2011 Feb-Apr

Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter
February –  April 2011


by Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett

(The following section on benevolence is an except from The Roar of the Tigress, page 171-175, Shasta Abbey Press, 2000. This book is drawn from the many lectures of the late Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett that had been taped and transcribed. The late Rev. Master Daizui MacPhillamy did a masterful job of editing these talks into this book.)

Scripture: If one creates wise ways of helping beings, whether they be in high places or lowly stations, one exhibits benevolence: no reward was sought by those who rescued the helpless tortoise and the sick sparrow, these acts being utterly benevolent. The stupid believe that they will lose something if they give help to others, but this is completely untrue for benevolence helps everyone, including oneself, being a law of the universe. (Shushogi-Great Master Dogen)

If you think about it, very few people realize that benevolence is a law of the universe. We never think about air—be grateful for it—until somebody has stuck too much pollution in it; then we complain about the pollution. We don’t give thanks for the fact that the air is there anyway. These are the reasons that you bow to your seat and you bow to the wall before and after meditation. If it wasn’t for the carpet and the floor, you would have no place to sit; if it wasn’t for the wall, you would have no place where to rest your eyes quietly while you meditate. It is not a benevolent act to look at the carpet and say it’s dirty, or to look at the wall and say it’s spotty. Just as with the news, which only ever seems to print bad news and never prints good, so also with us: we never give thanks for what we’ve actually got; we are never grateful for what we have got, we only complain about it. Benevolence is the opposite of this: creating wise ways to help beings. In some respects, cleaning the carpet is a wise way to help beings. But at a later date, one must realize that it doesn’t matter whether the carpet is cleaned at all. It’s just a place to sit; it is, of itself, benevolent.

Benevolence is perhaps one of the most difficult of these four wisdoms to understand, for everything in nature is at all times helping beings, yet, man is usually unaware of the fact. The trees are helping us, the flowers help us, not just by their beauty and their shade, but by what they do to the air. Our children and our animals are helping us. What are we doing in return? The trees have given us wood upon which to sit. We’ve just taken them; we haven’t thought that the tree lost its life to give it. As you get deeper and deeper into benevolence, you begin to look at a cabbage and realize the acceptance of the thing, which is to be willing to be sacrificed so we can continue to live. Then you start looking at why the scriptures (for lunch and supper and the like) are the way they are: “We must think deeply of the ways and means by which this food has come. We must consider our merit when accepting it.” Have we really, truly realized what we are doing? We are killing things so that we may stay alive. So what are we doing, what are we giving, in return? What are we actually offering? Or are we just taking, are we just greedy?

“We accept what we eat so we won’t become lean and die”: that’s the reason we eat, not so we can hack some poor frog’s legs off because we think they’re tasty. I put something in our quarterly Journal about this once, about the way in which India is killing off all its frogs and then complaining that it hasn’t got various crops which the frogs ate the bugs from, and we then have to give them aid. What we are really doing is supporting the habit of certain people to eat frogs, but it takes a long time before you can look at it from that angle. There are very few frogs who actually make it: I think it’s one in five thousand eggs makes it to full frogdom, and then we chop off its legs as soon as it’s made it! “Think deeply of the ways and means by which this food has come. Consider your merit when accepting it.” Remember that you’re only eating so as not to become lean and die. Don’t go around destroying things because you want taste. But, if your body needs meat because it’s the only way you can survive, because you are sick, then Buddhism has always said that this is fair—because you may not commit the greater crime of causing yourself to die, because then, and only then, would you not be able to find the Unborn. And perhaps if by eating the meat you can stay alive, then you can help other people to find the Unborn. Then something has sacrificed itself for a great cause and has, in fact, become a Bodhisattva. But you do not go out in order to get a steak because you fancy a steak. “We eat so that we will not become lean and die.” And we eat also so that we may become enlightened: “We accept this food so that we may become enlightened.”

