Dear Still Water Friends,
In the reading below, Thich Nhat Hanh uses the making of peanut butter cookies to illustrate how our perceptions of self originate, and, also, how as the makers of the peanut butter cookies, we know that the cookies are inherently also part of something greater. For me, this teaching from the Buddha via the Thay is profound and moving. As Thay emphasizes, it is not a philosophy, belief or doctrine; it is an insight. The Buddha experienced it, and, to varying extents, so have others. If we think about it, we often feel most upset when we feel separate. We feel most satisfied and at peace when we feel a part of something larger.
On Thursday evening, we will discuss this insight and the ways it affects our daily lives. We will talk about the times when we have felt, even in small ways, part of something greater: When we have felt at one with others, or the ocean or the clouds or the air we breathe. To what extent do these experiences change our understanding of happiness and fulfillment? To what extent do they change our lives?
Interbeing and Peanut Butter Cookies
by Thich Nhat Hanh,
from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings
The first time I tasted peanut butter cookies, I was at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California, and I loved them! I learned that to make peanut butter cookies, you mix the ingredients to prepare the batter, and then you put each cookie onto a cookie sheet using a spoon. I imagined that the moment each cookie leaves the bowl of dough and is placed on the tray it begins to think of itself as separate. You, the creator of the cookies, know better, and you have a lot of compassion for them. You know that they are originally all one, and that even now, the happiness of each cookie is still the happiness of all the other cookies. But they have developed “discriminate perception”, and suddenly they set up barriers between themselves. When you put them in the oven, they begin to talk to each other:
“Get of my way.”
“I want to be in the middle.”
“I am brown and beautiful and you are ugly!”
“Can’t you please spread a little in that direction?”
We have the tendency to behave this way also, and it causes a lot of suffering. If we know how to touch our non-discriminating mind, our happiness and the happiness of others will increase manifold.
We all have the capacity of living with non-discriminating wisdom, but we have to train ourselves to see in that way, to see that the flower is us, the mountain is us, our parents and our children are all us. When we see that everyone and everything belongs to the same stream of life, our suffering will vanish. Non-self is not a doctrine or philosophy. It is an insight that can help us live life more deeply, suffer less, and enjoy life much more. We need to live the insight of non-self.
Tolstoy wrote a story about two enemies. “A” suffered greatly because of “B” and his only motive in life was to eradicate “B”. Every time he heart the name of “B”, every time thought about “B”s image, he became enraged. Then one day “A” visited the hut of a sage. After listening to “A” deeply, the sage offered him a glass of refreshing water, and then he poured the same water onto “A”s head and washed him. When they sat town for tea, the sage told him, “Now you are “B”.”
“A” was astonished!: ”That is the last thing I want to be! I am “A” and he is “B”! There cannot be any connection.” “But you are “B”, whether you believe it or not,” the sage said. Then he brought him a mirror, and sure enough when “A” looked in it, he saw “B”! Every time he moved, “B” in the mirror did exactly the same. The sound of A’s voice became the sound of “B”s. He began to have “B”s feelings and perceptions. “A” tried to come back to himself, but he couldn’t. What a wonderful story!
We should practice so that we can see, Muslims as Hindus and Hindus as Muslims. We should practice so that we can see Israelis as Palestinians and Palestinians as Israelis. We should practice until we can see that each person is us, that we are not separate from others.
This will greatly reduce our suffering. We are like the cookies, thinking we are separate and opposing each, when actually we are all of the same reality. We are what we perceive. This is the teaching of non-self, of interbeing.