I find this little blip of Brad Warner in his latest HCZ blogpost spot-on...

I think it's good to visit a number of practice spaces if you can. I've noticed that people who attend just a single teacher's practice often develop a slightly warped attitude (and this includes people who attend only mine, maybe it goes especially for people who attend only mine). I'm not a fan of the practice of running around from meditation center to meditation center picking and choosing the parts you like of each one's practice and rejecting anything that bothers you. I know a lot of teachers out there make a good living offering such cobbled together practices. But I've never seen one of those that had the least bit of value. They're always very nice and completely undemanding. Sweet and useless, like high fructose corn syrup.

On the other hand, it's traditional to visit as many teachers as you like until you find one that suits you. Dogen did this as did a lot of the great teachers of the past. Once you find the right teacher it's best to stick with that teacher even if you don't like everything she or he does or says. The one that suits you won't always be the one you like best. Naturally if they start mixing up cyanide flavored Kool Aid it's probably time to go. But it's not good to jump ship just because certain things bug you. It's good to get bugged sometimes. Often that's exactly what you need. Remember the thing that bugs you is never solely "out there" in your teacher. In a very profound way these are things you create yourself even when they appear to be coming from someone else.

So anyway, it's good to check out other ways of practice and see how they really do things. You'll always be surprised. I know I always am.
So, Brad having said that, I want to expand on a few things.

Finding a good Dharma teacher is one of the core challenges of beginning a Buddhist practice, and it really can be a challenge. It's not like finding a professor you like, a new friend to hang with, or a favorite new author. Honestly, finding the proper sensi, yogi or baba for you is more akin to finding a quality doctor, dentist or therapist (or hell, good auto mechanic!)

But one thing I see far more often than I thought I would is people having trouble with ritual and form between sanghas, and especially as the establishment of that form relates to their dharma teachers. Tres interesting.

I've heard so often from (certain kinds of) practitioners that this or that zendo's form is "too loose", "too formal", "sloppy", "hippy-dippy", "zen-lite", "needlessly complicated", "not authentic enough" and on and on. They will often grouse about it 'mongst themselves, but never bring their opinion to the attention of the shusho, let alone the sensi/roshi. They may even really like the sensi's teachings and manner, but just bristle at certain ideas: we have to do [x] minutes of zazen? What about kinhin? What about bowing practices? Why don't we do it this way, so more people are this way or that? That chanting doesn't make me feel warm and fuzzy. Meh. I'll just sit through it until we get to the dharma talk. At least sensi gets that right...

Well, first off, if you think that the only thing your teacher can do well is speak to you, you probably haven't done enough research in picking a teacher. Of course, the way the teacher communicates his or her ideas or understanding is important, but what many of the "form whiners" aren't getting is that the form is part of the teachers' understanding. Not only part of, but quite possibly the basis for whatever understanding they're bringing to you. That very form is as much a part of the language that sensi is using to communicate their understanding experience to you as the words they use, and here you are, telling them the language they're using is all wrong!

Let's look at this in a slightly different way.

Let's say that I have a special pair of glasses, and because of their special lenses, these glasses have the ability to allow the wearer to see something in a very specific way, not unlike 3-D glasses do. It's very easy to understand that if two people go to a theater and see Bawana Devil, and one wears the specs while the other doesn't, the two viewers will experience inherently different views, even though the primary content will be the same. The glasses, by virtue of those colored lenses, allow the user two things, one that's overt, and one that's more subtle. On the surface, the wearing of the glasses helps people see (generally) the same thing. This is essentially an appeal to the intellect via a few of the senses (most notably, sight). The information (the moving picture) is being conveyed in the manner the artist (the director) intended, so everybody more-or-less comes away with the same intellectual experience. So this relates to the "form as language" analogy above; wear the gear to get the whole message sensi is trying to convey. Now, the more subtle effect is this; the wearing of the glasses also allows for a shared experience in the wearing of the glasses with everyone else in the theater. That's right; part and parcel of the whole 3-D thing is, for lack of a better descriptor, looking like a dweeb with everyone else! It is the shared experience that brings the whole thing together. So, in this regard, you're also doing what everybody else in the theater/zendo/shala did in order to essentially be on the same page as everyone there. Having close to the same experience as everyone else allows for a base of commonality that encourages communication laterally as well as up and down. If not, when asked about the movie, someone would say "Did you jump when the spear came at you?" and the other would respond "Feh! Sean Connery didn't look anything like King Arthur!"

