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Holiday Spirit and Pie

by Davee Evans

by_galant_on_flickr.jpgToooo many holiday gatherings: Thanksgiving to the New Year is a non-stop eating marathon and I’m the one getting stuffed. Perhaps the short days and imposing, cold air inspires richness. Prolific holiday music isn’t cutting the gloom for me quite like eating through it.

But as a good Buddhist, should I be abstaining from all this wonderful gluttony?


I’m not sure the Buddha specifically mentions holiday parties in the Vinaya. Later Buddhist communities definitely got in the spirit with grande feast celebrations like Obon and Vesak, and the Vajrayana traditions in India started feasting monthly even.

Reggie Ray in his book Secret of the Vajra World explains those monthly feasts as a practice of seeing the world as sacred, meaning as brilliant, pure, and filled with wisdom. But he goes into more depth on how one should approach all of the richness in feasts:


This enjoyment of life is, of course, quite different from the samsaric practice of attempting to use pleasure to comfort, fortify and satisfy the ego and to ward off discomfort and pain. The Vajrayana notion is “to take, but not take in.”

I think that notion is pretty much in all the modern Buddhist contemplative paths though, not just Vajrayana, to take but not take in. I hear that same approach whenever someone discusses experiencing what arises in meditation and letting it be. Renouncing it completely would feel more like pushing away or stuffing or trying to avoid thoughts and emotions in meditation. But no one does that. Dr. Ray goes on to say:

It is like enjoying the full pleasure of a gourmet dinner, the arrangement of the table, the disposition of the meal on the plate, the delicate and tantalizing aromas of the food, and the delectable tastes in one’s mouth. The only part left out is the actual swallowing, the glutting of oneself and stuffing one’s belly, and the anesthesia that comes with consumption. Through “taking but not taking in,” one’s intelligence and sensitivity are never dulled, but — for all the ego hunger that is never satisfied — actually heightened and refined.*

Perhaps eating my way through the cold and dark isn’t quite the same approach. Happy holidays and may your festivities be fulfilling!

(*page 227. Photo above by Galant)

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Anan E. Maus

posted December 10, 2009 at 4:30 pm

Having a nice big holiday meal is not the worst thing we can do. It is not the highest spiritual activity, but it is still relatively innocent.
As long as we don’t take it to excess, it is not a big issue.
Over-indulgence in the senses…of any kind…is, of course, a real potential spiritual problem. If one gets attached.
So, generally, the diet should not be one of constantly engaging in as much pleasure as possible.
One can find spirituality in almost every endeavor. But, we try to make those endeavors the most spiritual ones possible. We must not exceed our true spiritual capacity and burn ourselves out. And we must not so compromise ourselves, that it drives all spiritual aspiration away. It is always about balance and moderation.

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posted December 10, 2009 at 5:20 pm

yes, fairly mundane concerns in a privileged western world for sure. most of the world isn’t as concerned with over indulging.
but i do encounter many who equate spiritual practice with denial – beyond denying what would be reasonable to live a sustainable life – but to some point of forced detachment and aestheticism. that seems to go all the way to one’s simplest emotions. someone asked me this week how i could be worried about going to a feast practice, wasn’t ‘worry’ something to be avoided? maybe they meant ignored or invalidated. seems a common belief that we need to deny some experience as part of practice.

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posted December 10, 2009 at 10:55 pm

Shoot, I shouldn’t have posted that picture of that pie. It looks so good!!

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posted December 11, 2009 at 12:45 pm

what you should post is the recipe! You can practice the paramita of dana and so can I – after I make it and share it. i love baking.

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Your Name

posted December 11, 2009 at 1:38 pm

You refer to yourself as “a good Buddhist.” Are there “bad Buddhists”? Why the dualistic thinking?

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posted December 11, 2009 at 2:31 pm

:) The recipe is from, who also releases their pictures generously under creative commons, and is here:
Your Name, thanks for the question. And that question is in accord with my post I think. For whatever reason, I have the arising phenomenon in this mind stream I call “me” that questions if “i’m doing it right” from time to time.
To some degree, we can talk about a practice as being performed ‘correctly’ or ‘incorrectly’ – say these sadhana practices that have a specific way that they are intended to be performed. No improv.
But even for things without a correct procedure this comes up for me, as if to ask if I am adhering to a discipline and does that make me a ‘good’ Buddhist or not. Probably some discernment there. So that’s my karma I guess. I’m trying to “to take, but not take in” phenomena like that; have a sense of humor about it basically. But it’s likely to keep arising for whatever reason.

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posted December 11, 2009 at 4:28 pm

I guess put another way, I don’t control what arises in my mind stream. But I chose to include in this post because I figure that’s a question others have too.

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Anan E. Maus

posted December 11, 2009 at 11:58 pm

I didn’t mean to suggest that austerity does not have its place. I think it does. And frankly, I think that much of the spiritual life should be a hard-pressed austere effort.
I just believe in taking necessary breaks, in order to have some balance.
Personally, I believe everyone should do a few years of mild practice as an intro…and then make a good, concerted austere effort of 5 – 10 years of as much practice as one thinks one can do. Then, after that, re-assess and amend the practice with the wisdom acquired.
And, in that 5 – 10 year effort…I think folks should be meditating 3 – 15 hours daily…depending on one’s personal capacity.
To me, that is the real path. It is the kind of thing done in monasteries. I don’t think that folks really have a good shot at reaching the deeper spiritual levels without that kind of sustained, discipline practice.
If you go more moderate…sure, you will get some peace, some clarity, some wisdom…and that is all very important. But if you want to take a real shot at Enlightenment itself, then you have to pay a much higher price.

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posted December 17, 2009 at 2:01 am

Anan E. Maus, your also in a way answering a question that is an edge for Buddhist in the West I think, “Can lay practitioners get very far?” I don’t have an answer but it’s on my mind a lot. Related question for me personally is how to best progress with a working lifestyle, independent of how far that gets me.
I was talking to someone at the Shambhala center today about this point. We were discussing how best to mix mahamudra investigations or madhyamaka with a daily routine. One suggestion was singing Milarepa’s songs to yourself as you worked. I do that sometimes. A klesha attack is about to start, the Song of Paldarbom pops into my head, and that fixation is cut through like a hot knife through butter. But I also agree some practices are just not possible without a week or months of intense shamatha to get really deep and settled first. Are those practices necessary for a complete path? Not sure. Perhaps not for everyone, but there’s only one way to find out. But maybe with 3 hours a day of practice I could do them even while in the working world. I could believe that’s possible. But I haven’t tried that for an extended time. I tend to just do retreat in bursts of time, more so than a steady and deeper practice.
This working style contemplative tradition feels like an experiment in real time. This is a rich topic.

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