“The five thoughts” at mealtime (which actually give us the whole of the meaning of benevolence, the purpose there, the making of offerings): everything is offering itself to us; what are we doing? When we start thinking that way, we start making the offering of benevolence to other things. Make your life have a purpose, then everything will offer itself to you with joy, and you will make your offering with joy. The whole universe will blaze up in joy! I have felt it do it, and it’s exquisite! But don’t be surprised if then your body is happy with the same meal every day of the week because it knows the purpose of the meal: that you eat solely for the food value and the good of your health. And, yes, the taste buds won’t be satisfied as they were before. What’s even funnier is they don’t want to be, because the purpose for eating is now clear. The same thing applies to making too much in the way of clothes or furniture or anything of this sort: you need just enough and no more.

Now, you should not make yourself—as the world regards it—weird in this sense. We are not here to become strange; we are here to find the Unborn. We accept the benevolence of all things so that we may find the Unborn, and we give benevolence so that all things, and all beings, that have not yet found the Unborn may find it. In this place, “the wooden figure sings and the stone maiden dances.” That is the meaning of those two lines in the morning scriptures. Anybody got anything they want to say about this one?

Audience comment: “It doesn’t seem like there’s much of a difference between charity and benevolence.”

There actually is; there’s quite a bit, because charity is something that we ourselves do, and benevolence is recognizing something that everything else is doing and then going along with it. In charity you don’t recognize it, you just do, but in benevolence you’ve got this two-way thing going very beautifully. And in charity the feedback the self wants is gratitude and, when charity is done correctly, the feedback you get naturally is gratitude. But in benevolence, because it is the two-way thing, the feedback you get is joy. There is a difference: they all interact on each other, but one seems to “blaze up” in a different way, and it is essential to have that difference. Anybody else?

So you all understand benevolence? Right, we’ll look at the next one. It is important, by the way, to realize that benevolence is a law of the universe, whereas charity is not. Benevolence is obvious in every single thing, even in things that humans have made—like the road out there, for example. The sun bakes it, the cars go up and down on it, the drunks and the dogs do various things on it, we walk on it, and it does the very best it can of being a road. Sometimes the strain is so great that it cracks, and then we have to be benevolent to it and mend it. Everything is doing the very best it can at all times to help us find the Unborn, and that is what makes it a law of the universe. So keep that well in mind. The road that you travel is one of the finest Bodhisattvas you’ve got: it is just being itself, the very finest road. Don’t swear about its potholes; get out and mend them. If all you see of the road is its potholes, you will never see its Bodhisattvahood, and you will not understand this law of the universe.

Rev. Master Jiyu with her beloved bulldog, Winstina

Priory News
by Reverend Kinrei

Rev. Scholastica, who moved down to the Priory from Shasta Abbey last winter, returned this Fall, to again being a resident monk at Shasta Abbey. In August, she went up to the Abbey to help Rev. Master Haryo and assist with the preparations for the conclave that took place this September. She decided to remain at the Abbey where she is needed. Rev. Scholastica’s example and teaching was much appreciated and valued by the Priory Sangha and she will be missed. Hopefully, she will have a chance to come down to Berkeley and have some long visits. We offer Rev. Scholastica our best wishes and luckily, we can meet with her whenever we visit Shasta Abbey.

On Saturday, November 6, at Shasta Abbey, there was the induction ceremony for the new abbess of the monastery, Rev. Master Meian Elbert. It is a very significant ceremony and a large contingent from the Priory, seventeen Sangha members, journeyed north to Mt. Shasta for the weekend and joined in the celebration. Over two hundred people attended the induction ceremony, filling the Buddha Hall to its limits. One of the traditional verses recited by the new Abbess is “The gates of this temple stand open wide. While I remain within this place, this gate shall never be closed to any living thing.” Rev. Master Meian’s made that verse the theme for her Dharma talk which followed the ceremony. Her heartfelt words was a deep expression of the Bodhisattva Path and the necessity of opening our hearts with compassion to all beings.

