A friend of mine has recently been on TV competing in the Great British Bake Off. Well, of course I’ve been watching the show and getting drawn into baking. Maybe it’s my age, but in the past few years I have become more drawn into cookery, and baking is an area where my skills have been admittedly woeful. Like most things in life I have approached baking from the ground up. As much as I would love to get stuck into complicated recipes, I figured the best place to start would be the humble loaf.
I have had a couple of bread-making disasters, but I’m now able to produce a tasty fluffy loaf that won’t break my teeth or get stuck halfway down my throat. While meditating the other day I had a loaf in the oven and the smell was permeating the house as well as my mind – distracting, but not unpleasant.
Then I had an insight; not into bread making per se, but how our practice and study is the method by which we bake our faith. I had an image of my first loaf pop into my mind – a heavy little number with a dark black crust you could barely crack with a log splitter, and a chewy doughy centre you could stick bricks to a wall with. This was the result of not proving the dough properly, and too hot an oven.
Like unproven stodgy dough, if we try to rush into faith without gradually proving our practice, then we are going to remain heavy and small instead of expansive and fresh in our outlook. The oven, is like our approach to the world – too much study and isolation is like an oven that is not hot enough. Even the lightest dough will produce a dry, pale husk of a loaf that will not tickle anyone’s taste buds. On the other hand, dogmatic practice, including pious proselytising is like an oven which is too hot, creating a loaf with a burnt hard exterior hiding raw innards that will just give you a stomach ache when digested. Like ranting about one’s particular brand of Buddhism to all and sundry as being the “way” when one has only just begun practicing is to be a burnt loaf – dogmatic and impenetrable to other people’s hearts because it is hiding raw innards.
When the oven is just at the right temperature, a perfect combination of study (knowledge) and practice (wisdom) is applied over time to slowly cook the innards – consolidating the light texture – and creating a pleasant but not impenetrable crust that easily soaks up the soup of life! And of course, there are many recipes for a good loaf!