Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter
by Rev. Kinrei Bassis
Liberation, the goal of Buddhist training, is the unshakable deliverance of our hearts from all defilements, desire, ill will, and delusion. The problem is how we actually free our hearts from our passions and delusions. Often, the teachings and goals of Buddhism seem so vast and unachievable that many of us can find it overwhelming. Yet Buddhism is very practical. In all situations, the proper Buddhist response is the choice that will minimize suffering and maximize happiness. One very simple teaching, central to the Four Noble Truths, is that all suffering is not caused by what is happening to us, but that all suffering is caused by our wrong view and wrong thought. Circumstances and conditions are not making us suffer. Our delusions are making us suffer.
One way that we can ground the practice of Buddhism is to look carefully at all the ill will in our hearts. Whether it is anger and criticism of others, anger at groups of people and institutions, or anger and criticism of ourselves, the Buddhist teaching is to always try to offer everything our unconditional forgiveness. Whenever we choose not to forgive, we are closing our hearts to something and rejecting an aspect of reality. One of Rev. Master Jiyu’s favorite sayings was “when we look with the eyes of a Buddha, we will see the heart of a Buddha.”
Much delusion and ill will seems to be part of the normal human response to life. Someone hurts us, and we harbor anger and ill will towards them. The deluded feelings that accompany this ill will are that we are hurting the other people when we blame them and do not forgive them, and that we are not letting them get away with their harmful behavior. One important insight Buddhist training gives us is to see that when we are harboring anger and criticism in our hearts and minds, we are actually hurting ourselves. It is as if we are feeding poison into our hearts and thinking that the pain and discomfort we are generating is something to cherish. People are often almost completely insensitive to the suffering and discomfort they are experiencing when they are angry. When we are angry, we are usually wishing that the person we blame, will experience pain and discomfort. One important function of Buddhist practice is to get in touch with our deeper feelings and to realize how much better compassion feels than anger and how much better forgiveness feels than blame.
In the Dhammapada, the central collection of the sayings of the Buddha, these following verses are near the beginning of the collection, because they point to one of the most central and important teachings of the Buddha.
3. “He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me”, in those who harbor such thoughts, hatred is not appeased.
4. “He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me”, in those who do not harbor such thoughts, hatred is appeased.
5. Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law. 1
One important aspect of Buddhist training is recognizing the underlying viewpoints we hold that lead to suffering. Most of us feel that we have been the victim of others, the victim of their greed, hate and delusion. We all have memories of being unfairly criticized, ignored, belittled, and misunderstood. Often, the karma can even be more difficult, we may have been physically or psychologically hurt, abused, molested, or mistreated. How do we let these things go? How do we not cling to being damaged, to being a victim, to rail against the injustice, the unfairness, the evil of others? Yet the liberation of our hearts that we seek in Buddhism cannot come until we forgive everything and trust that nothing was ever fundamentally damaged or lost no matter what has happened.
The wondrous aspect of Buddhist training is that all hurt and all wounds will dissolve and wash away eventually if you are willing to apply the Dharma and stop clinging. When we hold on to the hurt and the damage, we actually feed suffering and keep it alive. We nurture these wounds in our hearts and keep replaying the conditions that hurt us. The compassion central to Buddhist practice brings us to open our hearts to what is being offered in the present and to let go of the past. Meditation points us to the realization that nothing binds us unless we allow it to and give the defiling emotions a home in our hearts and minds. The practice of meditation points us to the ideal we are striving to awaken. Whatever we think, whatever we feel, whatever we remember, we need to let everything go and trust in what is unfolding in our lives in this very moment. The whole practice of meditation is a practice of trying to let go and not let anything get between us and the ever-present life of Buddha.
To forgive everything is necessary if one is going to find the deepest truths of Buddhism. Also, forgiveness grounds our practice in seeing how the hardness of our heart is the problem, not the mistakes of others. When our hearts are closed with anger or blame, we can begin the process of converting our difficulties into something that brings healing by recognizing that our ill will is the problem, not what causes or triggers our harsh and bitter feelings. It is very liberating when we realize that to find peace, we do not need to change the world. All we need to do is to convert our own hearts and minds, and the way we experience the world and our selves will be transformed.
