The Bodhimind is a great radiant sun 
To disperse the darkness of unknowing, 
And it is the very essence of butters
Gained from churning the milks of Dharma.

For all guests on the roads of life
Who would take the very substance of joy,
Here is the actual seat of true happiness,
A veritable feast to satiate the world.

—Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva


Photograph © Istockphoto/Luis Carlos Jiménez

The Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier made a documentary in 2003 called The Five Obstructions in which he challenged fellow filmmaker Jørgen Leth to remake his own short experimental film, The Perfect Human(1967), five times. In each instance Leth was given a set of obstacles designed by von Trier to make his life difficult. For example, the first remake had to be shot in Cuba, and no cut could be longer than 12 frames; one remake had to be a cartoon, and so on.

Throwing a dinner party these days is a bit like this. Guests are bringing an increasing number of dietary restrictions to the table, creating complicated obstacles for the cook. Coming up with a good meal that satisfies each and every individual’s stipulations takes creativity, patience, and sometimes the fun out of cooking.

No wheat, no sugar, nothing that has eyes: those are the most common evils. No peanuts, no gluten, no white foods, no dairy, no fat, no salt, nothing cold, nothing cooked, no nightshade, nothing fermented, nothing caffeinated—the list of obstacles goes on. Sometimes it seems like people are more religious at the supermarket than on the cushion—more passionate, more dogmatic, more afraid of the consequences of their negative actions. I’m sure one could even find sins lurking in a plate of gently steamed, locally grown organic kale. The Internet is very happy to prove or contradict any point of view with cold, hard truthiness. Basically, everything is bad for you.

For a host, mustering up the willingness to cater to everyone’s demands can be a challenge. I confess that for me, there is a smidgeon of emotional resistance to “giving in,” to indulging everyone’s hypersensitivity. Why get so worked up about wheat? The 8th-century Indian Buddhist scholar Shantideva says in The Way of the Bodhisattva: “Health, daily sustenance, and lack of adversity? Life is momentary and deceptive; and the body is as if on loan…. For the longevity of all other enemies is not so enduring, beginningless, and endless as that of my enemies, the mental afflictions.”

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