Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter
January – March 2012
Judging and Criticizing
by Rev. Kinrei Bassis
It took me many years of Buddhist practice to recognize how much my mind was filled with harsh criticism. I was hard on myself and hard on others, and I did not understand how I could be different. I did not understand how I could see all mistakes and suffering I witnessed in my life, with compassion and acceptance rather than with judgment and criticism. How do we face all the wrong behavior and suffering that we encounter without blaming or judging? How can we instead embrace and help all this difficult karma that we encounter in our life?
We generally begin Buddhist training with a mind that is caught up in its likes and dislikes, in its opinions and views. This mind places us firmly in samsara, as it is a mind that cannot escape the first Noble Truth:suffering exists. The mind that is always judging everything and grasping opinions is the foundation of the delusionary small self. Yet it is necessary, normal and functional that we evaluate and discriminate when we are making the endless decisions that are needed for living. It is a vital that we use our intelligence to help us navigate this often confusing and complex world and make the best choices we can. Yet the problem lies in that we let this useful function, the part of our mind that generates and holds judgments and opinions, take over and dominate our mind and our heart. One way of viewing meditation and mindfulness practice is that we are allowing our minds and hearts to stay in touch with a sense of stillness, silence and spaciousness and not allowing our judgments and opinions to dominate and fill us. We want to view everything with equanimity and peace. It is good to notice how our hard judgments and strong opinions lead to a sense of conflict and a rejection of what we are facing in our life.
It is very difficult to convert these strongly held viewpoints and opinions. One reason is that it gives us a sense of superiority to look at others and judge them. We know the way things should be, whether it is the behavior of other people, the way the world is, or how we should be. It is helpful to look at this critical mind and see how it feels and where it brings us. It never brings us to real happiness and joy, nor real peace and contentment.
Being judgmental about other’s mistakes becomes deep suffering when we see ourselves making mistakes. Many people have come to me after making a serious mistake and believing what they did was unforgiveable. As a Dharma teacher, it is then helpful for me to point them to compassionate acceptance, that nothing is unforgiveable. We can learn from our mistakes, try to accept the consequences and at the same time, try not to condemn or judge ourselves. We need to trust that there is no problem in the deepest sense. When we view something as a problem, it means we are demanding that what unfolds in a situation goes the way we wish. We do not control the unfolding of the karma in our life. Buddhist training teaches us to try for the best possible outcome in whatever we are facing in life but to also be willing to accept whatever happens. There is a Buddhist teaching, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, do the possible.”
We have to see that our mind has this compulsive tendency to judge all the time and to take sides for and against things. One way we can get in touch with our pervasive judging is hearing ourselves saying “it should be this way” or “should not be this way”. We counteract these pervasive shoulds which fill our minds by bringing ourselves back to the Buddhist teaching “things are as they are.” Or the teaching that “everything is the life of Buddha”.
One way of letting go of the compulsive tendency to judge is to fully open our hearts to the law of karma. Everything that happens in our life and in the world is due to causes and conditions. Every thought we have is due to karmic causes and conditions and every feeling we have is due to karmic causes and conditions. This means whatever is happening is due to karma. What we frequently neglect to understand is the problem is not the feelings and thoughts we have now have in the present, because their cause lie in the past over which we have no power. The thoughts and feelings are karma which is flowing into our life. The problem lies in our mistaken response to our present thoughts and feelings by judging ourselves and others. The work of Buddhist training is directing our thoughts and actions towards that which will lead ourselves and others to finding the place of great compassion and peace. Whenever we make a problem out of the karma which is unfolding in our life, we are pointing ourselves towards suffering and away from seeing the fundamental purity of these karmic conditions.
We can view our opinions as being reality and believing in their truth. But all opinions are based on only a partial view and we can never know everything. This means that we can never know when we will see something that we were previously unaware of. This new insight can completely change the way we view and judge something. This also means whenever we are certain of our opinions or judgments, we can still be wrong. It does not mean we ignore the judgmental mind; it means we should not let that faculty of judging and discriminating dominate us. We want to approach everything in our life with an open mind that recognizes that we could be wrong. The mind of Buddhist training is not obsessed with being right or being perfect.
