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LOVE: Inaugural Machen Corps Convocation held at Karme Choling

Column: Dispatches from the Kalapa Court Kitchen
In July the Sakyong convened the first Machen Corps Convocation for the group of chefs who prepare meals for the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo at the Kalapa Court. In this article, we glimpse the raw ingredients that form this group and learn about household teachings from the Sakyong. By connecting the heart of the mandala to the fringe, we investigate how elements of Kalapa court cooking can radiate out into the larger Shambhala community. Scroll down to view a beautiful photo gallery of the event, courtesy of Dorothee Rosen.

by Dorothée Rosen, Machen

Tasting the Landscape:
When an invitation arrives in your inbox saying something like this: “His Majesty, the Kongma Sakyong, invites long-standing and committed members of the Machen Corps to attend a historic gathering in Vermont,” you simply book a ticket (or jump in the car) and go.

The impetus for this gathering of Rinpoche’s chefs for the first annual Machen Corps Convocation stems from the many teachings on creating Shambhala households that have recently poured from the Kongma Sakyong. Therefore, this past July twelve of us traveled to Karme Choling by car, plane and bus, alone and in small groups, from all corners of the Western hemisphere, and even as far away as Germany. No time was wasted: the minute we arrived, we were ushered into an audience with His Majesty at the home of Michael and Jeanine Greenleaf, the Sakyong’s Kalapa Camp in Vermont. Both the Sakyong and Her Majesty the Sakyong Wangmo graced us with their presence and, in this small, intimate and scorchingly hot space, Rinpoche gave a humbling speech, full of love and command. It felt like being thrown right into the middle of the teachings at the beginning. It tasted both intimate and claustrophobic, terrifying and incredibly fortunate: just like that of being a Machen on duty.

Because Karme Choling was full to the brim with Scorpion Seal Assembly participants, the Machen Corps group stayed off-site, most of us at the Presbyterian church dorm nearby. This proved to be a very good choice, as one of the unexpected outcomes was a tremendous amount of bonding. Most of us had never met in person, and so our social time, often late into the nights, was actually an integral part of the weekend.

What is a Machen’s job?
From the outside, it may seem like the main job of a Machen is to cook meals. Cooking is, without a doubt, the central activity of the Machen; but there are other, somewhat less obvious “inner” aspects. Like kasung practice, the position of Machen is very much a practice situation. Being a Machen is about container principle, as well as good communication; and above all, it is about service. Through preparing and cooking delicious and healthy meals, the Machen nourishes and protects the life-force energy of the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo. This is a powerful responsibility and wonderful opportunity to accumulate and dedicate merit and virtue. As Rinpoche mentioned in one of his talks, there is a real path quality to the practice of being a Machen. As we all know, feedback is immediate when ego gets involved – whether it is a ruined steak, an upset server, or a skin burn, there are so many opportunities to wake up.

At the Machen Corps Convocation, we discussed our own inspiration and connection to the path of court service: the opportunity to serve our teacher and to observe Their Majesties’ discipline and elegance; the way that cooking at the Kalapa Court changes our own relationship to food in our lives outside the court; and our appreciation for working together with our fellow Shambhalians – with all the attendant camaraderie and irritation that comes along with that. We all agreed that a Machen must be like a mother and a general at the same time.

Connecting Kalapa Court Kitchen to Your Kitchen
Rinpoche challenged us to explore and share the understanding we have gained about what we call “sacred cooking” and “sacred dining” with the larger Shambhala mandala. We are happy to translate this for you. The kitchen is a space of practice and being in the kitchen is regarded as a practice opportunity. Each meal can be enjoyed like a feast whether you are alone, with family, or with many friends. Fresh ingredients and good presentation are important, as is the opening and expanding of the ayatanas (sense perceptions). A sense of lha, nyen, and lu (natural hierarchy and order of things) within the kitchen is very important, as is the willingness to take each moment as a teacher in itself. Cut ego and take your seat. Be generous. Choose how you rule your kitchen, and the Great Eastern Sun will radiate out from there to the rest of your life.

