn; share as you grow.
During the graduation ceremony, my friend Daiden gave a speech. At one point, he spoke to the visitors about “the deadly combo.” He asked those who came as guests who among them, having experienced one week of KIBI life, would like to be students here. The deadly combo, he then said, is this: if you make a wish for something, and Karmapa makes the same wish, it’s as good as done.
I never knew about KIBI until I chose to come. But I made many wishes for a place to live and breathe and study Dharma, and for a community to share and create home with. I guess I didn’t wish specifically enough, considering I never meant to wind up in India. And yet, despite the pollution, the damning ubiquity of stray dogs, the bobble-head expression that means yes and no together, the unabashed staring, the lack of proper cheese, and so many other things, I got what I wanted. I got to delve deep into the history and teachings of this tradition and into myself, through them, with proper guidance and abundant support.
I learned the stories and logic behind the mysteries of Madhyamaka and Abhidharma, and I planted the seeds to develop true understanding of their meaning as my studies continue. I learned how I fight impermanence in my own heart, and hurt for it. I learned how I buy into my unhappiness and create more of it. I have seen how blame is the easiest response, both of myself and others, and that it is a trick, a way to avoid scarier truths and to continue holding on to beliefs that are only causing me pain. I learned that wisdom is not only bigger than me, it is also bigger than I ever imagined, and yet I can attain it. I learned that devotion is not slavish but a potent form of inspiration. I learned that I will continue to make the same mistakes, probably all this life long, but doing so doesn’t mean that I’m not learning.
I learned more than I can say in any sudden paragraphs or bursts of inspiration. I learned things that are nestled within me, waiting to grow and reveal themselves when the time is right. One thing I learned that bears saying is that Dharma is not separate from life. Whether or not we choose to look for the nature of reality, what’s so in this world will always be so, until we eventually realize it. We can, however, choose seeking understanding as path. In this way, Dharma can be a way to live and a way to see that guides us no matter what the landscape of our road may be. As one who has a terrible sense of direction, I prefer to travel with a map.
I don’t know if taking the Buddha’s teachings as my compass will bring me back to India, but I do know that what I have found here will stay with me and continue to grow wherever I go.