During that weekend, two members of the Priory Sangha, Mary Gray and Nancy Townsend became lay ministers. On the evening of Friday, September 5, the Head of the Order, Rev. Master Haryo Young, met with Mary and Nancy at the Shasta Abbey’s guest house and presented them with their lay minister black robes and small kesas. The occasion was witnessed many of the lay people and monks including most of the attending Berkeley Sangha. Mary and Nancy have both been very consistent in their commitment and practice over many years. When people maintain a strong Buddhist practice for a long time and demonstrate a consistent willingness and spiritual maturity, it is traditional to offer them a way to take more responsibility within the Sangha and become lay ministers.

We had our yearly memorial for Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett on November 21. Rev. Master Jiyu was the founder of the Priory and is the direct source of our spiritual tradition. It is an important aspect of Buddhist practice that we offer our gratitude for her deep teaching and wonderful example. Also on that day, the Sangha also celebrated my ordination birthday, 31 years as a Buddhist monk. The great generosity and heartfelt good wishes that was offered to me by the Priory Sangha is deeply appreciated.

December 12 was the celebration of the Buddha’s Enlightenment and the Priory had a large gathering of our Sangha. During the service we chanted many of the Enlightenment Day hymns and it was a moving service. After the Dharma talk, we had another very wonderful potluck to celebrate the day.

This year, unknown to anyone at the Priory, the local free weekly paper, the EastBay Express had published the following recommendation in the paper: For Buddhists around the world, the New Year is a time of solemn reflection and quiet celebration, a time for pondering past errors and resolving to change for the better. At the Berkeley Buddhist Priory (1358 Marin Ave., Albany) on Friday, Dec. 31, a New Year’s Serene Reflection (Soto Zen) Meditation Vigil is followed by a New Year’s Ceremony and – as midnight nears – a festive tea. Seven people who had never been to the Priory, showed up on New Year’s Eve and joined in the meditation. It all went very well and it was very good to have new people joining with the Priory Sangha as we all welcomed in the New Year.

With Gratitude

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 a faucet, books, dish detergent, cat food, paper towels, paper napkins and toilet paper. We were given a round trip plane ticket to New York and a chiropractor gave free treatments. 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. The Priory received these food donations of quiches, a large tofurkey meal, vegetables, fruit, soups, soy milk, salad, salad dressing, eggs, vegetarian burgers, rice, coffee, bread, teas, breakfast cereals, olive oil, tofu, vegetarian meats, fruit juice, crackers, pasta, nuts, cheese, chips, peanut butter, jam, sugar, raisins, margarine, 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.

Memorials and Animal Funerals

Judy Brown’s mother, Mary Lee Daniel Detrich died June 30 at the age of 99. October 26 would have been Mary Lee’s 100th birthday and on that day we held a memorial for her at the Priory. It was very well attended by both people who knew Mary Lee and friends of Judy.

Nancy Townsend’s mother died on November 15 at the age of 90. We held her memorial at the Priory on November 19. Marjorie’s body was cremated on November 23 and we held a service for her at the crematorium and then meditated while the body was being cremated. It is moving to be with the newly dead and offer our merit and the Buddhist teaching to the deceased and also to ourselves.

We had an animal funeral for Luke Wings and Carla Bowman’s dog, Charlie, on November 12. Bijou, Eva Merrick’s cat, had her funeral at the Priory on December 1.

Priory Meditation Retreats
February 12     March 12      April 16      May 21

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.

Helping the Priory and Work Days

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, web design, cleaning, cooking, construction, computer work, bookkeeping and laundry. Please contact Rev. Kinrei if you wish to help; the Priory 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, March 5 and April 30, from 9:30 to 3:00, but we welcome everyone to help for whatever part of the day they can come.

Spiritual Counseling

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.

Priory Membership

There are no fees for participating in meditation, Dharma talks, Buddhist services, retreats, spiritual counseling or any other services the Priory offers. We are supported by the donations of our congregation and friends. All gifts of any kind, whether money or materials or labor, are deeply appreciated.

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.

Shasta Abbey Retreats

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 go to their Web site at www.shastaabbey.org or contact the Shasta Abbey Guestmaster at (530) 926-4208 or at guestmaster@shastaabbey.org.

Introductory Retreats
March 4–6,   April 15–17

Keeping of the Ten Precepts Retreat
March 27–April 3