Buddhist training means we are trying to see the world with the eyes of the Dharma. When I have a problem, I need to trust the Dharma and trust that all my seeming real problems and difficulties are a consequence of my viewing the situation with a mind full of judgments and opinions. If I let go of the mind that is asking for things to be my way, then whatever is happening is just the unfolding of some karma and there is no problem. Problems are my judgments coming into conflict with reality.
Rev. Master Jiyu used to like saying “if we look with the eyes of a Buddha, we will see the heart of a Buddha.“ The eyes of a Buddha sees everything as clean and immaculate. The only thing getting in the way of us viewing the world with the eyes of a Buddha is the mind that condemns and judges. The mind of meditation and the practice of the Buddhist Precepts softens our harsh judgments and strong opinions and helps our heart and mind to be more open and see everything with more acceptance and compassion.
by Rev. Kinrei
In the middle of September, I went to England for eighteen days, to stay at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey. The purpose of the visit was the Conclave, a meeting of the senior monastic Sangha of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives. There was much work done at this meetings regarding the OBC Rules, the Faith Trust Institute assessment, and the future of the OBC Interim Board. There is now a plan to have large monastic gatherings every two years, with a Conclave every six years. A Conclave is a specific meeting in which rules of the Order can be changed or adopted. The Buddhist Sangha is a deep treasure and it was very good and spiritually significant for me to have this opportunity to be with all these good monks. Some very important issues were discussed and it was very moving to see the real harmony of the Sangha as we resolved many difficult issues with compassion and wisdom.
On October 17-21, I attended the Western Buddhist Monastic Gathering at the City of the Dharma Realm in West Sacramento. This annual meeting is an opportunity to meet together with other monastics from a range of Buddhist traditions. It is very helpful to get to know so many sincere monks and gain some understanding of the various traditions within Buddhism. It is moving to experience our shared faith and our common ground in practicing the Dharma. This year’s talks and discussions focused on issues regarding building and maintaining monastic communities.
On November 6, the Priory held its yearly memorial for Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett. It is fifteen years since Rev. Master Jiyu died and it is always wonderful to have this opportunity to remember her and express our gratitude for her life, her teaching and her example of deep Buddhist training. On this same day, the Priory Sangha also celebrated my ordination as a Buddhist monk, thirty-two years ago on November 4, 1979. I am very grateful for the deep appreciation, gratitude and generosity that was shown to me. I gave a Dharma talk about my memories of Rev. Master Jiyu and how her profound teaching and example has shaped my life.
In addition to all the ongoing activities at the Priory, the two special ceremonies of this Fall, Segaki on October 23 and Enlightenment Day on December 11, were both very well attended. On both occasions, we held potluck lunches. It was good to see everyone have a chance to celebrate these significant Buddhist ceremonies. Also it is good to have these opportunities to share time with the others in the Sangha and, in addition, have a very good vegetarian meal..
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 a large quantity of very beautiful sets of sheets, bedspreads, duvet covers and cushions. We also received cat food, water filter, plants, kitchen gloves, books, dishwasher detergent, laundry soap, 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. 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, bread, herbal and black teas, breakfast cereals, vegetable oil, tofu, vegetarian meats, fruit juice, soda, crackers, pasta, nuts, sunflower seeds, cheese, chips, peanut butter, jam, raisins, chocolate, 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.
The Priory had a funeral for Judy Brown’s cat, Cilla, on December 28. Cilla was 12 years old and her death was unexpected as she died during a routine medical procedure. It is a wonderful aspect of Buddhism that we can make offerings of merit to beings, whether they are brightly alive or deceased.
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, cleaning, cooking, construction, computer work and book-keeping. 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, February 4 and March 31, from 9:30 to 3:00, but we welcome everyone to help for whatever part of the day they can come.
Priory Meditation Retreats
January 21, February 18, March 17, April 14
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.
Introductory Workshop February 11 (10 am—1 pm)
This workshop is designed to be a follow-up to the basic meditation instruction that we offer every Thursday evening. It will include a talk on meditation practice, then periods of meditation and then another talk on bringing mindfulness and compassion into our daily lives. There is no charge for the workshop but we ask that people register in advance.
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.
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 Guestmaster at (530) 926-4208 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feb. 10-12, March 2–4, April 13–15
Keeping of the Ten Precepts Retreat
March 25–April 1