Each sangha, each zendo, each meditation group does things a little differently, and this is typically established by the sensi, leader, organizer, etc. for a number of reasons, not the least of which is simple continuity. So, when it comes to zendo form, and the manner in which your sensi runs the show, take away this from me if anything. It's perfectly alright to experience a number of different forms while investigating Buddhist practice at first. But if you actually want to get anywhere with a teacher, you must have a bit of faith in their form (or at least a faith in the power of form at all) and give the teacher's form a chance to work for you. This takes time, and can easily take years (one should think months at a minimum). If in a year, you still don't connect to their form, then look for a different teacher. It's very easy to be moved by someone's intellect and their ability to speak to you. But Buddhism is an experiential practice, not merely an intellectual one. So give the sensi some time to conect with you on all levels. Think of them as explaining it this way; "This is my form, and is part of the over-all manner in which I try and communicate to you this thing that is nearly ineffable. If we stick to mere language, it will truly remain ineffable. I didn't have just a realization. I didn't merely have an understanding. I had a comprehension. I had an experience of both mind and body. It came under these circumstances, through this form, doing things in this way. I can try and describe what I comprehended to you, but unless you're doing what I was doing, it's pointless. So, if you are coming to me in order to have me teach you how to hit the nail on the head, we'll need a board, a nail and a hammer..."

Pre-conceived notions are the death-knell of Buddhist understanding.

"Already knowing" is the enemy...

...but I've seen the film before, so watch out for that freaky spear!

"Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless..."

Paul Bowles: The Sheltering Sky

Well, not really. This Sunday finds me a bit blue. Not under the table and dreaming; more like living on Gray Street. What would you say if I told you that the best of what's around is the highest good that could be achieved? And that the typical situation of "pay for what you get" is not only wrong, but always too much, no matter what the rhyme or reason?

Well, before I say goodbye, I appologise for the lameitude of this blog today; borrowed words are always weak. Maybe you'll find something to pull out of the space between...

Prez got soul. Check out the action! Nice to have a C&C who can not only bust a punching bag, but a move as well.

"It's a low bar..."

Maybe, but it's still nice to see something other than a rich, fat white guy...

Really, there's only one thing to say that can encapsulate this moment in history.


Peace, everybody. Let's make it real, keep it real, and make it last...

How nice to have two Sundays in a row that greet me with sun. Honestly, I feel like it's spoiling me. Alas; leave it to my good friend Mpeterson to muck up my perfectly quiet Sunday with a question. Well, I did ask for it...

Buddhists spend lots of time yakking about "dharma". The origination of the word (Sanskrit: dhárma, Pāḷi dhamma) means "that which supports or upholds", and often gets translated into "law". And in this case, by "translated" I mean "dumbed-down". And by "dumbed-down" I, of course, mean "neutered".

In Buddhism, we often refer to the Dharma as a "jewel". I have always really liked this interpretation not only because it implies its preciousness, but also the multi-faceted nature of this treasure. So let's get out our magnifying glasses and have a look-see.

On one hand, we do look at the "dharma" as "law". We look at it as the laws by which reality is governed. And, as part of reality, we are governed by it as well. All the scientific and merely gross aspects of reality--from macro to micro and all points in between--are subject to the dharma, because the dharma is all that is. Essentially; "reality is the law, and the law is reality". That's pretty easy to wrap ones' head 'round. Even if we as individuals don't understand the laws of the Universe, we can sort of always feel them at work (sort of like tax law, I suppose). So, to start with, [dharma] ≈ [law]. To take it one step further to the East, it could very easily be interpreted as [dharma] ≈ [Tao].

