(Rev. Master Mugo is the Lay Ministry Advisor and in that capacity has been travelling extensively during the spring and summer of 2010 in Europe and North America. She has been visiting temples and priories as well as lay practitioners in their homes. The following article was originally written for her weblog, jademountains.net and is published here with substantial editing. This article first appeared in the Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple Newsletter September-October 2010.)
Yesterday (in Montana), I unpicked a long row of machine stitches along the hem of a monastic robe I had offered to mend. I then tidied up all the cut threads, rolled them into a ball and placed them in the compost bucket. As I unpicked, cutting those threads, all the while taking care not to cut into the fabric, my mind started to remember. That’s how it is with memory isn’t it? Ones mind is jogged into remembering by something, or some circumstance, that comes to the fore during daily activities. I’d made this robe in Edmonton, Canada, which year was that? I’d had a streaming cold, but needed to push on because there was a deadline to meet. I remember my nose dripping onto the fabric as I worked! Where did I buy that fabric? I thought. At the market stall in Nottingham...or....? And so it is with remembering. Remembering and then linking memory upon memory.
This time I whizzed along sewing up the hem again, neatening and making good, and by so doing putting a few more years’ wear into the robe. The hem was now turned up and zigzagged to reinforce the fabric where it had become worn through. Some might say this is a ‘labor of love’ and perhaps they are right! Robe hems drag on steps, both when climbing and when descending. They brush the ground all day long as the occupant goes about daily business, thus the need to mend is ever present. As I worked I was plotting a future strategy for when this robe would come again to me for mending. There is however a limit to how much hem turning and zigzagging one can do before it’s clear that either new fabric needs to be added on, or a new robe needs to be made. Recently a monk reminded me with glee, the robe you made me is still going strong! That was back in 1986. It’s been worn mostly for best, even so, cracking good fabric. And so it is with remembering. Remembering and then linking memory upon memory, and then for the most part forgetting and moving on.
Before lunch one of my hosts sat silently reading the manual for the sewing machine while I attempted to thread it. Suddenly, coming across a word she wasn’t familiar with she asked, “what does neaten mean?” I’ve not come across that word before? I thought, I have spent a great deal of this trip ‘neatening’... This includes activities such as clearing up, straightening, making good and mending, weeding, sorting, trimming, mowing and cutting into shape. Neatening and sorting have been my pleasure and my contribution. One might call all that work, or perhaps they are literally labors of love.
There is part of the brain that is designated for memory. If that part is damaged, or removed for medical reasons as sometimes it is, large chunks of memory evaporate! Or perhaps what happens is the capacity to recall memory goes. We would be completely lost without the capacity to remember. And equally lost if memories are all we know and the only aspect of ourselves that informs our labours... Years ago when I was a novice monk at Shasta Abbey I said to one of the senior monks, we are limited only by what we know! To my surprise he responded by saying, Well you know something very important. And I remember that conversation so clearly too. Thinking about it now, I’m reminded of the deeper knowing that is ever present yet is not in the forefront of everyday awareness. This undertow of knowing is then not separate from our seemingly mundane knowing.
I have travelled widely these past three months and shared tables of plenty and good conversations ranging widely and contacts have deepened, too. There has been a huge amount of the past coming into the present, remembering, while I have been visiting monks and lay trainees during my travels this summer. We have a shared life experience of Buddhist practice over many years which bring us close even though we meet but rarely. However the underlying life, the life of the deepest heart, is alive and vibrant and is not dependent on our retelling stories – though we do, of course! In a sense, there is no mending, sorting or neatening required because the life I refer to is not bound up in the substance memories are made of – time, space and form.
But how do I talk of this life which has been the unmistakable undertow to my travelling this spring and summer? The best I can do is honour the substance of my memories by recounting them here. And constantly the robe hem comes before us and asks of us the utmost care, through loving actions.
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by Ben Johnson
There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
~ Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 1. Scene V
One of the earliest teachings I encountered in my study of the Buddhism of Rev. Master Jiyu Kennett was the teaching that there is always something more. No matter how much I think I understand the Dharma, no matter how sure I am in my opinions of other people or events, I realize that I have barely scratched the surface. This simple teaching has been the touchstone of my life.
It may seem obvious to others that I do not know or understand everything, but it is not so clear to me. I have opinions. I have lots of opinions. I want to be knowledgeable; I want people to think highly of me, I want to have deep understanding. But I do not. On the face of it, this revelation (which rears its head far too infrequently) would seem to be self-deprecation or self-disparagement or even modesty. In fact, it is just common sense.
