Category Archives: Meditation

Hungry Ghost Economy: The Karma of Snack Pack Pudding (#3 in series)

Karma is intentional action connected to its context in space-time. In this chapter of Hungry Ghost Economy, we explore the karmic consequences of the consumer packaged goods production and consumption through the example of Snack Pack Pudding©

These are the listed ingredients in Snack Pack Pudding©.

Water, Nonfat Milk, Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Vegetable Oil (contains one or more of the following: Palm Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Palm Oil, Sunflower Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil), Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), Less than 2% of: Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Artificial Flavors, Color Added. CONTAINS: MILK

But what about the unlisted ingredients? Disease? Destruction of habitats? Slavery?

Here is the nutrition information for a 92g single-serving container:

Calories                                   120

Fat                                              25

Total Fat                                     3g          5%

Saturated Fat                          1.5g          8%

Sodium                                 130mg        5%

Potassium                            130mg        4%

Total Carb                                21g          7%

Sugars                                       14g         —

Dietary Fiber                             2g         0.8%

Protein                                        1g

Vit A                                                           0%

Vit C                                                           0%

Iron                                                            4%

Calcium                                                   30%

Based on a 2,000 calorie diet

ConAgra Foods, Inc. emphasizes “All Snack Pack products contain 30% DV calcium, with the exception of Bakery Shop Lemon Meringue Pie, Lemon Pudding, and Snack Pack Gels.” It emphasizes “CONTAINS MILK.”

Viewing the ingredients and nutrition information in isolation from advertising, would you describe Snack Pack Pudding© as”




Would you serve this to yourself or others “without the guilt?” The fact that ConAgra Foods, Inc. advertising tries to assuage feelings of guilt suggests an effort to overcome one’s innate sense that there is something wrong in consuming this manufactured product sold as food.

Is this all overly dramatic? Can’t one just eat Snack Pack Pudding© and consider it “empty calories?” No! Robert Lustig, M.D., a Researcher and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital, summarizes the position of metabolic disease researchers in debunking the “empty calories” myth. These calories are not “empty;” they are toxic. For more, click here:

The ingredients tell the story.

14 of 21 grams of Total Carbohydrates come from refined granulated white sugar. That’s 3.33 teaspoons. That’s 54 of the 120 total calories in one serving of Snack Pack Pudding©. Would you eat or feed your child 3.33 teaspoons of sugar?

The majority of the remaining 7 of 21 grams of Total Carbohydrates comes from modified corn starch. Carbohydrates are saccharides. Corn starch has two major components, amylose (a straight chain polymer of glucose) and amylopectin (a branched chain polymer of glucose).

Modified corn starch refers to corn starch that has been treated with acid(s) (e.g. sulphuric acid) to alter its viscosity.

In the body, simple carbohydrates like sugar and modified corn starch are converted to glucose. Spikes in glucose levels cause the pancreas to release insulin and the liver to convert glucose to triglycerides. Excess (unused) glucose is stored as fat.

The increase in consumption of these ingredients in Snack Pack Pudding© and other foods driven by consumer packaged goods companies has been linked to heart disease (the #1 cause of death in the United States), obesity, and metabolic diseases including diabetes (the #7 cause of death in the United States).

Obesity has increased from 13 to 34 percent in the last 50 years. For more on the economic costs of obesity, click here:

Snack Pack Pudding© also contains Vegetable Oil (contains one or more of the following: Palm Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Palm Oil, Sunflower Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil).

These fats, particularly in hydrogenated forms, are linked to cardiovascular disease.

Palm oil is the most widely used food oil in the world. It is valued for long shelf life and low cost. But, the low cost comes at a price. Palm oil monoculture is destroying the environment through deforestation. In other words, eating Snack Pack Pudding© is part of a causal chain that not only negatively impacts human well-being, but destroys entire ecologies including animals, plants, and minerals.

Per WWF Australia, approximately “300 football fields worth of forest are cleared EVERY HOUR to make way for palm oil production” (emphasis added). For more details, click here:

Per the Rainforest Action Network, slave labor has been documented on palm oil plantations. Cargill is a supplier to ConAgra Foods, Inc. (the manufacturer of Snack Pack Pudding©) and a major supplier of palm oil. Cargill refused to ensure its supply chain was/is not purchasing SLAVE-LABOR produced palm oil. For more, click here:

In reducing the milk in Snack Pack Pudding© and increasing the water, nutrition is further compromised. Milk is a source of protein. It contains 18 amino acids. 9 are essential amino acids, six are semi-essential amino acids, and three are non-essential. Amino acids are proteins referred to as the “building blocks of life.” Water does not.