If we turn the jewel, the next shiny side is the dharma as the cannon of teaching from Śākyamuni Buddha. In Buddhism, this is referred to as "Buddha-dharma". I won't elaborate on that too much, except to say that on the surface, this is what most people experience or think of as "dharma" at first in much the same way as a Christian employs the word "gospel" to refer to the direct and (supposed) near-literal cannon of teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded by the Fab Four (Matt, Mark, Luke and John). So [Buddha-dharma] ≈ [gospel].

Turned again, we get "Dharma" as the literal essence of truth as embodied and personified by the Buddha. This is referred to as Dharmakāya, or "the unmanifested, 'inconceivable' aspect of a Buddha" (or "self-realized enlightened Being") out of which all Buddhas and all "phenomena" arise and to which they return after their dis-integration.1 This is also analogous to "gospel" insofar as "gospel" literally translates as "the 'good news'" and means both "the saving teachings of Jesus--The Christ" as well as the concept that the physical phenomena that was Jesus the Nazarene was both the literal "good word" as well as the "'Word' of the Trinity". So [Dharmakāya] ≈ [Logos].

Flip the jewel around some more (oooo, purdy!) and we finally spot the shiny side that is the phenomenological. "Dharma" is looked at as "a phenomenon or constituent factor of human experience". So here, [dharma] ≈ [phenomena].

Finally (and absurdly briefly) "Dharma" does mean all of these things at once, and yet, at the same time, means nothing in-and-of-itself. That is because while "dharma" does in fact have implied a priori components (if I do this, that will happen, and that is obvious without the doing, also called karma) it also demands the experiential, or a posteriori, and as such brings with it the notion of qualia, which gets left in the dust with mere a priori approaches. "Dharma" does not stand outside of "us" as a self-perpetuating concept: it is never a mere construct. It is always manifest in every moment, always true, never false, and while it may often be inconceivable, is always accessible. So, essentially I'm hazarding to say that [dharma] ~ [noumena].

So, to the question:

"...is 'dharma' best said to be 'truth' or is it the "form"....which, to unenlightened consciousness seems to be the full truth, although to a more awakened consciousness comes to be understood as the form containing the emptiness which is its true 'truth'?"

First off, this question insinuates that any consciousness can be "unenlightened", or that there are states of consciousness that are lacking in direct experience. That's really walking on Jello, but whatever.

It's my understanding (and I really hesitate to use that word) that, in the context that I was employing it, "dharma" is better defined as "phenomena/nounema" I guess. Maybe "reality". Hmmm. How about "catfish"?


The Buddha said: "All dharmas are marked by emptiness; they neither arise nor cease, are neither defiled nor pure, neither increase nor decrease."

So, saying "the form containing the emptiness which is its true 'truth'" is like saying "the form containing the emptiness that is the form that is the emptiness..." [+ ad infinitum]. I suppose that it is also akin to saying "the cup that contains the emptiness that together equals 'cup-ness'." Once more, with Kantian feeling: the phenomena containing the noumena. But of course, in Kant's world, a phenomena can't contain a noumena, or it would be like saying "the merely noumenal", and as we know, Kant's "categories of understanding" could never get the noumena and the phenomena in the same room experientially, so where we're headed must be rather un-Kantian. Smell the whiff of set theory in the air?

That which one can "know" -vs- that which one can "experience" may be vastly different, but they are not in full opposition, and are by no means antithetical (and to a Buddhist, quite the contrary), and therein lies the friction. Kant was still operating (mired?) in the Cartesian paradigm of dichotomy; of duality, of "this" versus "that". Ontologically, this started to fall apart when Schopenhauer started picking on him for being too quick and loose in redefining "noumena" to fit his model of experience as he went along, while at the same time still allowing the "Cartesian other" to keep drawing breath. Later, George Herbert Mead started steering dangerously towards Buddhism with his critique of the "other", saying "we do not assume there is a self to begin with. Self is not presupposed as a stuff out of which the world arises. Rather the self arises in the world." Woo! Goosebumps!

