Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter
December 2013 – February 2014
by Rev. Kinrei Bassis
Buddhist training is full of simple and direct teachings on what we need to do in order to make spiritual progress. For instance, it seems fairly easy to understand the following teachings, “do good” or “be mindful” or “let things go”. All of these teachings are very simple and straightforward, and yet everyone finds following these simple teachings incredibly difficult, so difficult that most of us will be working on them for many lifetimes. Take for instance, let go. The most basic Buddhist teaching is the Four Noble Truths. The First Truth is that suffering exists and the Second Noble Truth is that all our suffering is due to attachment, due to craving, due to our inability to let things go. Buddhist teaching is very simple, whenever we suffer, all we need to do is look and see what we are grasping and then let go. Very simple, yet when we confront our suffering, it can seem impossible to let go of the burning desire to have our life go only the way that we wish.
According to the Buddha, delusion underlies all our difficulty with letting things go. All desire is based on a mistaken belief that we either need this or that in order to be happy or if this or that happens, it means we will suffer. True wisdom is that which sees through our seemingly substantial desires, wants, and fears. True wisdom will free us from suffering yet just having the desire for wisdom does not provide us with wisdom. Wisdom is provided only by the hard work of spiritual training. And the core of Buddhist training is to apply the Dharma whatever is causing us to suffer; which directs us to try to see with clearer eyes whatever it is that we are grasping and, in turn, recognize what we need to do in order to free ourselves from suffering.
Just like wishing to be wise does not make us wise; wishing to let go of some desire does not, in itself, free us from still grasping that desire. We need to investigate what is going on when we suffer so we can clearly see what it is that we need to let go of. And then we need to accept that it can take some time, even a very long time, to gain the willingness to let go of some strongly held desire.
Often we have aversion to what we are grasping and we are then upset with ourselves for not letting the desire go. This aversion again is us getting caught up with desire and then compounding our suffering. First we are suffering because we will not let something go and then we vastly add to our suffering because we are upset with ourselves for not letting something go.
Buddhist Training can be seen as just letting things go, but how and when they go are not up to us. This is like meditation, we are trying to let go of our thoughts but it is not up to us when our minds are still and peaceful or when our minds busy and agitated. Buddhism teaches that stillness and peace are always there and if we do not feed the busyness and agitation in our minds by reacting with grasping or pushing away our thoughts and feelings, the mind will eventually let go the noise it is generating and find the silence and peace that is always within us. Bringing the mind of meditation to our daily life is the continual letting go of our need to control what is happening in our life and our continual coming back to being at peace and accepting what is unfolding in our life.
When we are deeply caught up in our desires, our whole world almost becomes that desire. Buddhist practice is the continually apply of Right View to how we relate to everything in our lives. Right View directs us to trust that the no worldly desire is ever essential and they all are just grounded in our deluded ways of looking at our lives and the world.
The great Christian saint, St. John of the Cross gave a very simple expression of this deep spiritual truth on letting everything go.
To reach satisfaction in all
desire its possession in nothing.
To come to the knowledge of all
desire the knowledge of nothing.
To come to possess all
desire the possession of nothing.
To arrive at being all
desire to be nothing.
When you turn toward something
you cease to cast yourself upon the all.
For to go from the all to the all
you must leave yourself in all.
And when you come to the possession of the all
you must possess it without wanting anything.1
We need to accept that we are still holding onto many, many things in our lives. Instead of being upset, frustrated, angry or despairing that we cannot seemingly let go of our strongly held desires, we need to simply understand that dealing and transforming our desires and attachments are the very ground and substance of Buddhist training. We need to apply the Dharma to our lives and trust in the Dharma. We need to trust that we are only grasping dreams that we ourselves have created. Meditation and training will help to see all things clearly and we will eventually see that there is nothing that we can grasp and nothing that we need. Our true desire is to find this real place and see beyond pain and pleasure, see beyond self and other, see beyond birth and death.
1. St. John of the Cross: Selected Writings, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh,O.C.D. Paulist Press, 1987, p.78.
The Zen mealtime verse: The Five Thoughts
We must think deeply of the ways and means by which this food has come.
We must consider our merit when accepting it.
We must protect ourselves from error by excluding greed from our minds.
We will eat lest we become lean and die.
We accept this food so that we may become enlightened.
A Theravada mealtime verse:
Wisely reflecting, I use this food not for fun, not for pleasure, not for fattening, not for beautification, but only for the maintenance and nourishment of this body, for keeping it healthy, for helping with the Spiritual Life;
Thinking thus, I will allay hunger without overeating, so that I may continue to live blamelessly and at ease.
I recently came to terms with the reality that I need to lose ten pounds
Denial, of course, is not a river in Egypt. I have been eating too much. Good food, but too much of it. My clothes could fit better and my cholesterol is going up. New clothes are expensive and high cholestorol numbers are not a good idea.
On the road to losing the ten pounds, I am finding the Buddha’s Eightfold Path helpful:
One of the spokes on the path. It is suggested that you do one thing at a time, being fully aware of exactly what you are doing. In order to help me with mindfulness of how much I am eating, I bought a food scale and started weighing everything I prepare at home. The scale is instructive. The package of pasta says a “portion” is two ounces – I have been adding, for one person, four ounces to the pot of boiling water. Two ounces of cheese is a lot less than I have been pretending two ounces to be.
