Holiday Practice – Making Cookies

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.


by Wayne Ren-Cheng

The Universe is not wise, it is not compassionate, and it is certainly not fair. The Universe only acts from the causal conditions that occur within it. You only have to view the Universe through a lens that strips away delusion and personal perceptions to recognize these truths. This not only leads to the realization that bad things happen to good people, but that good things happen to bad people. You can be the best Buddhist you can possibly be and you will still encounter moments of suffering in life the Awakened One fully realized in the Four Ennobling Truths. You can be the worst type of human being possible and still encounter moments of joy and wonder that doesn’t seem deserved. This too is an aspect of the first of the Four Ennobling Truths. Doesn’t hardly seem fair . . . does it?

Ryugen Fisher, the Venerable Shi Shen Long, over his lifetime (and this continues today with his students and their students) created a list of Life Lessons that arose from his own experiences, or the experiences of others. I often refer to the list for insight, inspiration and a dose of spiritual humor. Rule #11, The Rule of Expectations, offers a view of fairness: Expecting life to treat you “fairly” because you’re a good person is like expecting the bull NOT to charge at you because you’re a vegetarian. Like the bull the Universe doesn’t care WHAT you are, it responds only to HOW you are.


Not sure where this perception of a fair Universe arose but it is believed by many who’ve been acculturated to the notion that the world is supposed to be inherently fair. You only have to look around to prove this belief is a delusion. Students struggle for high GPAs in high school and college only to find themselves without job opportunities. Some business people engage in illegal and immoral activities and become unimaginable wealthy. People live lives of exemplary compassion only to be struck down by genetic diseases. Innocent children are abused and abandoned. The Universe rolls along with human beings evolving within it, but we aren’t steering it. We have our role as part of its motive power but it also needs the bad weather, steep hills and earthquakes because they are just as important to the workings of the machine. So what if those things make our lives difficult, the machine is just the machine. This means from our perspective that the ideal of fairness is a delusion.

There is no compassion, wisdom or fairness inherent in the Universe. There is also no vengeance, ignorance, or bad intent inherent in the Universe. The perception of the Universe meting out cosmic justice or punishment is the result of a misunderstanding of the reality of HOW it works. What happens is causally conditioned by all the phenomena taking place each moment. There is no doubt you can take actions that lead to unwholesome consequences . . . which is why a Buddhist looks to the Three Pure Precepts (cease to do harm, do only good, do good for others) to guide us way from such actions. You don’t have any control over unwholesome decisions made by others, the arising of new diseases, or what the rest of the causal process of the Universe is doing. When bad things do happen you must avoid attaching to them the perception that it was because of something you did, and focus on practicing ways to make situations better. By realizing that the “fair Universe” concept is a delusion, and that you are not 100% of the karmic consequences, you will come to realize . . . and here comes the good part . . . that you have the ability to engage in wholesome transformation of your self and the global society you are interconnected with, and interdependent on.

You are not 100% of the karmic consequences . . . still, what you do matters. Life’s circumstances can sneak up on you. When you develop an awareness of the conditions under which difficulties arise, and that chances are there was no intent to directly harm you, though is may feel so, you become better prepared to accept them and take appropriate actions. Your actions do play a significant role in future experiences but your’s are a part of them, not the whole of them. Not only what you do matters, but what you control over what you do.

You are part of a causal web and the rest of the Universe is too. The concept of “personal karma”, while it has its validity, is an ideal not encompassing enough to recognize the broader reality of karmic influence. Causality, what makes karma a reality, is how the Universe reveals its neutrality. The Universe doesn’t add a view, an intent, an action, or any effort to make things happen. You are not a target of it. It is egoistic for you to believe things happen TO us, or that they happen FOR us. They happen as a result of nonlinear consequences of causality and you just happen to have a role in a particular experience.

The realization that you are part, but not the whole of the karmic web is actually empowering. It is why you engage in becoming the best possible you, the best possible example of a wise and compassionate human being. The “small” role as one thread interdependent on the threads of others whose intent and actions mesh with your own is how incremental wholesome transformations happen. The web becomes larger and the probability of snaring positive consequences increases exponentially. Things may not happen TO us, or FOR us, but they do happen BECAUSE of us. We are each unique expressions of the Universe and our actions within it have unique consequences.

With the knowledge that you play a role, no matter how small, comes the responsibility for your actions. What you do matters . . . negative, positive or neutral . . . how you act, how you respond is what makes personal practice so important. It is through intent and action that a sense of fairness will arise. Fairness arises as a result of awareness, compassion, generosity and acceptance.

You occupy a part of the karmic web and so have a responsibility to the strand you control. You must develop both mindfulness and awareness so you can overlay the “personal” with the “global” karma and find ways to improve both. You accept that there will be situations that you can, and can’t control. You learn to take wise actions to be the cause and effect of positive transformation whenever, and where ever the causal Universe offers you the opportunity.