Buddhists don't see a separation between "this" and "that". We have just "this", over and over and over. There is no duality. There is no dichotomy. There is no "mind -vs- body" because you can't separate the two no matter how hard you try and at the same time be experiential as the "one" trying to do the separating, and we are, at our base, nothing if not experiential. ("Nothing" if not experiential! I kill me sometimes...) Anyways, one cannot get a distance between the two in order for one to objectify the other. All we "are" is reoccurring experience. All we are is Pǔ. All we are is Tao. All that is is Tao. If you try and take the Tao apart, you have nothing. Yet the Tao is always empty. Yet everything is held within it. It is a perpetual vessel that in its emptiness holds everything. Again, pǔ.

So, honestly, set theory is probably the realm that can put this on paper best.

Form IS Emptiness. Emptiness IS Form. Phenomena IS Noumena. Noumena IS Phenomena. Neither term is antithetical. Neither term is in opposition. And while is is most likely safe to interpret "dharma" as "phenomena" for the sake of argument, in doing so, one MUST also interpret it as "noumena" at the same time for the sake of a complete representation of the paradigm, or else you break the Tao and are just left with nothing.

So, [dharma] = {}.

I got nuthin'...

My crack at an interpretation of the Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra*...

The great and selfless teacher holding the lotus, while directly and simultaneously experiencing both Being and non-Being**, clearly and unmistakably comprehended that all sensations of mind and body are inherently empty, and through that realization, extinguished all suffering. (1)

The teacher aided the student, saying “Being and non-Being** are exactly one and the same. All that can be experienced is just so.” (2)

The teacher continued, saying “All truths are defined by their inherently empty nature; they are outside of linear time, cannot be sullied or made more holy, nor grow nor shrink away. They are just so.” (3)

The teacher elaborated; “So, appreciating this inherent emptiness, there is no compound or composite thing that is perceivable with the senses, nor anything imaginable by the mind, that is not inherently empty as well. Further, because these senses are themselves composite and dependent things, they too are empty. So, nothing perceivable with the body or the mind has any nature in-and-of itself. All within and without is inherently empty. But because this is so, a personal understanding and appreciation of this fact means that knowing and not knowing are one and the same thing as well, as are life and death, suffering and not-suffering, starting and stopping, Being and non-Being. There is no path to knowledge, because their is no knowledge. There is no attaining because there is nothing to attain. Because of the selfless nature of reality, a fully awakened being relies upon the direct, continuing experience of inherent emptiness moment to moment as a way of removing all impediments to a direct experience of that selfless nature. With nothing impeding them, there is no fear of the falling away of the ego, because the ego is itself empty. When this is mastered, and all incorrect views are eliminated, enlightenment is achieved.” (4)

The teacher clarified; “This mastery of the direct experience of emptiness defines all enlightened beings, as only those who depend on and continually practice this experiential realization achieve this unending and perpetual state of perfect enlightenment.” (5)

The teacher summarized; “Because of our exposure to this great, unarguable truth, we know that a first-hand experience of the empty nature of all things is the universal truth of reality, the light that illuminates all things yet casts no shadows, the supreme song of the Universe, the chant of all chants that eliminates suffering by reminding us that suffering is merely a sensation that is empty. Therefore, we insist that this song of songs is the guide to the direct experience of emptiness, the song whose lyrics state;

‘Gone. Gone beyond. Entirely gone beyond duality. This is Enlightenment...’” (6)


*= As is used by my sangha, (ZCO)...

(1) "Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, when deeply practicing Prajna Paramita, clearly saw that all five aggregates are empty and thus relieved all suffering."

(2) "Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness, emptiness itself form. Sensations, perceptions, formations, and consciousness are also like this."

(3) "Shariputra, all dharmas are marked by emptiness; they neither arise nor cease, are neither defiled nor pure, neither increase nor decrease."

(4) "Therefore, given emptiness, there is no form, no sensation, no perception, no formation, no consciousness; no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realm of sight… no realm of mind consciousness. There is neither ignorance nor extinction of ignorance… neither old age and death, nor extinction of old age and death; no suffering, no cause, no cessation, no path; no knowledge and no attainment. With nothing to attain, a bodhisattva relies on Prajna Paramita, and thus the mind is without hindrance. Without hindrance, there is no fear. Far beyond all inverted views one realizes nirvana."

