Yours in the Dharma:  Essays from a Buddhist perspective by Sandy Garson

This blog, Yours in the Dharma by Sandy Garson, is an effort to navigate life between the fast track and the breakdown lane, on the Buddhist path. It tries to use a heritage of precious, ancient teachings to steer clear of today's pain and confusion to clear the path to what's truly happening.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


A note to anyone who may read this wordy blog:

I have not abandoned it or gone away.
I have been racing the clock to finish a non-fiction manuscript.
I hope to spring back up
with some of the stories I've been scribbling on the side
in April, perfect timing, I suppose, for fools:

TERROIRISM or THE KINDNESS OF DANGERS--about how suffering strengthens us all

WHO'S ON WORST--to say the steroid scandal of baseball is merely
the egregious symptom of a society that totally pumps up everything
because appearances are all there is--which is of course what we talk
about in dharma. How deceiving they truly are.

WHO WOULD BUDDHA VOTE FOR?--you can probably figure that one out:
it's the tonglen candidate exchanging self for others.


Wishing you all no obstacles on the path to realizing your aspirations.
Meanwhile here is a new story about my old work in the dharma, from Gastronomica, winter 2008

A Gospel of Food in Kathmandu
sandra garson

The Tashi Thrangu Choling Monastery complex in Kathmandu
includes a boarding school that
houses a sea of children—children
with smiling faces but also with rashes,
runny noses, and unhealed scratches.
Though my training is not as a nurse,
dietitian or chef, when I arrived
there in March 2000 for a meditation
seminar, I immediately realized that
proper nourishment could make these
children bloom.
The children were far from home,
from their mothers’ kitchens, and
like most children, they were wary
of unfamiliar dishes. So I needed to
be careful, mindful of the culture
they came from. For several days
I observed what was stored, served,
and eaten. The cause of the problem
quite quickly became clear: a repetitive
menu—meal after meal of the
cheapest, least nutritious dhal, watery
beyond taste, served with equally
overcooked and tasteless cabbage and
potatoes. Shopping, it turned out, was
done by the monks, for whom kitchen
supplies were not high on their list of
priorities. Moreover, the monks came
from Tibet, and they failed to recognize
the cornucopia of vegetables
available in Nepal.
So I devised a plan. After meditation
class I told the hundred other
participants, all foreigners visiting
Nepal, that if they each gave me
the dollar they would otherwise
spend at lunch on beer or milk tea, I
could strengthen the schoolchildren
by filling their pantry with quality
food. Within fifteen minutes, I had
collected one hundred and twenty
dollars. That amount filled the monastery’s
pickup with fifty-kilo sacks of
split peas, chickpeas, cornmeal, grains,
and raisins, gallons of ghee, and kilos
of iodized salt, so essential to the
children’s health and never before
provided them. Before I left Nepal
two weeks later, I had raised another
hundred dollars for refills.
The following March I returned
for the annual English language
meditation seminar. Although the
children did not know my name, they
clearly remembered my provisioning.
They buzzed around me, full of
excitement and expectation. They led
me into their old kitchen, with its dirt
floor and stove made of stones and
mud into which a tree trunk had been
shoved, sending flames through a
hole in the top. There was no electricity
or running water. I cooked three
meals on that rudimentary stove—a
single day’s worth. Breakfast was fruit
salad with oatmeal and yogurt; lunch,
red bean chili (“American dhal,” I
explained) with cornmeal and rice
pudding; supper, a Bhutanese mix of
eggs, tomatoes, and noodles.
The following year, still remembering
my meals, the children were
eager to cook with me. Teenage boys
whetted their (gory) interests by using
cleavers to cut up whole chickens
for curry. Everyone tasted. When
we made hash brown potatoes, they
tasted so much that hardly any potatoes
were left to serve. The cooks had
always peeled away the skin with all
its nutrients, but now the peels were
camouflaged in the buttery hash
browns, and the children gobbled
them up. They learned that to cook
is to show love. When our guru
appeared, a dozen kids raced to cook
rice pudding for him and were thrilled
when he scraped his bowl clean.
It took only two or three hundred
dollars to replenish the pantry.
Gradually, the monks learned how
to shop sensibly, and the cooks welcomed
recipes for native dishes that
would connect the children to their
culture. Soon the children had more
energy and enthusiasm, fewer rashes
and sniffles. Their vision improved,
as did their dispositions.
The next step was to launch cooking
classes. For teachers I hired the
widows working as custodians; they
would provide the missing homey
comfort of being in the kitchen with
“grandmother.” The cost: one dollar
per class. At first, forty-eight children
participated, in four groups of
twelve. Every week one group cooked
Saturday lunch, both a vegetarian version
and one with meat. The second
year sixty children volunteered. Now,
in year three, there’s no room for all
the volunteers. Each year when I’m
back in the States, simply by sharing
my stories with anyone who asks
me what I do in Kathmandu, I raise
eighteen-hundred dollars in small
increments for special ingredients
like yogurt, eggs, and meat, plus the
“grandmothers’” salaries.
The children’s transformation
has been so profound, and the causeeffect
relationship so clear, that now I
am sending the children to help the
five hundred-odd monks and nuns at
my guru’s monastery and abbey learn
how to eat to improve their health.
This gospel of food is spreading
Buddhist-style, by experience, from
one well-fed human to another. My
hope is that these Himalayan children
will eventually return to their mountain
villages, where malnutrition is
rampant, to teach the children there
how to eat and be well.

Chow for now.

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