RIGHT ATTITUDE: (Also translated as “right thought” or “right intentions”)
The Buddha explained that suffering is due to desire, or craving. In the context of food, I notice that I eat for reasons unrelated to my health. The Buddha had nothing against tasty food (this is the Middle Path, after all) but I think that practitioners of the Way would caution against eating for reasons unrelated to health. I have come up with the acronym BANT: bored, angry, nervous, tired. (“Bant,” by the way, is an antique English word for dieting) If I eat for any of these reasons, I am using food for solutions for perceived needs that food is not designed to solve. I can also eat for social reasons: others around me are eating, a family member will be upset if I do not eat, or do not eat enough. Eating for reasons other than “my body needs food” is likely to make me fat. One monk said we need to treat both our bodies and our minds with care: overfeeding myself is not treating my body with care.
Another aspect of right attitude is how I view dieting. I can view dieting as deprivation, or as a different way to practice my Path, or a reeducation of myself in eating habits. I can view dieting as a means to attain my goal of continued health and having my clothes fit. I am more likely to keep up something that I view in a positive light than in a negative light. In Buddhism, the practitioner should not see events either as positive or negative, but just as events. I’m not quite there yet.
A quote from Bhikku Bodhi, (“sila” are precepts to follow, “defilements” are greed, anger and delusion):
The Abhidhamma, for example, equates sila with the mental factors of abstinence (viratiyo) — right speech, right action, and right livelihood — an equation which makes it clear that what is really being cultivated through the observance of moral precepts is the mind. Thus while the training in sila brings the “public” benefit of inhibiting socially detrimental actions, it entails the personal benefit of mental purification, preventing the defilements from dictating to us what lines of conduct we should follow.
[From the Noble Eightfold Path, by Bhikku Bodhi,]
“Greed” in the context of food may seem obvious. However, I find that “greed” has subtleties. “Greed” can be desire for a specific series of events. For example: I may desire that losing weight make me more popular, or happier. When it doesn’t, I may feel depressed or upset. I may then try to self-medicate my depression or upset away with food- and the cycle resumes.
Or: I am bored. I want not to be bored. Instead of dealing with my boredom as just one more thing that floats through my mental landscape, I can whip up some muffins… and then once the muffins are baked (to applause from friends) of course I have to eat a muffin… whether or not my body needs the calories at that time or not.
I have found the following helpful:
(1) The kitchen scale. I weigh as much of my food as possible. Since I cook from scratch most of the time, I can have a very good idea of exactly what I am eating.
(2) Drinking a lot of water. There is a popular diet supplement that instructs the consumer to drink 12 ounces of water before every meal and then sprinkle the supplement on the food. I think that the operative part of the procedure is the water.
(3) Adding extra minutes to my exercise routine.
(4) Not eating outside of scheduled times, and, when I have the urge to eat outside those times, thinking about my breathing or drinking more water instead.
(5) Eat what I have chosen to eat and then wait a half hour before I eat anything else. I have learned that my body does not pick up that I have eaten and cease hunger sensations for about a half hour after a meal.
I have kept this up for almost two months and have lost seven of the ten pounds.
by Rev. Kinrei
Rev. Alethea Waxman, who had cancer, which had progressed very quickly, died peacefully on September 10, at Shasta Abbey. Rev. Alethea had spent much of 2012 at the Berkeley Priory and during her time here, she was a very helpful and a good teacher and friend to many in our Sangha. On Sunday, September 15, we had a well attended memorial service for Rev. Alethea.
Moochi, the elderly Priory cat, died on September 28 from bowel cancer. Moochi came to the Priory in July of 2008 when her person, David Powers unexpectedly died. Moochi had a lively personality and an eloquent voice. She loved just being outside and she was still spending her days in our yard right till the day before she died. She went peacefully which was a gift since bowel cancer can be a very difficult way to die. Moochi’s funeral was on September 29 and many people came to offer their merit and say goodbye to their animal friend.
We were donated a 30 inch high statue of Bodhidharma which we enshrined in the meditation hall. I had mentioned a desire for a Bodhidharma statue that did not have an angry expression and someone found and very generously donated this statue which has a kind and compassionate face. It is a wonderful addition to the Priory.
On Sunday, October 13, at the Priory, Paula Westdahl was made a lay minister of the Order and was given the appropriate robes. Paula has been training with the Order since 1985 in Seattle. I have known Paula for 25 years and it is good to have this form of acknowledging her deep training and commitment. Being a lay minister will allow her to take on greater responsibilities within our Sangha.
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 1 and March 29, from 9:30 to 3:00, but we welcome everyone to help for whatever part of the day they can come.
New Year’s Eve Meditation Vigil and Ceremony
The New Year’s ceremony provides an opportunity to reflect on the past year and establish a direction for the year ahead.
Starting at 9:00 pm on Tuesday, December 31, there will be meditation at the Priory until 11:30 pm. Then we will hold a New Year’s ceremony to offer our gratitude and willingness to the Buddha for the upcoming year. After the ceremony there will be a festive tea in which the Sangha can celebrate the New Year in a peaceful and joyous way.
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, a Bodhidharma statue, reading glasses, lotion, cat food, books, copy paper, hardware, paper towels, toilet paper, and napkins.
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 food donations of various vegetables and fruit, soy milk, eggs, tofu, vegetarian burgers, vegetarian meats, noodle meals, peanut butter, cheese, beans, soups, salads, salad dressing, oats, rice, coffee, muffins, bagels, bread, herbal and black teas, granola, salsa, fruit juice, crackers, pasta, nuts, chips, dried fruit, fruit preserves, 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 writing 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.
Priory Meditation Retreats
December 14 January 18 February 15 March 15
Retreats are an excellent way to deepen our meditation andtraining. 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.
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 website at http://www.shastaabbey.org or contact the Guestmaster at (530) 926-4208 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Introductory Weekend Retreats Feb. 7–9, Feb. 28 – March 1
Keeping of the Ten Precepts Retreat March 23-30.
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 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.
Meditation instruction and an orientation to the practice at the Priory are offered each Thursday at 6:45 p.m. 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 p.m. 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.