(5) "All Buddhas of past, present and future rely on Prajna Paramita and thereby attain unsurpassed, complete, perfect enlightenment."

(6) "Therefore, we know the Prajna Paramita as the great miraculous mantra, the great bright mantra, the supreme manta, the incomparable mantra, which removes all suffering and is true, not false. Therefore we proclaim the Prajna Paramita mantra, the mantra that says:

'Gate Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!'"

**=was "existence and non-existence".

Brad Warner just posted his most recent SuicideGirls.com piece: Buddhism is not Spirituality, with a bit of an add-on in his personal blog. As usual, he sums up things in pretty tidy fashion, as is his way. But I'd like to take a moment to expand on this idea a bit.

One of the problems with defining "buddhism" is that we are using words. I know that sounds rather dumb. If we don't use words, how do we "define" anything? Decent point. But as is the case with the old carpentry adage: "A new carpenter will only start out as good as their father ever was, because they are stuck using the tools their father left them". These "tools" are meant to be understood as both literal and metaphorical. And so it is with us and language. We have words that we use to convey concepts and bring understanding to issues both broad and specific--overt and subtle. We didn't invent these words, we inherited them. And in the truest "telephone"-game fashion, they often don't mean now what they once did back in the day. Moreover, they often get misused (not unlike my dad's screwdrivers that I re-purposed into chissels, mauls, awls, ninja sais and throwing darts. Sorry, Pa!) So, many words no longer mean what they used to, or convey what they initially intended to. Case in point: "religion".

When we call-up Webster, we get the following:



unction: noun

Middle English religioun, from Anglo-French religiun, Latin religion-, religio supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perhaps from religare to restrain, tie back — more at rely.

Date: 13th century
So, the Webster says that the word has something to do with tying, apparently. Kinky. If you look at the word, and use some smartness, you start to understand (as a philosophy professor and mentor once taught me). The prefex "re" means "again" or "do over". "Ligio" means "to attach", and is the same root as the common anatomical term "ligament" (the thing that attaches your muscles to your bones). So, what we really have etymologically is "to re-attach". That of course begs two questions; firstly, "Reattach to what, exactly?" The best I can state this is as my former professor taught me, and is the definition I use, because I believe it encapsulates the entire concept in the most full fashion. "Religion" is a practice that re-attaches you to the ground of your Being; that is, it is a practice that brings you back into connection with the most fundamental, itrinsic and important aspect of your existence.

What about that other begged question? Well, it has to do with the "re" portion of "re-attach". RE-attach implies that we are or have been separated (in our case, from the ground of our Being), and in order to be integrated and whole, a re-attachment is needed. Now, in the case of a diestic belief system, that reattachment is to the god-head. You, through ritual and meditation (prayer), reintegrate with the god-head, and re-attach yourself to the ground of your Being, (which is "god"--the basis of all reality). Makes sense.

But what happens when this is viewed through the lens of the Dharma? Well, in my opinion this still stands up. A Buddhist is most certainly trying to reintegrate and re-connect with the ground of their Being. However, in their case, instead of some anthropomorphized deity, the ground of their Being happens to be nibanna--the understanding, comprehension and direct experience of the mind and body as one thing, in the same way as the consciousness and the rest of the Universe are one and the same. So, in that sense, Buddhism is--indeed--a religion.

But at this point in the understanding, many people miss seeing something else that is implied as well, just one step further back.

Having to re-attach due to separation also implies (insists, actually) that at one time in the history of the Universe and all of reality, we were integrated with the Ultimate. We were perfect. We were attached to the ground of our Being. We experienced no suffering, and were completely and utterly at peace, and one with all of reality. What separated us is beyond the scope of what I want to discuss here, but suffice it to say that a true appreciation of the fact that at one point in time, you were in Nibbana is a pretty stunning revelation. I digress, but only into song...

We are stardust; we are golden. We are billion-year-old carbon. And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Damn hippies...


And if I told you "spirituality" actually had to do with your breath...?