In those rare moments when my clouded mind clears of the confusion it has created by clinging to a separate self in a unified world, a world that at the same time is in constant flux, and in which there is no one thing that exists even for a moment, only changing conditions, I realize I don’t have a clue.
We are fortunate in that we have been given the teachings of no separate self and impermanence, of the cause of suffering and of the end of suffering through the Eightfold Path. We have also been given the teaching of the Unborn.
We cling to views that in turn create what we think of as the world. We cling to aspects of our past and this distorted viewpoint becomes our history. We generate a view of our past which we think is the story of our life. But these are all partial truths which helps us to navigate through ever-changing conditions. These constructs can be very useful, but they are still just concepts, ideas, thoughts and opinions based on whatever we have become attached to, whether it’s physical attachment such as food, sex, music, etc. or attachment to particular ideas and views.
Our ideas are not the whole of the infinite, they are just a description of the little bit we see. So our life becomes a matter of realizing there is always more in the ever-changing flux of the world, and being alert and open to “what’s next?” When I realize that my karma colors the way I see the world and my life in it, I become curious as to what more there might be. What am I missing?
When we do not have this openness, we are clinging to yesterday’s news. What worked yesterday may give us some clue as to how to proceed, but this moment right now is a new situation. The fact that it evolved out of preceding events should not make us think that it is the same as those events. The sum is greater than the parts. I cannot know and understand all the infinitely complex parts that went into making up what is happening right now.
One way we try to understand the world is by relating it to what we have already experienced, what we think we know. So when faced with a new situation we try to interpret it in terms of our experience. One might argue that it needs must be this way, but then this would be tantamount to saying that we cannot experience anything new, and since what we think we have experienced is really only our limited view, we are saying there is nothing outside our own mind.
I have been studying and practicing Buddhism for forty years.
I’ve read a lot, listened to many Dharma talks and done my
share of meditation. What grabbed my attention about Buddhism in the first place can be summed up by this simple teaching: “There is more.” If I can keep in mind that there is no dogma, no required beliefs in Buddhism, that it is a living religion, it is a
religion of practice. Our good fortune is that there are teachers and teachings that continually point us to something much deeper than the limited view we have through the lens of our karma. May I always remember this and humbly ask to be shown the teaching, that my mind may be free of impediments so that I can hear the teaching and put it into practice and that I can remember that there is always more.
“Mind is empty of everything-it is not enlarged or changed by what goes through it. When you are confused you believe what is stored in it is you. You try to add or subtract what is in it which increases mental motion and confusion.”
–Attributed to Bodhidharma
by Reverend Kinrei
The Priory was host to many monks and lay ministers who came through Berkeley on the way to and from the September meeting of the Order at Shasta Abbey. Fourteen of the visitors came from Europe and many of them had never been to the United States and had scheduled some extra time to see the area. The willingness of the Priory Sangha to offer a number of day trips all over the area was deeply appreciated. There was the willingness to help cover the more than a dozen trips to the airport to pick up or drop off visitors. All the meals for our visitors were donated by our Sangha and all our guests commented on the deep generosity they were shown while visiting Berkeley. I was deeply touched by all the help, food, and willingness that was offered. It was also a gift for me to have the opportunity to spend some time with so many members of the monastic and lay Sangha and I know many of those who were helping with rides, trips, and meals, deeply appreciated meeting and getting to know so many wonderful fellow Buddhists.
The meeting at Shasta Abbey was the conclave, a once every ten year meeting to discuss and update some of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives’ rules. The meeting was during the last two weeks of September and most of the senior monks of the Order attended together with five lay ministers. The meeting ended up being less about the rules and more about some issues that have arisen, particularly with the returning to lay life of the Abbot of Shasta Abbey. In order to help the Order to function better and to hopefully prevent some problems, we are trying an interim board to help with the running of the Order. The following is a letter from Rev. Master Haryo, the Head of the Order, along with some other monks explaining what the conclave came up with to address some of our difficulties. Anyone is welcome to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.
Many of the senior monks of the Order, together with five lay ministers, met at Shasta Abbey this September for our scheduled conclave to discuss and update some of our rules. While so many of us were together, we also took the opportunity to have a good look at some fundamental questions that are affecting the Order and how it works. One of the central outcomes was a proposal to form an interim board to identify those areas needing attention and through a process of consultation come to a common solution. This should help Rev. Master Haryo in his role as Head of the Order and facilitate all the work that we wish to do in response to the many challenges that we face.