Perhaps most pertinent to the reader, and certainly one of Rinpoche’s intentions, is the question of how elements of Kalapa court cooking can radiate out into the larger Shambhala Community. His Majesty expressed the wish to connect the culture of the Kalapa Court kitchen to the kitchens of the kingdom through regular dispatches and recipes on various Nyida days. In the week leading up to the Shambhala Lineage Festival, the Shambhala Times and the Machen Corps collaborated to publish a number of recipes for Shambhalians to sample. The recipes are in fact taken from the menu of the Machen Corps Convocation’s final banquet. Please read them and try them out if you have not done so, already! (Click here to view the recipes, and enjoy!)

Photo Gallery from the Convocation:

The Final Banquet
After a weekend of deep contemplation and hard group work, we were relieved to finally return to what we do best when Rinpoche asked us to plan and prepare a banquet, including ourselves as guests. What novelty! As Machen, we always cook, but rarely sit at the table as guests. We dove into the charge, developed the menu together, divided the tasks, and off we went. Besides the much heralded dessert competition, the twelve Machen were to cook a four-course banquet for twenty-five diners in a regular-sized home kitchen, all in the span of four hours — including the shopping. Dinner was to be served at 7pm, but – and this was hard to deliver – we all had to drop everything to appear for a pre-dinner reception with Their Majesties at 6:30pm, leaving our banquet preparations, neither getting cold nor overcooking.

Behind Their Majeties, left to right: Machen Corps Commander Michael Weiss, ADC Nathan Railla, Cecilia Driscoll, Susan Morin, Kevin Hoagland, Jeffrey Stevens, Anthony Miller, Dorothée Rosen, Stephan Bierling, Meta Maertens, Janos Porps, Joe Schoech, (not pictured: Marvin Robinson); photo courtesy of Ian Bascetta

Cooking a great meal is one thing, cooking it with eleven other chefs is another, and timing the whole thing so that all can actually sit at the table, is yet another challenge, and all that with half an hour to spare for a relaxed chat with your guru and his wife! It was a balancing act, to say the least. But we succeeded, and perfectly delightfully in doing so. At the conclusion of the banquet, the Sakyong Wangmo, Khandro Tseyang was presented with the desserts for the competition* and Rinpoche graced us with a wonderful, extensive, and loving talk.

And love is what permeated the whole Machen Corps Convocation: love for our teacher and his family, love of cooking and being of service, and love for each other. Stay tuned more news on the Dispatches from the Kalapa Court Kitchen column. You’ll be hearing from us!

*Click here for the winning dessert recipe.

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3 responses to “ LOVE: Inaugural Machen Corps Convocation held at Karme Choling ”
  1. I was the first machen, for the first two years, of the Three Year Retreat at Söpa Chöling. I think that was in 1990-91 and 1992. I was cooking for the first group: Pema Chodron, Richard John, Susan Shaw, (monks:Monlam, Yeshe, Lodro Zangpo, Migme), and more. It was the first time I heard the name “Machen”, now is the second time. Acharya Pema Chödron was very proud of the title for the cook. She once said to me that if she had not been the head of Gampo Abbey, she would have liked to be the machen of Gampo. She was always very encouraging in my work. I was happy to be there “flying with the ravens” between Gampo and Söpa Chöling! I am please to see that the machens of the court are recognized and celebrated. They certainly do a great job. Congratulations to all! Traditionally, it is said that the machen accumulate as much merits as the retreatants! May you have many merits!
    Marjolaine

  2. Susan Bisbee
    Oct 6, 2011
    Reply

    I am so glad that there is this part of the household represented. For many years I have practiced food as medicine to help and correct certain imbalances in our daily life. Arrugula for the liver, grapes for the kidneys, millet for help in tendon injuries etc etc. Good wholesome wholegrains, organic and local grown food, herbs for flavor and balance. I particularly like it when the dish is both pleasing to the eye as well as the palate and the body.
    There are two books from the 17th century that are very helpful to me. I am curious, do you practice humoral doctrine at all. Buddhism has very similar principles with hot cold wet and dry. This is one place where it seems that eastern and western medicine joined. It just seemed that western medicine abandoned the kitchen and eastern medicine embraced it in the last few centuries. I like humoral doctrine because the ingredients allow you to use common western dishes as well as eastern.

  3. Antonio Ricciardo
    Oct 12, 2011
    Reply

    Why not substitute yogurt cheese for those folks who can’t eat cream or butter?


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