This article was first published in the Journal of Shasta Abbey, November -December 1982. It was based on a Dharma talk Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett gave at the Ten Precepts Retreat.
I received a letter from one of our lay members of the Sangha recently which I felt was of such great importance that I wished to share a portion of it with you and make it the starting point of this Ten Precepts Retreat. The person concerned writes as follows:
I do not quite know how to explain the following but, I often feel that a part of me is present at the Abbey. I can feel the ground under the cloister beneath my feet, I can see the inside of the Buddha Hall and feel the presence there, and yet, my heart feels burdened by grief and despair. The thoughts and feelings of others enter unbidden into my consciousness. I seem to see only suffering, suffering. I know I must learn to see the Buddha in all things. When I sit in meditation and ask for help for myself and the world, the answer seems to be the very suffering I am trying to understand. When I ask what suffering is, I see only a deep blackness shot through with golden points of light. And still, I must go on.
Anytime someone tries to do something about himself, he will find himself burdened with other peoples’ grief unless he knows that he is not the Cosmic Buddha and that there is nothing in him that is not of the Cosmic Buddha. One of the sad things for members of helping professions is that too many of them take to themselves the sufferings of others, and eventually, make themselves ill with it. They do not yet realize that they are not the Cosmic Buddha and must ask for help from the Cosmic Buddha. This person, when asking for help, is shown the suffering shot through with golden points of light — with the essence of Buddha. These times are the “little moments that make one dance.”...One has to be willing to cry “I am not sufficient! I cannot do it alone!” This is what will make the essence of Buddha appear. What will make it possible is faith. The deeper we go into meditation, the more suffering becomes apparent and the more important it is that our faith shall deepen and that we learn to recognize the little golden moments that point the way to the Cosmic Buddha. It is important to stop trying to hold onto being able to do something by ourselves about the suffering, for, if we attempt to become thus omnipotent, all we will see is suffering; and we ourselves are then in the way. And if we are in the way, we cannot see the Cosmic Buddha working through it. It is a very hard lesson to learn, for a layman or a laywoman it is even harder. But all the signs are there.
This person is never apart from the temple — its presence is always felt. Perhaps she needs to know that the real temple is the temple of one’s own body and the real cloister is everywhere. This does not mean that one should not become a monk, nor does it mean one should go out into the world. It means that the real cloister is everywhere and the real presence is everywhere. We enter into a monastery — we retreat — in order to advance. If the burden of suffering is constantly hindering us, we cannot advance. If we cannot look at the suffering and see the golden fragments and recognize that they are the Cosmic Buddha shining through that suffering, and have faith to hold onto that, then nothing can help us. We come to Ten Precepts Retreat so that we may’ learn to keep the Precepts and thereby find the Buddha. For the Buddha lies within those Precepts. In finding the Buddha, we learn how to recognize the little golden moments within suffering. And thus, what was originally a dark and black, and seemingly grieving and despairing place, becomes the garden of the Bodhisattvas, the waveless sea of the Arahants (saints). We can find it before what is known as death and we can know that it is so after what man calls death. The Eternal is within all these situations, the Eternal is within all things. The world is a rough place to those who do not know this. The advantage of a monastery is that it is a place in which we can set the world aside, somewhat, for a little, and get closer to the Cosmic Buddha, to the little golden moments, so that they are more easily recognized, not only in the monastery itself, but in the world outside as well.
To see the Buddha in suffering, in pleasure, in pain, in joy, in sorrow is one of the greatest gifts of enlightenment. But faith is much needed to be able to do this. And you have to do a lot of work upon yourself before faith is a fully understood concept. Far too few people know what faith really means. In one sense, every one of us has incredible faith: we all believe we will waken in the morning, but we have no proof of it; we also have no proof that we won’t. We believe that we will. But one day we will not. And neither of these ideas terrify us. It is with this attitude of mind that one must go through the world and the monastery. It is absolutely imperative that we feel the cloister beneath our feet and the presence of the Buddha Hall within our hearts wherever we go. Then, however much grief and suffering others lay upon us simply because the person concerned is looking for a sympathetic ear or because we happen to be more open than others and can feel it more clearly, whatever way it is, if we have found the way to carry that presence in our hearts, then, whether we are here or whether we are sitting in the dining hall, or working in a hospital, or in a hospice, or sitting in an office or driving a bus, no matter what we are doing, whatever the suffering is that we see or that may come into us, we will see the Lord’s work and we will learn to accept that this is the way it is because this is how karma works. In accepting the karmic consequences, we will find the Lord in all things and be able to work peacefully and effectively.
I felt I wanted to share this letter with you because it is so important. Some things should be shared and such problems as this in training should definitely be shared. I am sure that there are lay people who have had similar experiences to this. And certainly, if anyone has been meditating for a long time and has not yet learned to be truly one, in faith and certainty, with the Cosmic Buddha, the greater sensitivity that meditation brings will seem to increase the amount of suffering that person is aware of. There are schools of Buddhism, therefore, that think it is best that lay people do not meditate at all. Fortunately, neither I nor the whole of the Soto school of Zen believe this. Meditation is always good. Both Dogen and Keizan said this and so did Shakyamuni Buddha. Meditation is always good, no matter who does it. But it is good that we can have time to be together, like this, to discuss these things and to be able to help each other....
This April, the Priory had new windows installed for the entire first floor. Some of our windows were the original windows when the Priory was built in the 1930’s and they very much needed replacing. The new windows in the Meditation Hall have helped considerably in reducing the sound of the Marin Avenue traffic.
We celebrated the Buddha’s birth at our yearly Wesak ceremony on Sunday, May 6. For our temple, the attendance was unusually large and it was good to see everyone pouring water over the head of the baby Buddha and singing the Wesak hymns. The potluck had the usual dazzling array of foods and it was wonderful to have the Sangha together to express our gratitude to the Buddha and enjoy this Buddhist holiday.
