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Photo by Catherine Von Holt, Nepal Semester.

On Egg Thukpa

Wikipedia describes thukpa as a type of Tibetan noodle soup, or rather a “generic Tibetan word for any soup or stew combined with noodles.” I am unsure as to the specifics of the egg thukpa served at the Thrangu Cafe at the Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery at Namo Buddha, but were I to guess I would say that it is composed of noodles made of ambrosia steeped in a broth of nectar. Indeed, it is difficult to conjure words sufficient to describe the glorious majesty of Thrangu Cafe’s egg thukpa. Perfectly cooked noodles are garnished with a smattering of vegetables, soaked in a hearty savory broth, and topped with a sunny-side-up. Perhaps my finest memory during our ten-day Buddhist retreat is of sitting at the balcony on the edge of the cafe facing the main monastery building, with a bowl of egg thukpa and a cup of piping hot black tea on the long table before me, a fine book in hand, all as the sky is painted in warm reds and soft oranges by the setting sun.

At the end of our retreat, on the trek back to Panauti, the location of our urban homestays, I listened to one of our instructors Bradford discuss aspects of Buddhist philosophy. He posed the question: “Where in a flower does its beauty lie?” I’ll not attempt to locate the source of a flower’s beauty, but I will do my best to do so regarding the scene I described. One can find beauty in almost all aspects of it: in the view of the magnificent monastery, in the soft breeze of crisp air, in the egg thukpa itself (which is possessing of most incredible beauty indeed), in the gentle wisps of steam wafting off the cup of tea, in the gentle light of the sunset cast across puffy clouds… It is safe to say that what I have described easily qualifies as a “beautiful scene”. However, the question of the origin of this beauty remains.

A central concept in Buddhist philosophy is of the transient nature of all things. It teaches that all things are temporary, that nothing is permanent; however, it also emphasizes that rather than grasp at these things, try to hold on to them, futilely attempt to extend our possession of them, we should accept and embrace their fleeting nature. It attests that impermanence is not to be feared, detested, and railed against; it is a fact of life, implacable and unmoving. It is my belief that transience is the source of beauty. The knowledge that something will end makes it precious, valued; even something considerably long-lived, such as a work of art, is temporary in how long we may observe it, and in fact I would propose that endless observation of a particular artwork would diminish and perhaps even deplete its beauty. In this sense, it is easy to identify the previously described scene’s beauty: the thukpa (glorious as it is) will eventually be consumed, the tea will cool or likewise be drunk, the book will be read, the sunset will give way to moonlight (which is similarly possessing of beauty), and the view as a whole will eventually have to be abandoned in favor of the sweet embrace of sleep. Rather than attempt to cling at this inherently temporary experience, is it not advisable to focus on living it, and to see its ephemerality as a blessing in disguise?

But I digress. I’m afraid that I am prone to tangents, and can only hope you will stay with me. Returning to the scene in question, I would like to provide some details regarding the book in my hand. It is titled The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, written by the 14th Dalai Lama. In it, the Dalai Lama draws parallels between the realms of science and spirituality, and argues that a combined approach utilizing aspects of both is necessary for a fuller picture of the world. I am not a book reviewer, but if I were to be one I would surely write a glowing review of the book for whichever publication I work for. Perhaps my favorite passage from the book deals what he calls “scientific materialism”:

I have noticed that many people hold an assumption that the scientific view of the world should be the basis for all knowledge and all that is knowable. This is scientific materialism… My concern here is… to draw attention to a vitally important point: that these ideas do not constitute scientific knowledge; rather they represent a philosophical, in fact metaphysical, position… One of the principal problems with a radical scientific materialism is the narrowness of vision that results and the potential for nihilism that might ensue. Nihilism, materialism, and reductionism are above all problems from a philosophical and especially a human perspective, since they can potentially impoverish the way we see ourselves… In this view many dimensions of the full reality of what it is to be human––art, ethics, spirituality, goodness, beauty, and above all, consciousness––either are reduced to the chemical reactions of firing neurons or are seen as a matter of purely imaginary constructs… The problem is not with the empirical data of science but with the contention that these data alone constitute the legitimate ground for developing a comprehensive worldview or an adequate means for responding to the world’s problems. (11-13)

This passage was of particular personal note, as it describes something which I have personally been grappling for some time now. It has always been my unconscious assumption that science is the only legitimate grounds for any analysis, an assumption which has largely gone unexamined. In part or wholly due to this view, a profound sense of nihilism and cynicism was borne within me, a sense of meaninglessness, a sense of the futility of all human endeavor. However, at this juncture in time, I no longer believe I wish to uphold this view. I would like to believe in something more to life. I would like to be able to enjoy a sunset while nursing a cup of tea and a bowl of thukpa and feel more than just the physical reality of the moment. Whatever that is, I am still searching.

Basically, what I am trying to say is that egg thukpa is pretty great.