Then, there are those ingredients we are advised not to worry about because they only constitute 2% or less of the total volume.  These are:

Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Artificial Flavors, Color Added.

According to the Food Chemical Codex, 7th edition, Sodium-Stearoyl Lactylate (SSL), an extensively used food additive, is non-toxic. It continues by describing SSL as

a cream-colored powder or brittle solid. SSL is currently manufactured by the esterification of stearic acid with lactic acid and partially neutralized with either food-grade soda ash (sodium carbonate) or caustic soda (concentrated sodium hydroxide). Commercial grade SSL is a mixture of sodium salts of stearoyl lactylic acids and minor proportions of other sodium salts of related acids. The HLB for SSL is 10-12. SSL is slightly hygroscopic, soluble in ethanol and in hot oil or fat, and dispersible in warm water. These properties are the reason that SSL is an excellent emulsifier for fat-in-water emulsions and can also function as a humectant.[1]

In other words, this is not food. It is only legally rendered “food” through Government regulation because Consumer Packaged Goods companies and Food Scientists determined that when fed to rats, lambs, and people, there were no observed adverse effects at the indicated levels.

Non-toxic ≠ food.

Can you trust that artificial flavors are any better for you or the environment?

The ill effects of Snack Pack Pudding© extend beyond human consumption. In manufacturing Snack Pack Pudding©, frequent power outages, errors, and other deviations from manufacturing specifications result in tons of pudding not fit for human consumption. This pudding, including sugar free pudding, is either applied to farm land or fed to pigs. Pigs consuming Snack Pack Pudding© suffer the same health problems as humans and, in turn, are consumed by humans.

The manufacturing process creates waste and is part of a causal chain that contaminates and destroys the environment. The one-time use packaging destroys the environment in production and disposal.

“But it’s fortified with 30% of my DV for calcium?!”  That is a high price to pay for a calcium supplement!

Disease. Destruction. Slave-labor. This is not just a snack. This is karma.

This has been just part of the complex interdependent web connected to buying and eating consumer packaged goods. I encourage people to engage in mindfulness. Look past the advertising. Is the thing you are buying and eating food or “food?” What are the effects of your purchase and consumption? Look for the hungry ghosts and beware that you do not become one yourself.

Please spread the word and share your thoughts in the comments.

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Hungry Ghost Economy: 99 cents (#2 in the series)

Snack Pack Pudding© is extremely sensitive to price. Its target price has been 99 cents per 4 pack. It is sold via discounted promotional pricing for up to half the year. Any increase above 99 cents causes and sales fall. 2011 reported annual retail sales for Snack Pack Pudding and Gel Snacks was $177 million.[i]

Price sensitivity is the degree to which a change in the price of a product changes consumers’ purchasing behavior. It is measured by own-price elasticity of demand, an internal measure of sensitivity of demand based on changes in the items price. It is measured by cross-price elasticity of demand based on changes in the price of substitutes for the item.

How the Price of Gas Affects Snack Pack Pudding©

In the United States, the average price of gasoline increased from $1.101/gallon (12/17/2001) to $4.146/gallon (6/30/08).[i]


When the price of gas was low, the claim “Real Nonfat Milk is Our #1 Ingredient along with a graphic of a cup of milk.

Non Fat Milk, Water, Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Vegetable Oil (contains one or more of the following: Palm Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Palm Oil, Sunflower Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil), Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), Less than 2% of: Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Artificial Flavors, Color Added. CONTAINS: MILK

The increase in the price of gas increases manufacturing and distribution costs. Price sensitivity requires Snack Pack Pudding© to be sold at a target price of 99 cents or less or sales will decrease. Something’s gotta give.


ConAgra Foods creates “milk reduction formulas.” The claims displayed on packaging change to “made with REAL NONFAT MILK” and “AS MUCH CALCIUM AS AN 8 oz GLASS OF MILK.” The graphic of a cup of milk remains on the front of the package.  The ingredients list on the back tells a different story.

Water, Nonfat Milk, Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Vegetable Oil (contains one or more of the following: Palm Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Palm Oil, Sunflower Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil), Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), Less than 2% of: Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Artificial Flavors, Color Added. CONTAINS: MILK

Real Nonfat Milk is [NO LONGER] Our #1 Ingredient.” Water is. Yet, ConAgra’s advertising and packaging go to great lengths to obfuscate the change. Through continued association with milk, ConAgra is conveying the message that the product is as “wholesome” and “nutritious,” as an 8 oz. glass of milk. Click on the website,, and you will see an 8 oz container of milk turn into a container of Snack Pack Pudding©. In fact, it has only been fortified to include “as much calcium as an 8 oz glass of milk.”