Wesak Ceremony, May 6, 2012
In May, my bedroom, which is on the second floor, had its carpets removed and they were replaced with new wood laminate flooring. The whole job was done by various Sangha members and I deeply appreciate all the hard work and skillful labor that was given. The floor came out perfectly. We also repainted the room as it had not been painted in twenty years. A physician a few years ago told me to remove my carpet as I am allergic to dust mites so I was glad to finally manage to complete this work. We already have a supply of new wood laminate flooring to replace all the remaining carpets on our second floor and I hope that this work will be completed this Fall.
From August 19-26, I will be leading a retreat at Shasta Abbey on The Teachings of Great Master Bodhidharma. This retreat will focus on the teachings of the legendary Indian Buddhist monk, Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma came to China in the 6th century and founded the Zen Buddhist tradition. His teaching was very direct and profound and focused on personal practice and direct understanding. Drawing from several translations, particularly Rev. Master Hubert Nearman’s translation of “Bodhidharma’s Discourse on Pure Meditation” and Red Pine’s translation, The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma, I will explore how we can apply the Dharma of Bodhidharma to find freedom amidst the difficulties of our lives. Anyone interested in attending should contact the Guestmaster at Shasta Abbey.
We held a memorial on April 1, for Paula Westdahl’s mother, Georgia Westdahl. Georgia had died July 22, 2010 and April 1 was her 92nd birthday.
Joan Clair’s goldfish, Sister Goldenglory, had her animal funeral at the Priory on May 17. We had a naming ceremony on May 23 for Olga Frame’s dog, Cosette.
Charity is one of the four wisdoms and demonstrates the Bodhisattva’s aspiration. Deep appreciation and gratitude is offered 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 paint, cat food, shoe horns, books, dishwasher detergent, toilet paper, tissues and paper towels. 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. During the past few months we have been given these food donations of quiches, soups, pizza, vegetables, fruit, soy milk, salad, salad dressing, eggs, vegetarian burgers, rice, coffee, muffins, bread, herbal and black teas, granola, olive oil, tofu, vegetarian meats, fruit juice, soda, crackers, pasta, nuts, cheese, chips, peanut butter, jam, raisins, chocolates, cookies, candy, pies, and cakes. You are always welcome to check with the Priory on what foods are currently needed.
We encourage our Sangha and friends to offer writings to this newsletter. We all have our own personal experiences and understanding of Buddhist training and it is an act of spiritual generosity to be willing to offer and share them with others.
Buddhist training is based not just on receiving the spiritual benefits that Dharma practice provides, but also our own willingness to cultivate gratitude and finding ways to make offerings. Giving our valuable time to help with the work of the Priory is very much needed if the Priory is to flourish. During the past few months, Sangha members came by the Priory and helped with many different tasks, such as gardening, cleaning, cooking, construction, computer work and book-keeping. Please contact the Priory if you wish to help; we always has plenty of work that needs doing. In addition, the Priory has been having regular work days which have been a great help with fixing up and maintaining the Priory and its grounds. You are welcome to come to the Priory whenever you can and offer your help. The next work days are scheduled for Saturday, July 28 and September 29, from 9:30 to 3:00, but we welcome everyone to help for whatever part of the day they can come.
Wesak potluck in the Priory garden
Retreats are an excellent way to deepen our meditation and training. The retreat begins at 8am and the day is a mixture of meditation, Dharma talks and Buddhist services. The retreat is over at 5pm. Please register in advance for all the retreats.
Meditation instruction and an orientation to the practice at the Priory are offered each Thursday at 6:45 pm. Please arrive a few minutes early so that we can begin promptly at 6:45. The instruction is followed by a 7:30-8:05 pm meditation period. We ask all people new to our practice to attend this instruction. The meditation instruction is free, as are all the activities at the Priory. If your schedule will not allow you to come on Thursday evening, you are welcome to call the Priory to try to arrange a different time for the instruction.
Rev. Kinrei is available to discuss your spiritual practice and to help you to better apply the Dharma to your life. Taking refuge in a senior member of the Sangha is an important aid in gaining a better perspective and deeper insight into our spiritual life. It is also helpful in learning to cultivate openness and trust. You are welcome to contact the Priory and arrange a time to meet.
Attending a retreat at Shasta Abbey is an excellent way to deepen one’s Buddhist life by living and practicing together with a large community of monastic and lay members of the Sangha. The introductory retreats are the recommended first step in practicing at the Abbey. For more information, you can contact the Shasta Abbey Guestmaster at (530) 926-4208 or at email@example.com. or go to their Web site at www.shastaabbey.org.
One of the best ways to help the Priory is to make the commitment to be a Priory Member. What this involves is making a pledge to contribute a certain amount of money to the Priory each month. There is no set or recommended amount as we leave it up to each individual to offer what he or she feels is appropriate. This commitment is a tremendous help to the Priory because it gives us a stable financial base. More importantly, deciding to become a member has deep spiritual significance. It means you are choosing to help take responsibility for the continued existence of the Priory. Some of you may only be able to pledge a few dollars a month and think it is not worth making such an insignificant commitment. Yet it is important to offer whatever you can and be willing to make a formal commitment to be part of the Priory. The most important help members bring to the Priory and the Sangha is not their donations but their Buddhist training. By being willing to come to the Priory and train with others, we help make the Priory a true refuge of the Sangha.
However, we are not suggesting that everyone who occasionally attends the Priory or gives us donations should become a member. For many people, it is not appropriate to make such a commitment, and we welcome them to join us whenever they wish, to help us in the manner they feel appropriate, and to be valued friends of the Priory.