Natural Life Sweeteners: Joy and Extreme Ethics

The Chocolate Cake Sutra: Ingredients for a Sweet LifeI’m guilty — I judge books by their covers. A few months ago, when I was browsing through a used bookstore, I stumbled upon Geri Larkin’s The Chocolate Cake Sutra: Ingredients for a Sweet Life (HarperOne, 2008). I’m a fan of anything chocolate, so I bought the book.

Just like chocolate, The Chocolate Cake Sutra doesn’t disappoint. As a chocolate lover and management consultant turned Buddhist nun, Larkin draws on Buddhist dharma and personal anecdotes to offer up a simple recipe for a sweet life. The ingredients are all within our reach, and in each chapter she delves into each one — joy, extreme ethics, tolerance, a capacity to keep going, clearheadedness, a penchant for surprise, adventuring, and Yoda’s wisdom. You don’t have to be Buddhist or religious to get it — it’s baked in such a way that just makes sense. If you want to know just how it’s baked, you’ll have to read the book, but if you want to know how some of these ingredients have sweetened my life, read on.

Joy. Joy begins with a simple awareness, a simple quietness, a simple gratefulness. I’ve realized that it can only begin once I’ve let go of my worries, and am just in the present moment. If you know me, you know that I like to analyse things to death, and am usually living in the past or the future. I have a monkey mind, my thoughts swing from branch to branch, and rarely stop to admire the rainbows. However, I am aware of my monkey ways, and am now stopping to marvel at the ducks and turtles sunbathing together. And I’ve always known that my joy isn’t really about me — it’s about generosity. When I am present, I can be generous. Perhaps, this is why I’ve been volunteering since I was 15 years old.

Everyday we have the opportunity to be generous with our time, our thoughts, our promises, our money…. It’s so simple to spread joy, and to experience it as well. It’s as easy as smiling at a stranger, or calling that special someone just because.

Extreme Ethics.  Extreme ethics aren’t so extreme. Most of us live our lives following a moral compass that points to honesty, non-harming, compassion, and basic goodness. I know that as long as I follow this compass I will never be led astray. Here, I do want to mention what Larkin has to say about ethics –“…it is tough to be ethical, to do what is right, in an era that doesn’t seem to reward it.” Being ethical is a practice, and she carries on by identifying the five “resistant ogres” –desire, ill will, laziness, worry, and self-doubt — that impede our practice. Overcoming these ogres isn’t always easy, but it’s most definitely worth it.

Our moments of great clarity, and accomplishment are closely linked with our practice of extreme ethics; we are filled with a feeling of strength and capability.  Recently, I stopped drinking alcohol. I’ve always been a social drinker, and have also gone through periods of not drinking, and justifying this behaviour to drinkers (especially when I was younger). In a way, giving up social drinking was an act of rebellion. It was me not caring what anyone thought anymore. Turning down wine in Italy, and drinking soda with the teenagers was liberating. I’ve been reconnecting with my true nature, and seeing things more clearly. More and more, I am witnessing the beauty and strength of those who hold extreme ethics, and I’m inspired to keep practicing my own.

More and more, I am seeing the connection between joy and extreme ethics, and adding these natural sweeteners to my life.


Tolerance, a capacity to keep going, and clearheadedness  are also the sweeteners of my life, especially since I moved back to the west. Next time, I’ll delve into these, and share some more.

What brings sweetness to your life?


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