Cookies and Cookie Dough

by Rev. Marvin Harada.

In a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist master, he relates a wonderful story about how he first learned to bake peanut butter cookies. He measured the ingredients, mixed the dough together, then spooned the dough out onto the cookie sheet to bake the cookies.

Because of his deep understanding of Buddhism, he began to reflect on the cookies baking in the oven from a Buddhist perspective. He began to think, “What if these cookies began to have an identity of their own, and began to have discriminatory thinking like we unenlightened sentient beings? They might begin to think that they were the “best” cookie, or the cookie that had the best color, or the best shape, and that they were different from the other cookies. They might even start talking to each other, telling each other to move over, or to not get into “their” space, or things of that nature. Groups of cookies could begin to think themselves as “special”, as a unique group, superior to the other “groups” of cookies.

How absurd this would be, if it were to occur, because we know that all of the cookies came from the same batch of cookie dough. They are all of the same nature, but their “ego self” as an individual cookie prevents them from seeing their essential nature that is one with all the other cookies.

I love this example from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book. It describes our unenlightened life to a tea. Our ego self prevents us from seeing our true nature that is one with all of life. Instead, we begin to make all kinds of distinctions between ourselves and other “cookies.” “I am a better cookie because I went to Stanford. I am a better cookie because I am financially successful and have a nice home. I am a better cookie because I am a law abiding citizen.” We might begin to band together with other cookies, and feel a sense of superiority based on being the “Asian” cookies, or the “Republican” or “Democrat” cookies, or the “Muslim” or “Hindu” cookie.

From the eyes of the Buddha, or an awakened one, how absurd this must look like. All of the cookies are the same. They came from the same batter, from the same ingredients. How can they feel superior to the cookie baking right next to them? But isn’t that what we humans do? Just take a look at the world around us and the conflicts that are occurring in various parts of the world. They are all conflicts of humans who cannot see their essential nature, that is the same as all other humans. It is the discriminatory thinking of man that creates the barriers between oneself and others.

The same example could be used with waves and the ocean. The unenlightened wave does not know that it is a part of the ocean. It does not know that its essential nature is water. The unenlightened wave has a shallow view of life, and a self-centered one. It only thinks about its own life as a wave.  It cannot see beyond the scope of its own life. It feels no connection to others, and feels that it is superior to other waves. This wave might band together with other waves to create ethnic waves, political waves, or religious waves.

What if this wave were to have a great awakening, and suddenly realize that it is a part of a great and vast ocean? What if this wave were to awaken to its essential nature as water, that connects it to each and every wave? Now this wave has a depth of life that is unfathomable, as deep as the ocean. It has a breadth of life that is vast and wide, like the great Pacific Ocean.

Buddhism is trying to wake us up to see that we are one cookie that is connected to all other cookies. It is trying to wake us up to the fathomless depth of a life lived in the Dharma, always discovering new truth, precious jewels of wisdom that lie at the bottom of the ocean. It is trying to wake us up to our interconnectedness with not only other people, but with all beings, all of life.


Rev. Marvin Harada