The Bodhisattva vows are a central part of Mahayana Buddhist practice. They can seem so vast and impossible that many Buddhist find them overwhelming.
However innumerable beings may be, I vow to save them all.
However inexhaustible the passions may be, I vow to transform them all.
However limitless the Dharma may be, I vow to comprehend it completely.
However infinite the Buddha’s Truth is, I vow to realize it.
The word Mahayana means great vehicle. It symbolizes that we are wishing to cross to the other shore of liberation with all sentient beings. These vows mean that we are willing to help everyone to find their way to this boat of liberation and that we will cross to the other shore with them. This willingness to help all sentient beings must include everyone, even those we find to be the most difficult and painful to be with. These vast and seemingly impossible vows; however, can be grounded into something that is much easier to grasp and to put into action. We can forgive everyone for whatever mistake they have made, whatever hurt they have caused, and whatever suffering they have inflicted. We can point our hearts to finding compassion for whomever has made mistakes and hurt us or others. We also need to include ourselves in the practice of forgiveness and forgive ourselves for whatever mistakes and wrongs we have committed.
Anger and hate just lead to more anger and hate, like a wheel that continues to turn in the wrong direction. As the Buddha said, Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law. When anger and hate arise in our hearts, we have a choice. We can recognize that our ill will is the real problem. We can stop complaining that others are acting from selfish and deluded feelings when we recognize that we are choosing to follow our own deluded feelings. The freedom in Buddhism shows us that we always have a choice. We are always free to choose the path of forgiveness and compassion, and we can transform our hearts from the hardness of hate and anger to the soft openness of compassion and love.
1 The Dhammapada, translated by Narada Thera (Buddhist Missionary Society, 1978) p.4-8.
by Rev. Kinrei
Rev. Alethea, who moved to the Berkeley Priory in March, moved back to Shasta Abbey this November. She had spent some of the summer at Shasta Abbey and it seemed that it would be better for her to live and train with the larger monastic community. We appreciate all the help she gave the temple while she was here and her presence will be missed.
The Priory Sangha did a considerable amount of work this Fall, remodeling the upstairs hallway. We painted the walls of the upstairs hallway and also the stairway, changing the color from blue to white. This has made these areas much brighter and a fresh coat of paint always seems to be an improvement. The floor of the upstairs hallway was carpet. This was problematic as Moochi, the Priory cat, has had diarrhea since her bowel surgery this summer and is usually making messes in this hallway. We replaced the carpet with laminate flooring, which is a big improvement and the floor is now very easy to clean. The hallway had a number of old and very worn storage cupboards which were replaced with new white Ikea cupboards with sliding doors. This increases our storage space plus the new cupboards look much better than the old cupboards.
All this work covered several well attended work days. While thework was going on, many people came to the Priory and offered their assistance and all this help made it possible to complete the work within a short time. We are very grateful for all this willingness and hard work that we were given by so many members of the Sangha.
On November 4, the Priory held its yearly memorial for Rev.Master Jiyu-Kennett. It is sixteen 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-three 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 the Dharma teachings of Rev. Master Jiyu and the central points that she always emphasized as being absolutely necessary for Buddhist training.
My mother, Frances Bassis, age 92, died on December 25. Her death was not expected, but since she was very frail and weak, it was not unexpected. Luckily, she passed away very quickly with seemingly very little pain and discomfort, for which I am grateful. I went to New Jersey on December 26 and was there for her burial and spent a few days in New Jersey. On Sunday, December 30, I was back at the Priory and we had our usual Sunday morning schedule. We held a very well attended memorial for my mother after the Dharma talk. I deeply appreciate all the warm condolences and support I received from so many in the Sangha and such support is a real treasure.
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 find 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 painting, yard work, gardening, cleaning, cooking, construction, computer work and bookkeeping. Please contact the Priory if you wish to help; we always have 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 9 and March 30, from 9:30 to 3:00, but we welcome everyone to help for whatever part of the day they can come.
Introductory Workshop March 9 (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, 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.
Priory Meditation Retreats
February 16 March 16 April 13 May 11
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.
