Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter
July – Sept 2010
Internal Work and External Work
by Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett
(The following is the late Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett’s response to a letter in 1979)
April 22nd 1979
Thank you for your letter. It has taken some time to digest the questions you put to me, so I hope this reply is still timely. Keizan Zenji wrote that, “Enlightenment ranges from time eternal and is even now”. Because of this, anyone who sincerely looks for the Truth will find it. Buddhism openly says that many Buddhas lived before Shakyamuni. Plainly put, the Truth is the Truth no matter who said it, when or where.
Facing the Truth, however, is a very serious matter. Mystical understanding of religion involves internal experience. Therefore, beware of social religion that measures everything by an external yardstick. Mystical religion does not ignore external responsibilities, but rather views them as part of inner responsibilities yet subordinate to them. It is right and necessary to help others and to make sure physical needs are met, but help should be given with an internal knowledge of what is right, otherwise it becomes do-goodism, which is usually a form of meddling. Also, far too many people do good works to hide from their inner responsibilities. It can be scary to face the Eternal.
You also asked me many questions about training. Remember that as we look within we become more aware of the mess we are in. This increased awareness is a step in the right direction. Before doing this it was easy to ignore the problems, but now you must accept them and then transcend them. You cannot go about improving yourself like an architect, however. That is to apply an external measurement to an internal development and it will not do you any good at all. Just sit still in the midst of it all and learn to accept it and not get caught in it. Fear, guilt and self-hate are the problems rather than anything in particular you may or may not do. It does no good to condemn yourself because anger arises, it is natural; just sit still within it and try not to let it control you. Hold fast to the Lord of the House. I cannot explain how to keep the mind bright except to say that it is an internal looking up, a raising of one’s aspirations in the midst of it all. Faith is essential here. Faith that the Eternal exists and has never turned away from you and is only waiting for you to stop looking down and to look up at Him to be bathed in His love.
The thing that we try to protect by denying it exists is our own naivete of heart. It is vulnerable and easily damaged by cynicism or sarcasm. Denying and rejecting are the same in this case. We deny or reject that within us which can get hurt, thereby embracing the cynicism and sarcasm that hurt us in the first place and in turn hurt others.
To all of your questions I have given you the same basic answer which I must simply repeat in different forms. One day you will realize that you have control over your own state of mind. It is like learning to find the controls of a car, but until you do that you must have faith that the controls exist and that you can find and use them. It will bring great relief when you do find them, but once you do your responsibilities will increase tenfold. I wish you good luck, and I hope you are well.
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My Buddhas of Patience
by Dennis Mojado
I’ve found it very difficult to write this article because I don’t feel like I’ve necessarily been successful or resolved anything. But even as I learn, fail, and keep trying, I hope that there’s something helpful for others in hearing how I have been dealing with this difficulty.
I have noisy neighbors. I am sometimes startled and awakened by doors slamming at any hour of the night: two, four, five in the morning. Often, there are parties on the back patio starting as late as 10pm. My townhouse has shared walls, and I am a sensitive sleeper, so often I need to use earplugs.
I’ve talked to these neighbors. I’ve written to them twice. And to some degree the issues have lessened in frequency, but the issues continue. Herein lies my training. I need to view these neighbors as providing me with important teaching, pointing me to find the Buddhas of patience.
It is very easy for me to become angry at even the slightest noise from them these days. There is already a history between us and I am confronted with dealing with this noise on a regular basis, often when I have the least energy and willingness to do so. You know how it goes. I tell myself, “Dennis, there’s a great life lesson to be learned here.” But then I immediately think, “Gah!! I really don’t want to learn this lesson right now. Can I learn this damned lesson on patience, later?”
Even when I become angry, if I get a chance to catch my thoughts, it’s helped to tell myself that what I’m feeling is perfectly natural– I’m not a failure by being angry. The anger isn’t good for me, definitely not good for others, but it’s still natural and I shouldn’t condemn myself for feeling it.
Whenever I share these ordeals with friends and family, they immediately give me advice on how I should stand up for my rights. “Call the cops!” or “Don’t put up with that! Go over there and tell them to shut up!” or “Tell your homeowner’s association! Get them evicted!” All of these are reactions that seem like strong, even justified, countermeasures to end the apparent cause of my suffering. But I have tried to not react out of negativity. I have tried my best to not escalate a situation and to discern what is right action. Right action, I believe, is not found in defending my “rights,” standing up for myself, or trying, necessarily, to solve the external issues. It just doesn’t feel right when I am motivated by anger and defensiveness. I have come to understand that right action depends a great deal on how I can help my neighbors cease from forming harmful habits. In other words, my responses should come out of concern for all beings, never from a heart of retaliation. If I contemplate the problem with the intention to help, the actions and decisions don’t become easier, but they come from a calmer and more reasonable frame of mind.