Well, I will say this: the whole "being alone" thing is getting easier. Don't get me wrong; it's still hard practice, but I'm getting better at it, to the point where I am actually beginning to value it. It is bringing a clarity to my life that may have been being squelched or drowned out by all the external obligations that my life imposes upon me. But I also know that--in my heart of hearts--I'd still rather "be with someone". I'm getting okay with that simply being as it is; that feeling of wanting. My current life will not be "this way" forever. Nothing is anyway "for ever". I may suddenly find myself in a relationship. I may suddenly find myself a monastic. I may suddenly find myself looking a bit like Mothra. It's all up in the air. Everything is.

And that's okay. That's as it should be.

I love Sunday mornings. That sounds so trite and pat, but that doesn't make it any less true. And the quieter the morning the better. The kid's gone, the soon-to-be ex is gone. It's just me, the cats, NPR and Classical Guitar Alive. It's about the smell of steeping coffee beans, biscuits baking in my little toaster oven, incense and cold rain. It's about the complex slightly acidic taste of my pipe tobacco lingering on my palate while I drink my sweet, hot, creamy mocha. It's about that feeling of peace I get knowing that no bill collector will call today, that no one will clamor for my time, and that I can focus my attention on my sangha, my service to my teachers and friends, the dharma, my breath and myself.

My self. My needs. My spirit. My mind.

These things aren't "selfish" even if they are "self-ish". I've suffered for a long time from the mistaken view that they are the former. Also, I'm not saying that I've been unduly taxed throughout my life--far from it. I've suffered the luxury of "me-time" plenty in my life. But "focusing on myself" has always had the lingering aftertaste of "selfishness" in my life, and it's taken me a long time to understand that that is not a "right view" either. If I don't truly nurture myself, I won't have anything to give to the people I love and care about. It's sort-of like making your bed: it's not absolutely necessary, but it does make going to bed that much more pleasant.

On the other hand, I now know that "focusing on myself"--for real--is probably something I've subliminally avoided doing. Being with myself, being truly subjective about what I'm feeling, and at the same time being coldly objective about who and what I "am" is not something that I'm particularly good at, or have ever wanted. I look at things like self-worth and -value, and I get very down. I've spent a lot of my life building myself and "writing my story". But as I go deeper into this Zen practice, I see something a bit more clearly now.

"To what end?"

What good is the story of my life? Like all people, I have tales that I tell. And I have some whoppers. I've been fortunate to have led a very interesting life in the eyes of many people. But what does that story add up to for me? Is it worth anything? Am I merely clinging to the peak of a wave? Am I trying to declare and place a value upon something that is inherently worthless and empty? (That sounds really self-flagellating and depressing, but it's not. It's an examination of a phenomena through the lens of the Dharma; no more--no less).

When someone is constantly saying they're this or that because of things they were or did in the past, they're inherently not what they purport to be. Why? Because those times are gone. The "I was" is as grounding as "I want to be" because one is tethered to the past, which can never be again, and the future, which is never actually manifest. You are constantly coming or going, but never really "here". And as time goes on, I feel a deeper and deeper desire to bring that "here" more into focus and allow myself to peacefully abide in it. It has been what's been missing from my experience my entire life; to simply abide in the now, being just who I am from moment to moment. To abide is a skill, a blessing, a gift. And I am thankful, on this quiet Sunday morning, for all the teachers that have entered into my life, and are such powerful illustrations of just how useful the skill of peacefully abiding is.

I'm not a vegan. I've never strictly been one. The shredded soy cheese I've used on lots of stuff over the years (pizza, mostly) has cassien in it. I do--however--still eat and prepare lots of vegan food, and I most likely always will. Why? Well, frankly, it's better for the planet as a whole, and me specifically. If one half the population of the nation ate a truly vegan meal every day, think of the impact that would make on the nation, and the nation's health! Anyway, I'll speak more about veganism in a future blog. But let's talk about pizza, shall we?

Pizza is without question the perfect food. There are few things more gratifying and satiating to me than a well-made pie. And don't get me wrong; vegan pizza can be awesome. I'm lucky that I live in Portland, where vegans can go to any number of really good pizzarias and get a slice. Note that: a slice. No special ordered whole pie that you need to pay extra for in order to have the spotty-faced kid leave off a bunch of stuff. Vegan pizza by the slice at any number of pie holes.