Thinking you will buy the store brand, instead? ConAgra manufactures most private label and store brand shelf stable puddings, as well. A few resisted the change and tried to retain their own formulas. However, ConAgra has converted all, or almost all, of these puddings to milk reduction formulas.

Individuals become consumers through an insatiable hunger for processed foods and their key ingredients: sugars, starches, fats, and salts. Consumers participate in the front-of-package labeling and advertising illusions of low cost, convenience, and nutrition and/or rationalize that it is “part of a healthy diet.” The back of the package hints at a deeper truth.

.  .  .

Next in the Hungry Ghost Economy series, we will look deeper into the ingredients and their direct and indirect negative effects on humans, animals (yes, humans are not the only consumers of Snack Pack Pudding©!), plants, and minerals.

[i] U.S. Energy Information Administration, Weekly U.S. All Grades All Formulations Retail Gasoline Prices retrieved from

[i] ConAgra Foods, “Snack Pack” in ConAgra Foods Brand Book, 24, retrieved from

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Dharma Dialogue Spins Off

Spin off Blogs by Dharma Dialogue contributors.

Spin off Blogs by Dharma Dialogue contributors.

It’s finals week here at University of the West and the contributors of Dharma Dialogue have been busy completing their final projects.  Please look for some of them to be adapted and appear on the blog over winter break.  Classmates are working on papers, infographics, story collecting, and even websites of their own.  In latter case, we have three exciting spin off blogs to announce.  It appears some of our contributors have enjoyed blogging so much, they’re going to attempt to take it up as a habit.  Please check out their wonderful blogs and continue to check back at Dharma Dialogue: Buddhism in the U.S. for ongoing posts.  Although the class is over, the contributors were unanimous in their desire to keep the blog alive.  Look for exciting contributions from other members of the UWest family in the months ahead.

Family Dharma is “Practicing in the midst of life” thanks to Joseph and Sarit Rogers.  Per the site:

Joseph Rogers is a group facilitator, trained under Noah Levine, with Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society.  He is also a Masters of Divinity in Buddhist Chaplaincy candidate at University of the West under the supervision of Reverend Danny Fisher.  He currently teaches meditation to at risk youth, and co-facilitates the weekly young people’s group at ATS Santa Monica.


Sarit is a photographer specializing in fine-art portraiture, creative commercial photography, and  lifestyle photography primarily made up of musicians, yogis and the occasional pinup. …Sarit writes for Visions Teen, covering a wide array of issues surrounding addiction, recovery, mental health, adolescence, and parenting. She also has a blog of her own dedicated to her photography. Some of her most inspired subjects is the integration of mindfulness, breath, yoga, and meditation into family and recovery.

Their blog will seek to explore 1) Buddhism in America as a minority religion, 2) Family in Buddhist practice, 3) Lay practice in American Buddhism, 4) Relationships out of context, and 5) Finding time for formal practice.  Also, read Joseph’s first post on Dharma Dialogue if you haven’t already.

Path of Pleasure is “Using the Jhanas on the Buddha’s path to awakening” with classmate Buddhakaruna.  He describes himself and the blog this way:

I practice the jhanas as taught by Ayya Khema and Leigh Brasington. These are often called the sutta jhanas to distinguish them from the Visuddhimagga jhanas, which may be an entirely different creature from what I practice (a form of cessation?).

I also may discuss my experience as a Master of Divinity student at the University of the West, an accredited Buddhist University in Los Angeles. This degree will allow me to be a professional interfaith chaplain.

My hope is that blog will help those interested in, or currently practicing the jhanas to awaken themselves. There are so few of us relative to the dry-Vipassana practitioners that it is often difficult to connect and share our experiences.

Recent posts discuss self-compassion and fear.  Also check out Buddhakaruna’s earlier discussion of jhanas on Dharma Dialogue.

The Monkey King is “Taming the monkey mind in the Dhukka jungle” from Dancing Yellow Monkey.  This is a collaborative blog and a place for story telling and experience sharing, so please join in the conversation.

Welcome to the digital hub for a new generation of young adult practitioners of the Dharma.

This is a place for young adult Buddhist practitioners and scholars to share their experience as a person of color in the U.S.  Writings about one’s personal practices, relationships, work, parenting, social action, or various topics related to Buddhism in the U.S. are greatly encouraged. I invite you to share your experience.

This is a site for you. Please share your personal essays, poems, screenplays, short stories, art, photography, and video. Let your voice be heard!