As many of you know already, the Abbot of Shasta recently left his post. As a result of the circumstances surrounding his
departure, a committee was established at the conclave to carry forward a fact finding enquiry at Shasta Abbey by, or in conjunction with, an outside professional organization for the purpose of seeing what we can learn from these events. This matter has been a wake-up call to all of us and contributes to a sense that we need a period of reflection. During the discussions at the conclave, it became clear that we are ready to embrace the changes that are necessary, including the formation of the interim
board, to review our structures and how we are all working together.
This board, which will include two lay representatives and six monks, is still being formed and should be ready to start work on November 7th. The purpose of the board is to receive submissions from anyone who has comments, concerns or ideas about any aspect of the functioning of the OBC; to appoint committees as needed to look into the issues raised; and to make all the information and proposals available for further comment until we reach a point where there is sufficient agreement for a change to be implemented. We are beginning a process of self examination that will take some time, as we intend to do it thoroughly. The work of the new interim board will include a review of how we maintain our ethical standards as an organization and how we respond to concerns when they are raised.
The lay community is establishing its own network through which discussion can take place. The intention is to come up with a proposal on how the lay Sangha can develop a greater role than the present structure allows. The possible formation of a lay wing of the Order, open to sincere lay people committed to our practice, will be considered and any proposal then submitted to the interim board.
The chair of the interim board is Rev. Master Saido and the secretary is Rev. Alicia. You are welcome to contact them, or any other board members once the board is set up, with any suggestions or concerns via the contact details below. The OBC Interim Board has a website where additional information will be made available. You are also welcome to contact any of us and we look forward to hearing from you.
This is an important time in the life of the Order and we all hope that as the new methods of consultation are put into place, you will feel able to take part in this process of renewal.
With all good wishes and gassho
Rev. Master Haryo Young
Head of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives
Rev. Master Daishin Morgan Rev. Master Meian Elbert
Abbot, Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey Abbess, Shasta Abbey
Rev. Master Daishin Yalon Rev. Master Saido Kennaway
Vice-Abbot, Shasta Abbey Chairperson, OBC Interim Board
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Animal Funerals and Naming Ceremonies
The Priory held a quite a few animal services during the last few months. On June 23, Rev. Kinrei, Nancy Townsend and Kai Wang went to a El Cerrito pet store, RabbitEARS, which is a animal shelter for rabbits. The shelter had about 25 rabbits and they all received Buddhist names in a naming and blessing ceremony. RabbitEARS is an example of a Bodhisattva organization as all their animals are last minute rescues from local shelters. The naming ceremonies were well attended by many of the volunteers at RabbitEARS which included many children and adults. A social tea that followed the naming ceremonies and the refreshments included freshly baked cookies and cinnamon buns in the shape of rabbits.
We held a funeral for Irene Raby’s dog, Monte Boy on October 3 and for Rob Rayle’s dog, Trevor, on October 16. Dennis Mojodo’s dog, Miley, had her naming ceremony on September 4.
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Charity is one of the four wisdoms and demonstrates the Bodhisattva’s aspiration. Deep appreciation and gratitude is extended to all those who contribute their spiritual practice, money, time, energy, and various gifts to the Priory. The generosity of the entire Priory Sangha is what makes it possible for the Priory to exist and for the Dharma to be freely offered to whomever is interested.
In recent months, we have been given many generous gifts, including spray noozle, books, dish detergent, cat food, paper towels, paper napkins and toilet paper. Providing monks with food is the traditional offering given when coming to a Buddhist temple, and we appreciate all the generous food offerings we have been given which provide most of the food for the Priory. The many meals and large amounts of food given to the temple this September while the Priory hosted many visitors was especially appreciated. During the past few months we have been given a number of prepared and take-out meals, vegetables, fruit, soup, soy milk, beans, salad, salad dressing, eggs, veggie burgers, coffee, bread, teas, breakfast cereals, olive oil, canola oil, tofu, vegetarian meats, fruit juice, crackers, noodles, nuts, cheese, chips, yogurt, peanut butter, jam, sugar, vinegar, spices, fruit tarts, chocolate, ice cream, cookies, candy, pies, and cakes. You are always welcome to check with the Priory on what foods are currently needed.
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We encourage our Sangha and friends to offer writings to this newsletter. We all have our own personal experiences and understanding and it is an act of spiritual generosity to be willing to offer and share them with others.