Dharma Topic: “Broken Cookies Have No Calories”

Dharma Topic: “Broken Cookies Have No Calories”

Discussion date: Thu, Oct 12, 2006 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

One of the most bracing ideas I have received from Thich NhatHanh, and from other mindfulness teachers, is that everything matters.Every thought, word, and behavior affects my future and the future ofthe world. As Pema Chodron puts it in Comfortable with Uncertainty:

Every act counts. Every thoughtand emotion counts too. This moment is all the path we have. Thismoment is where we apply the teachings.

This is not how I was raised. As a child I learned that I could justifyalmost unwholesome behavior with a good rationalization – someself-serving way of thinking that made it possible for me to do what atsome level I knew I shouldn’t be doing.  In my family it came up alot around food: “I shouldn’t be eating this, but …” The degreeto which we can twist ourselves into self-serving rationalizations hasbeen comically presented in various lists of food rules, such as:

  • Broken cookies contain no calories.
  • Foods that are the same color have the same number foodvalue. (For example, there is no difference between spinach and keylime pie, or between radishes and candy apples or cottage cheese andvanilla ice cream.)
  • Food eaten when no one sees you doesn’t count.

Of course, in terms of food, it is easy for us to see the folly ofrationalization. No matter how we explain it, if there are morecalories coming in than going out, we gain weight.

It is harder to see the folly of our ways in terms of theintangibles, such as our indulgence in unwholesome mental states, suchas impatience, restlessness, self-centeredness, procrastination, andespecially our craving for “psychic candy” that temporarily satisfiessome emotional need which we may not even be aware of. Each time weindulge, we introduce unwholesome karmic energies into our lifecontinuum. Inevitably there will be consequences. (And also, eachmoment filled with wholesome mental energies, such as mindfulness,compassion, stability, or love, introduces wholesome karmic energies.)

According to the tradition of mindfulness, this is just the way it is. It is a law of nature. Every act counts.

This Thursday Evening (Oct. 12, 2006), after our meditation period, wewill recite together the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus ourdiscussion on the fifth training, Right Consumption. Our discussionwill begin with the questions: In what ways did you learn as a childto rationalize unmindful consumption? In what ways do youcontinue to rationalize unmindful consumption?

I hope you can join us. 

The text of the five mindfulness trainings is available on ourwebsite under “Articles and Resources” and then “Still WaterCeremonies.” There is also a commentary below on the FifthMindfulness Trainings by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Warm Wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher


“Right Consumption,” from a Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on August 2, 1998, in Plum Village, France.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training is about consumption. We have to bemindful when we consume. We have to know there are foods for ourbodies, and for our souls, which are wholesome and healthy. When we eatthem we will feel light, we will feel relieved, and we will benourished in our bodies and our minds. But there are also things which,when we eat them, will destroy our bodies and our minds. There arebooks, there are newspapers, and there are television programs, whichcontain many poisons. We look at a newspaper, we look at a film, and somuch violence, so much hatred, so much misunderstanding, so much fear,enters our bodies and our minds. When we stuff ourselves with this kindof thing every day, how can we avoid being sick? When we get angry, wejust want to find an axe, or a knife, or a gun to shoot the otherperson. We don’t know how to use loving speech. We don’t know how tolisten deeply, because we have ingested so much violence through thetelevision programs. Every day we nourish ourselves with these kinds ofpoisons, violence, fear, and despair. Books, images, these thingscontain so many poisons, including craving and desire. Advertisementstell us, “You have to buy this to be happy.” And if we buy this, wereceive all the bad consequences. 

Happiness does notcome from consuming. Happiness comes from removing the suffering in usall, and then happiness will appear. This is something very wonderful.Many of us think that happiness comes from consuming something, frombringing something from outside into us, but in fact, happiness comesfrom inside. When we can remove the materials of anger, violence,hatred, and despair from our souls, then happiness will open like alotus flower, or like a rose. The happiness of a flower does not comefrom outside, the happiness of a flower comes from inside the flower,and our happiness is the same. Because we have negative material in ourbodies and minds, we are not happy. If we can take these things out ofour bodies, if we can drink a lot of source water, and urinate, thenour bodies will feel happiness.

It’s not because we eata lot that we feel happy, especially when we eat poisonous things thatmake our body heavier and heavier every day. Our souls are the same:it’s not because we digest many films, many books, many magazines thatwe feel happy, it’s because we are able to remove the poisons from oursouls. That is what listening to a Dharma talk is for. Listening to aDharma talk is to take the misunderstanding out of us, to take theignorance out of us, to take the craving out of us, to take the angerand hatred out of us. The more we take out of us, the more our heartswill feel light and free, and happiness will be possible. Happinessgrows from inside out. You must remember that. You do not need to lookfor happiness outside of you. Therefore, the Fifth Mindfulness Trainingis about consuming in mindfulness. Every day, what we eat, what wedrink, what we consume in the way of books and relationships is veryimportant, because when we consume like that we can bring so manytoxins into our bodies.

Discussion Date: Thu, Oct 12, 2006


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