Also, please read Dancing Yellow Monkey’s first post about young people of color in American Buddhism on Dharma Dialogue.

Finally, I shall continue to help edit and contribute to the blog along with our fearless leader, Dr. Jane Iwamura, Chair of Religious Studies at University of the West.  You can read more about my adventures at Dharma Cowgirl.  We hope you will keep following Dharma Dialogue, commenting, and contributing to the growing conversation about Buddhism in the U.S.

Post by Monica Sanford.

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Addicted to Jhana, and That’s Okay (Really!)

So, when I talk about the jhanas what the heck am I talking about?  Actually, I could write a blog or two (or twenty) about ‘what is jhana’ and not even scratch the surface.  The short answer is that the jhanas are eight meditative states of increasing concentration.  They aren’t just found in Buddhism but in every major religion.  All of the jhanic states are full of pleasure and this makes them subject to a great deal of mistrust.  In Buddhism, the first four are just labeled one to four but they can be described as Rapture, Joy, Contentment, and Neither Pleasure nor Pain.  The last four are given names, “The Sphere of Infinite Space,” “The Sphere of Infinite Consciousness,” “‘The Void,” and “Neither Perception nor Non-Perception.”  All of them are filled with non-sensual pleasure.  As you go from one to eight, the pleasure becomes more subtle, more peaceful, and counter-intuitively, more appealing.  Experiencing this is actually one of the deep insights that lead to freedom, since if increasing peace is increasingly pleasurable, how pleasurable must be the ultimate peace, Nibbāna?

Given how wonderful the jhanas are, why does it seem that in nearly every discussion I have about the jhanas with Convert Buddhists the  “you can get addicted to the jhanas” meme comes up.   My main (Convert Buddhist) teacher (who practices in the Burmese lineage) constantly warns me not to become addicted to jhana.

Why?  Well, have you heard of Puritanism?  In the U.S. pleasure is only okay if it is illicit.  And the only thing better than illicit pleasure is pleasure that can get you a jail term if you are caught indulging in it.  So when the Buddha says throughout the suttas to “enjoy non-sensual pleasure…bath your body in it,” something deep in the American psyche rebels.  A spiritual path that embraces pleasure…that doesn’t make sense.  We should beat the sin out of ourselves (and everyone else, whether they like or not).  But the Buddha’s embrace of pleasure — non-sensual pleasure, and that ‘non’ in front of ‘sensual’ is so very important — is arguably one of the two key insights of the Buddha (the other being his linking of intention and karma).  But Puritanism isn’t the only reason.  Below I’ll present a short history of Burmese Buddhism and the experience of many U.S. teachers as wounded healers.  But Puritanism is the big one.

Let me explain some of the biases and understandings that inform my position. I believe that, as the Buddha originally taught the path, jhana practice was considered right-concentration, a fundamental part of the path to emancipation. This is backed up by extensive textual analysis of the Pali Canon done by Ajahn Sujato, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Ayya Khema, Leigh Brasington, Bhante G. and others. I do not know if mastery of jhana is a necessary condition for awakening, or that jhana practice is even the best way. It is entirely possible, in the thousands of years since the Buddha’s death, that better methods have been discovered. But I do believe jhana practice is just as valid as the other forms of practice which have arisen and for those inclined to jhana, it greatly enhances the Eightfold path.

Is isn’t just Convert Buddhists who fear pleasure.  The Buddha practiced severe austerities in order to “punish” his body into letting go of the defilements   In the Maha-Saccaka Sutta, MN 36, the Buddha discusses the time just before his awakening.  In this sutta, he remembered entering the first jhana as a child and the great, natural pleasure that arose within him. He said the following (as translated Thanissaro Bhikkhu, emphasis by the author):

I thought: ‘I recall once, when my father the Sakyan was working, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, then — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities — I entered and remained in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from seclusion, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. Could that be the path to Awakening? ‘ Then following on that memory came the realization: ‘That is the path to Awakening.’ I thought: ‘So why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities?’ I thought: ‘I am no longer afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities, but that pleasure is not easy to achieve with a body so extremely emaciated. Suppose I were to take some solid food: some rice and porridge.’ So I took some solid food: some rice and porridge. …

So when I had taken solid food and regained strength, then — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities…I entered and remained in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity and mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain.

Awakening and freedom only arose after the Buddha embraced non-sensual pleasure.  The Buddha said that “they were the path.”  He stopped beating the sin out of himself.