Pizza, for me at least, is 45% about the pizza, and 55% about comfort, and frankly, that comfort comes from (ahem) cheezy goodness. There. I said it.

The cheese/comfort thing partly stems from being raised in Wisconsin, admittedly. But the real issue is more mechanical. It's structural. You can make the best damn tasting pie on earth, with fab roasted veggies, great meat substitutes and all the rest. But if everything comes falling off in transit to your favorite pizza consuming orifice, the comfort winds up all over your plate, or worse, down your front and in your lap. No comfort. No joy. Bah!

There's a little pizza joint up in Seattle in the campus side of the world called Pizza Pi. Great fresh-made vegan pizzas and calzones. Awesome. When I was last there, it looked like the place was about to go the way of many vegan food ventures (read: "out of business"). Vegan Pizza Brother #1 there said he just couldn't make bank. Damn sad since he was across the street from a major head-shop. Good lord, you couldn't even count on the munchies to keep a pizza place going? I was pretty sure I was going to get some cardboard disc thingy with squidgy underdone tempeh and limp spinach adhesion layer.

Um. No.

Aside from the fact that everything topping-wise was great, the sauce this guy came up with was stunningly good; a white bechamel-type garlicy white-sauce that actually set up and held things in place! Oh, and it didn't feel like hot wall-paper paste in my mouth! In asking the guy about his business, and hearing of his woes, I tried to talk him out of his garlic sauce recipe. No dice. Fair enough, I thought: secret sauces are the foundation of financial fame and success, as we all know, and I'd never ask someone for their first-born. I just went away from the place, happily full, and with a mission.

Fast forward seven years...

Finally, I have a working sauce/topping/binding agent, and it took Wondra and the better part of a half decade of cooking practice to manage it.

Wondra is that gravy/sauce maker in the blue can that your mom had up on the backslpash of the stove that you got in touble as a kid for using to cover your Valley Forge diorama in "snow" because it looked so real. Well, sparky, it's what you need to make your pizza a fab disc of happy. It's what's refered to as an "instant" or "instantized" flour; that is, it is a "low-protein, pregelatinized wheat flour to which some malted barley flour has been added. It has been formulated to dissolve quickly in either hot or cold liquids, and is most often called for to thicken gravies and sauces. Because of its low-protein content, it is also sometimes used in making pie crusts and other recipes that call for cake flour, which is also lower in protein than all-purpose flour"1. In short: it's a super-fine low protien flour that disolves very quickly, and when heated, thickens its liquid base into a gravy or, if used in larger quantity, a thick cheesy-like sauce. One night, while making pizza for me and my ex (the typical melty soy-cheese one for me, and one barren and cheese-less one for her), I spotted my can of Wondra while grabbing for some spice in the cabinet. Right there, on the can, is their recipe for "One Step White Sauce". Just having it there in front of me, I had that forehead-slap moment. "Just toss some granulated garlic in there, and I bet that'd be a start" I thought. Well, not only was it a start, it was the Alpha-Omega. The first bite told me Pizza Pi had lost its magic spell, and I now held the Dark Crystal!!

Wondra One-Step White Sauce
  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 2 tablespoons Gold Medal Wondra flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
Heat all ingredients to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil and stir one minute. Makes 1 cup sauce.

So, that's right off the can. The riff is as follows:
  • 2 TBSP + 1tsp Wondra(R) gravy and sauce maker
  • 2 TBSP Earth Balance
  • 1 TBSP nutritional yeast
  • 1 TSP granulated garlic
  • 1 cup almond milk
Heat Earth Balance in a saucepot on med low until melted. Add in Wondra and yeast make a light roux. Start whisking in almond milk. Add in granulated garlic to taste. Just before pouring over pizza, whisk in an additional tsp of Wondra and pour over prepared pizza. This last bit of Wondra will "set up" in the heat of the oven, not in the sauce pan, thereby allowing you to pour it on, which is handy.

