Making Unique Cookies
by Wayne Ren-Cheng
Everything is right in front of me . . . the tools . . . the recipe . . . the ingredients . . . it is up to me to put them together to create how I imagine they can be. Sweet or savory . . . chewy or crunchy . . . plain or frosted . . . many or few . . . the choice is mine . . . a choice dependent on many causal factors. What ingredients are around the house? What ingredients did I remember to buy? What cookies did people like the best last year? What are my favorite cookies? How many hours can I devote to cookie baking? How many? Who gets them?
Then it is a matter of flipping through all the recipes. For each type of cookie there is a recipe to follow that was created by someone else or by me . . . they each have been proven to work through experience, mine making them and the oohs . . . aahs . . . and the ‘I don’t like those’ comments. Each recipe has been tested, and continues to be tested with every batch that is made. It is a guide to what tools I’ll need, what ingredients are necessary, how to combine them, and how long it will take to reach the final product. So, I can depend on the experiences of others, or I can modify the recipes . . . or choose to create something totally new . . . whatever my choice it will be an experience unique to me, the cookies a unique experience to all who eat them. When making cookies ultimately it is what I do that matters.
Making my choice, recognizing what goal I am setting out for . . . in this case delicious cookies I decide what to make, take stock of what I have, what I need to know, and what I need to get. Together the bowls, measuring spoons and cups, mixer, flour, brown sugar, chile mango and pineapple, chocolate chips, walnuts, eggs, and vanilla have their self-identity that is destined undergo a transformation to a completely different form, and still impermanent form (somebody will eat them). The tools and ingredients seem separate but they are all part of the same phenomena . . . making cookies. Tools are ingredients and ingredients are tools, combined they are the potential for something delicious, something that can cause the arising of health (don’t eat too many), happiness and harmony. Making cookies is transforming emptiness to form, form to emptiness.
Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef, writer and traveler says, “To be a cook or to enjoy food you must be willing take chances.” Whether the recipe is a success or flop . . . whether the cookies are welcomed or rejected . . . whether they come out looking like the picture in the recipe book or not . . . my intent is to make something tasty. If a mistake is made in combining ingredients and the cookies aren’t perfect I can creatively re-describe them and go on and try again. Or, discover that a “mistake” led to an even more delicious cookies. On the plate it is intent that matters.
A recipe is a guide much like the Four Ennobling Realities, the Pure Precepts, and the lessons encountered in a mindful Buddhist practice. A recipe gives you the ingredients and the process necessary to reach a positive product. You’re a product. You’re a product of culture, context, effort, intent, action, thought, experience, history, and goals . . . so are cookies. It is HOW you are and HOW you imagine you could be that matters.
Each of us are a unique combination of tools and ingredients. An engaged Buddhist practice is the recipe for putting it all together to achieve positive transformation. It begins with an honest view of how you are and the development of an honest intent to work toward how you want to be. Personal attributes like your intelligence, steadfastness, mindfulness, physical and mental strength are the tools you already have . . . at least to some degree. They are tools that can be improved upon through knowledge, commitment and effort. Personal dispositions and habits like compassion, anger, patience, fear, procrastination and acceptance can promote or hinder your transition depending on the causal consequences they invoke. Dispositions and habits can be discarded if they don’t fit the “recipe” or can be improved and built upon if they can refine the “product” that is you. How you combine your unique ingredients matters.
The engaged Buddhist “recipe” combines the traditional lessons of Buddhism found in the Pali Nikayas and pragmatic teachings from other Buddhist platforms, along with the contemporary teachings of Pragmatic Buddhism, Western philosophy and science, and the knowledge that comes from experiencing the efficacy of a committed Buddhist practice. Siddhartha awakened to the realization of the Four Ennobling Realities as ideals to be engaged and dependent origination and impermanence as realities to be experienced. It is through the awareness of the facts, the mixing into your previous held worldview the reality that comes with an appropriate view of the causal Universe. Accepting the addition of the Dharma as an ingredient that enriches and benefits, and taking the action to use the tools and ingredients to their most beneficial effects will produce a compassionate agent of positive personal and social development is the process of blending what you have and what you need for a positive transition. It is a contemporary/traditionalist recipe that matters.
The engaged Buddhist “recipe” isn’t dogmatic so it leaves room for change as long as the core ideals are realized . . . much like a chocolate chip cookie can have nuts, peanut butter chips or coconut but still be a type of chocolate chip cookie. Depending on the unique situation encountered by an engaged Buddhist there may be a need for compassion or altruism . . . pluralism or pragmatism; just like sometimes we want a crunchy cookie, sometimes a chewy one.
Everything is right in front of you . . . the tools . . . the recipe . . . the ingredients . . . it is up to you to put them together to make you how you want to be. Compassionate or greedy . . . tolerant or impatient . . . selfless or angry . . . you get to make the choice. You learn the core “recipe”, acquire the ingredients, develop the skillful means to use the tools, then you can choose how you want to be and Sva Ha! . . . so be it.