Now, what does it mean to be “addicted” to the jhanas? Jhanas are reached by letting go. Letting go the five hindrances, letting go of the sensual world. Is being attached to this type of pleasure a bad thing?  Is this even addiction, or is it a great help in achieving mental and spiritual health?

Does the Buddha himself have anything to say about this issue?  Luckily for us he did.  Here are his words from the Pasadika Sutta (DN 29.24), as translated by Maurice Walshe:

There are, Cunda, these four kinds of life devoted to pleasure which are entirely conducive to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to tranquility, to realization, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna. What are they? Firstly, a monk, detached from all sense-desires, detached from unwholesome mental states, enters and remains in the first Jhana…(repeated for all four material Jhanas)

These are the four kinds of life devoted to pleasure which are entirely conducive to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to tranquility, to realization, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna. So if the wanderers from the other sects should say that the followers of the Sakyan are addicted to these four forms of pleasure-seeking, they should be told: “Yes”, for they would be speaking correctly about you, they would not be slandering you with false or untrue statements.

To paraphrase the Buddha, he said “Hey, let them call us addicted. We’ll laugh all the way to Nibbāna.”

Distrust of the Jhanas is not restricted to the U.S.  Many schools of Buddhism appear to not teach jhana practice at all.  But in the Convert Buddhist world of the U.S., in addition to I Puritanism, I believe there are two additional reasons.  The first is the history of Burmese Buddhism before the tradition came to the U.S.

The Buddhism we learned from the Burmese, which informs many of the branches of Convert Buddhism (IMSSpirit Rock, my own lineage through Ruth Denison, etc.), is a recent cultural artifact. It arose in response to the colonization of Burma by western powers and the resulting influx of Christian missionaries. This influx threatened the position and very existence of Burmese Buddhism. In response Buddhist practice was “rationalized.” Ritual was removed and science was used to justify the practice. The purpose was to make Buddhism more understandable and sympathetic to the western world.

During this time, within Burmese society the relationship between the laity and and Monastic Sangha started to change. The laity was successful in challenging the convention that they should constrain themselves to “making merit.” Lay practitioners began transforming the goal of their practice from making merit to stream-entry, which in the Pali Canon is the first stage of awakening. They did this by using Vipassana (as they defined it, and definitely not jhana) mediation. Stream-entry is a powerful place to be. Even though not fully awakened, a person who has experienced a path moment is no longer subject to rebirth in a lower plane (including the animal realm) and is guaranteed to achieve full awakening within a handful of lifetimes.

In addition, during this time there was a “cult” of Alchemists in Burma. These Alchemists arose out of pre-Buddhist religions and their practice was centered around achieving physical immortality. As Buddhism became more powerful in Burma, the Alchemists began to identify themselves as Buddhists.  They justified their practices by saying they wanted to extend their lifetimes to be present when the next Buddha arose. This group used the jhanas in their attempt to to make themselves immortal. This cult also instigated a failed rebellion against the occupying western powers. I don’t know for certain, but I would not be surprised if the Alchemists gave jhana practice a bad name within the Burmese tradition. (I recommend Race and Religion in American Buddhism, by Joesph Cheah, chapters 2 and 3 for more information how Burmese Buddhism and Burmese meditation practices came to the U.S.).

The second factor in “jhana fear” is very specific to the U.S.  Many of our convert Buddhist teachers were “wounded” and have used Buddhism to help heal themselves, sometimes from addiction. These teachers are very aware of the power of addiction to sensual pleasure and the harm it causes. Many of these teachers have never experienced the jhanas.  They have heard how powerful the pleasure is, but don’t understand how this pleasure arises out of letting go, out of leaving behind aversion and greed.  Non-sensuality.

So why can’t we just let go of sensual pleasure  and go directly to Nibbāna?  Well, there are probably people who can.  Just not very damn many of them.  Most of us need something healthy to cling to while we slowly work at letting go of sensual pleasure.  Only when we have let go of sensuality (non-returner) do we have to work on letting go of the jhanas.  Embodied minds need pleasure.  And assuming we are reborn, each of us have been seeking it for lifetimes.  If you think people can become addicted to jhana, just how addicted do you think you can get the sensual world, especially if ‘you’ have been feeding this addiction for lifetimes – thousands, millions, maybe even billions of years.  Therefore the Buddha gave us a raft to cross the river to reach Nibbāna.  One of the planks of this raft is called jhana.  But in the end, when the other shore is reached, even the raft must be let go. The Buddha, across 2,500+ years of time is doing his darndest to tell us to stop beating the sin out of ourselves (and others). Perhaps it is time for us to hear his message.

May all beings be safe and free from suffering.

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