The almond milk, because it is a nut milk, has a nice glossy mouth-feel (due to its fat content) and nutty flavor, which helps the cheesy-ness, as does the nutritional yeast. Also, by using the yeast, you can omit the salt, as the yeast adds a salty/savory note to things.

The proof was in the eating. Not so much my ex, who would enjoy it without the "cheese", but was very gratifying to ME, the "cheesehead". Great mouth-feel, taste, and acted so well as a "bind the universe together" agent that Obi-wan would proudly serve this to Yoda. The most recent riff on this is the Nacho Cheese pizza topping for "Mexi-pizza".
  • 2 TBSP + 1tsp Wondra(R) gravy and sauce maker
  • 2 TBSP Earth Balance
  • 3 TBSP nutritional yeast
  • 1 TSP granulated garlic
  • 1/2 TSP smoked paprika
  • 1/2 TSP cumin
  • 1 TSP taco powder
  • 1 CUP almond milk
So anyway, pizza that actually tastes and behaves like pizza is still within your grasp, grasshopper. Just take the Wondra from my hand, and it will be time for you to make perfect pizza "pi"...

See, I'm trying!

A few interesting things are happening. Hopefully I'll be able to post specifics soon, but I don't want to speak out of turn before things are finalized. What I can say is that I'm currently working on a "class/program" offering for my sangha that will involve movie nights and other media. It really does look to be shaping up into something rather cool. The bit I won't talk about yet involves the appearance of a certain blogger and writer who may be showing up to participate in one of them. This is cool, but a bit unnerving at the same time.

I'm starting to go deeper into my practice, and it's helping me. I feel more grounded. I feel more balanced. Yet at the same time, I'm rather scared. I took a year off of my Zen practice a while ago, to "feel out" if I really wanted to go in this direction. I came back after realizing that it was about the only thing that actually helped me. But there is still this lingering question. It's not "will this help?" or "is this worth it?"; it's more "can I do this?" Zen requires so much of you, and I'll admit that in my life I've not been the greatest when it comes to committing to something and seeing it through. But at the same time, the things I've committed to in my practice--the service to my sangha, mostly--come more easily than many things I've endeavored to do in the past. That leads me to believe that I'm tasting something different. But the idea of this level of commitment scares the bujeebus out of me. The mere truth of the fact that I am seriously considering monasticism as a life path is, uh... scary.

I have this kid in the SG:Buddhism group--some copper-banded* university student in the Netherlands--who is all over me with his zen-ness. It does get to me a bit on the ego level, I'll admit; some twenty-something telling me that I have no grasp of Zen. That having been said, what gets to me the most is the fact that people will read this person's ideas and come away with a really incorrect idea of Zen. He's comingling Zen with Existentialism. I love this bit...

ZT I feel your understanding of zen is heavily influenced by buddhism as a whole. While this may be constructive to most sects of buddhism it is not for Zen. In fact it is the exact opposite for Zen. Having preconcieved notions of what Zen is or what Zen means is counterproductive to your experience of it.

Zen is spiritual if you do not feel that way perhaps you are doing something wrong? Perhaps you think it to be something it is not?

I am willing to wager 100 Euro that this kid has never done sanzen, and 100 more that he never will. I don't mean to sound all pissy and negative about the whole thing, but at the same time...

I don't purport to know it all. I'm working hard on not coming off like I do, which I know sometimes happens. But at the same time, I am not ashamed that I know what I know. What bothers me the most is that this kind of stuff still bothers me. I went back to SG because I thought it could once again be a good outlet for my dharma practice. I am now questioning that decision...

It's been too long. I want to start blogging more. So sorry for the lull all you non-existent readers!

I've put on over ten pounds by drowning my sorrows in various cheeses. Ugh. And I'm just generally not eating right. I'm "sad-eating". Will work on that.

Emotionally, I'm not truly depressed; just worried. Where the hell will I come up with the money to move out on my own? I can't do it with a room-mate; a) I have a kid, and b) it'd drive me crazy. But honestly, I'll do what I have to do. That will most likely entail asking my mother for money, most likely against any of the rest of my inheritance. Dunno. Good news is, it looks like the kid found a job.

More later. It's been a chore just motivating myself to write this...