photo credit: Sreejit Poole
photo credit: Sreejit Poole

I burnt the soup last night.  I admit it.  I brought shame on myself.  Most of the ashram is on tour right now so I’m only cooking for about 100 instead of 100s.  So I was a little… distracted.  At any rate, as much as I hate complaints… I burnt the soup.

“You are the Self, the infinite Being, the pure, unchanging Consciousness, which pervades everything. Your nature is bliss and your glory is without stain. Because you identify yourself with the ego, you are tied to birth and death. Your bondage has no other cause.”

– Shankarayacharya from the Vivekachudamani  

It was supposed to be creamy vegetable soup, but instead, I told my sister to write Smoked House Vegetable soup, on the Menu board, to get people ready for a bit of a smokey flavor.  Instead she left out the “u” in house and wrote “Smoked Hose Vegetable Soup.”  So people were asking each other, “What are smoked hos?” “What’s a smoked ho?” Oh god.  This is a religious institution for goodness’ sake.

Eventually one clever fellow announced, “That means that it’s burnt!”  Thanks a lot.  I had to take the back route out of the cafeteria.

That brings me to today’s point, however bad of a day it is to talk about it.  Being a cook in a large communal living situation, I tend to see all people in two groups: those that complain about their food and those that don’t.  Of course, there is another group of people that actually like their food and those people I keep with the group that don’t complain.  Clearly I don’t associate with the bliss described in the above quote but with the ego creating discord in a constant fight for control over my peace of mind.

It is a great spiritual virtue to be beyond praise and criticism, but this is a virtue that I just don’t have.  I tend to not be bothered by praise but that is only because I am always waiting for the critiques to follow.  Usually, if I hear that someone loved today’s meal, I translate that to mean that they didn’t like yesterday’s.  Though every dish that I make I remember who likes it and who doesn’t, as these comments have become a part of my physical being.  I can tell someone their complaint from 6 years earlier, because these comments, to my detriment, I never forget.  Every spice that I add I think who gets irritated by too much salt and who wants a “taste explosion” in their mouths.

The worst part of it is that I am able to justify my anger by judging their failures to live up to their spiritual obligations, never a wise choice of action, as constant comparison to others doesn’t allow us to move ourselves forward.  But I do it anyways so here are my grievances.   Being that this community is an ashram technically we shouldn’t be complaining about our food, as we are trying to get over our likes and dislikes, and secondly because it is located in India we should be more aware of the poverty all around us and feel lucky to be eating at all.  Knowing that 800 million people go hungry every day in this world it is just unfathomable to me, to hear people complain about what they are lucky enough to be eating.

But then my complaining about these things clearly is not fulfilling my own spiritual obligation to try and go beyond the pull of praise and criticism directed at me.  Of course it is always our duty to do our best, but with so many different people here, there is never an opportunity to make them all happy.

“As the mind becomes gradually established in the Self, it proportionately gives up the desire for external objects. When all such desires have been eliminated, there is the unobstructed realization of the Self.”

– Shankarayacharya from the Vivekachudamani

In the end the situation is set up to turn us within, as when in a no win situation, the only comfort becomes the peace and solitude that you can only find within oneself.  But to find this point of blissful silence is sometimes more painful than dealing with the pain of the world as it means going inside and dealing with all of our own shit, of which there is always plenty to be cleaned up.

And then of course there are days like yesterday when I burn the soup and beg people to speak up.  If only this were a silent retreat center…  but that wouldn’t be any fun would it?


  1. You made me giggle sreejit though I know there is a serious discussion Herr you show your obvious sharp wit with your frustrations and sometimes I turn ckmplaints or annoyances in to something of humour which I think you just did and that in itself is therapy no? But yes very surprising that people there nit pick about food I can’t believe you retain their likes and comments from six years back that’s a talent !!! A great read xx


  2. “What is a smoked ho?” Thanks for making me laugh this morning. Embedded in the backdrop of the daily questionings of an earthbound ego, you struck a meaningful chord of humor here. Thanks for reminding me that it’s OK to be human. Your new blog format is very nice, too.


  3. I really enjoyed this piece….and chuckled at the smoked ho of course. Interesting reading this today. I was talking to a friend last night about our mutual friend who used to live in an ashram in Toronto where I used to live. We were wondering where to find this in Montreal…Many parts of this post spoke to me on many levels…delving into the self is sometimes like swimming underwater (which I love) but you have to come up for air now and then. Namaste, Oliana


  4. Lol… You had me laughing… Smoked ho’s… I loved it… So sorry… Didn’t mean to laugh about your situation… Just think that you can’t please everyone all the time… Too many people with way too many differences and people like to complaint for the sake of complaining… Be happy… Love, Lor


  5. 😀 I can’t stop laughing. As my mother would say (and she burned meals quite a bit) if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it but don’t complain. And if you complain, you can make the next meal yourself. She was serious as evident when she didn’t cook the next meal. 😀 (miss you, Mom and your cooking) Take care.


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