Of course, it is extremely hard to find a compassionate heart when I am in the throes of anger and irritation. Rev. Astor Douglas of Shasta Abbey once gave me this bit of scripture to help me foster loving-kindness toward everyone around me, especially those who test patience:
The Metta Sutra (Bhante Gunaratana’s version)
May you be well, happy, and peaceful.
May no harm come to you.
May no difficulties come to you.
May no problems come to you.
May you always meet with success.
May you also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
Repeating this for myself, for my loved ones, and for my “enemies” has helped mellow out my reactivity. It was initially quite difficult to say with any conviction toward people who I am angry with, but over time it’s helped reduce the intensity of my aversion. Speaking the Metta Sutra helps me take the focus away from myself, and helps me come back to a heart of training. After all, how can you be infuriated with someone and wish them well at the same time? Thoughts that feed the runaway justification stories in my mind are: “He thinks he can make all the noise that he wants…” or “She thinks she can (insert assumption here)…” I always have to remind myself that I cannot begin to know what other people are going through. I interpret their actions and filter them through my own limited views and then I assume I know what they are thinking. But I really have no clue what their circumstances and motivations are. Any time I start a thought with “He thinks…” I’m just setting myself up for delusion and ultimately, for anger.
However, when I repeat to myself things like, “This will pass” or “Training is not when it’s going well, it’s when it’s hard,” or the above Metta Sutra, I find it fosters a more productive mindset. When there’s an attitude of training, purpose is given to even painful and unpleasant situations. On the other hand, if I find no meaning in things that happen around me, even the slightest mistake of others will infuriate me and make me want to retaliate.
I also am reminded of how problems will always exist, big or small. During these many months of enduring noises, I was suddenly confronted with a health concern. Problems in my life were drastically and immediately re-framed in an entirely different scale. The noises didn’t really matter much for that period of time. Then after I found out that the health concern was not really a problem, the little things came rushing back to take priority and irritate me; taking the place of the bigger problems that had now disappeared.
If it weren’t for the practice of meditation, I think by now I’d have had much more conflict and outright verbal battle with my neighbors. I would have talked to the homeowner’s association with the personal aim of eviction, and would probably have even gone to court to defend my rights. “My” rights, “my” home, “my” peace, “my” life, “my” sleep. Notice how these things, when only focused on the self, seem like reasonable arguments. I’m not saying the problem is solved or that I’m a shining example of patient endurance. I’ve lost my peace and harmony all too many times. At the same time, I know that I would not have been so motivated to train if all were peaceful and quiet at home, all the time. So, in some strange way, I can, at times, be very grateful for the noise. I have faith that with continued training, I will be able to show respect and bow to my Buddhas of patience.
On April 24, the Priory held an introductory workshop which was well attended by twenty people. It was good to see so much interest in this practice from people new to the Priory.
Rev. Master Haryo, the head of the Order, arrived at the Priory on April 28. He had spent the last six months at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey in England. Although Rev. Master Haryo had only one full day at the Priory before heading down to Pine Mountain Buddhist temple, he spent a large portion of that day under our building, sorting and repairing our telephone connections. We are always grateful for his willingness to mend and repair those Priory items that have been awaiting attention. Plus we are deeply grateful for the depth of Rev. Master Haryo’s training which he clearly exhibits through the solid and grounded manner in which he deals with everything, whether spiritual problems or mechanical problems.
Rev. Scholastica went up to Shasta Abbey at the beginning of May and then spent two months at the Abbey, providing much needed help for the monastery. Rev. Scholastica was missed at the Priory and we are grateful that she was able to return to the Priory at the beginning of July.
The Priory held its yearly Wesak celebration on Sunday, May 16. 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 Dharma talk was on letting go of our judgmental mind and it seemed particularly helpful topic for the Sangha. The potluck had the usual dazzling array of foods and it was a good opportunity of our Sangha to get to know our fellow trainees better.
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 books, wagesas and cases, meditation benches, cat food, paper napkins and toilet paper. A chiropractor has been providing free treatments for Rev. Kinrei, which is deeply appreciated.
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 a number of prepared and take-out meals, vegetables, fruit, soup, soymilk, beans, salad, salad dressing, eggs, coffee, bread, teas, breakfast cereals, olive oil, canola oil, tofu, vegetarian meats, fruit juice, crackers, noodles, nuts, cheese, chips, rice cakes, 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.
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.
Buddhist Memorials, Funerals and Naming Ceremonies
We held a memorial for Mary Gray’s mother, Patricia Groves, on April 17. Then on May 7, we held a memorial for Peter Townsend’s mother, Margaret Townsend.
The Priory held a quite a few animal services during the last few months. Ruth Richards’ cat, Flower, had her funeral on April 9 and the funeral for Calley, Ben Johnson’s cat, was on June 16. We held Buddhist naming ceremonies for Mischa Wendel’s two dogs, Izzy and Jillie, on April 1 and Louie, Vincent Townsend’s dog, had his naming ceremony on June 10. It is a wonderful aspect of Buddhism that we can make these various offerings of merit and Dharma to beings.