Receiving the Precepts
On October 27, Fred Ottens took the Buddhist Precepts at the Priory and became a lay Buddhist. Many Sangha members attended the ceremony which is a helpful way to support those who are taking these vows. The commitment to follow the Buddha is the lifeblood of the Sangha and we rejoice and are grateful for all who have vowed to be train with the Sangha.
Now the universe rejoices, the earth trembles and the flowers
fall. The Bodhisattvas of other worlds ask their Buddha what
this means and the Buddha replies that a new disciple has
been given the Pure Great Precepts of the Bodhisattvas and
been converted to the Truth by the Master who was given the
Precepts before in the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha who is the Buddha of this world. The disciple will become a Buddha in the future through this merit therefore the universe rejoices.
(From the Ceremony of Receiving the Precepts)
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 buddha fountain, water filter, paper plates, plastic bags, books, kitty litter, 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 vegetables, fruit, soy milk, eggs, tofu, vegetarian burgers, cheese, lentils, beans, tempeh, hummus, almonds, pizza, soups, salads, salad dressing, oats, rice, coffee, muffins, bagels, bread, tortillas, herbal and black teas, granola, vegetarian meats, fruit juice, soda, crackers, pasta, nuts, chips, peanut butter, dried fruit, jam, 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.
Alexandra McIntyre’s cat, Twink, had a memorial at the Priory, on Ocotober 5. Twink had many friends as the memorial was very well attended and much merit was offered to the recently deceased cat. Gloria Carlson’s daughter Esperanza was, unfortunately, stillborn on January 7, and we held a memorial for Esperanza on January 22.
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.
Wesak Celebration–May 19
On Wesak, Buddhists throughout the world commemorate the birth of Shakyamuni Buddha. It is the most spiritually significant day of the Buddhist calendar, and it is helpful for Buddhists to join together as a Sangha and express their gratitude and joy for the existence and transmission of the Three Treasures.
On Sunday, May 19, we will have the usual 9:30 am meditation, followed by the Wesak ceremony at 10 am. The Wesak ceremony is a particularly joyous service. The altar is covered with silk flowers, and a statue of the Buddha as a baby stands on the front altar. During the ceremony we pour water over the head of the baby Buddha, representing the water of compassion abundantly flowing over all beings.
After the ceremony, the Priory will have a Dharma talk. At around 12:15 pm, we will have a vegetarian potluck lunch. All family and friends of our Sangha are welcome to come to the potluck and to share in our celebration of the birth of the Buddha. The Priory potlucks provide a wonderful offering of foods, and allow us to deepen our contact and friendship with our fellow members of the Sangha.
Priory Support and Membership
The word dana is an ancient Buddhist term meaning generosity—giving and receiving, from heart to heart. The Buddha highly recommended this as one of the most important Buddhist virtues, because it truly benefits the giver as well as the receiver. It is through simple acts of giving that we can begin to build a foundation for our religious training. Whether we live the life of monks or the life of a lay person, generosity makes the heart grow brighter. It helps us to overcome selfishness and attachment, and to open our hearts. It is a necessary element in the growth of kindness and compassion, which, in turn, are necessary for real peace of mind, as well as for deepening any religious practice.
The Buddha established a practice of mutual dependence between the monastic and lay Sangha. To oversimplify, the monks offer the Dharma, to all who ask, and the lay people offer material support to the monks. This helps all involved in Buddhist training, whether monastic or lay, to experience the benefits of dana for ourselves and thus grow our faith and trust in the Buddha-Dharma.
In an act of faith and in keeping with the monastic part of this commitment, the Priory is willingly dependent for its existence on the generosity of our friends and congregation. We receive no support from any other source, there are no fees of any kind for instruction or participation in Priory activities. Your gifts of support, whether financial, material, labor, or of any other kind, are deeply appreciated, and they assist the Priory in continuing to offer the Dharma. Your greatest support is simply your continued presence and practice.
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.
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.
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 http://www.shastaabbey.org or contact the Guestmaster at (530) 926-4208 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Introductory Weekend Retreats
Feb. 8–10 Mar. 1–3 Apr. 12–14
Keeping of the Ten Precepts Retreat