Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter
December 2014 – February 2015
Trust and Taking Refuge in the Sangha
by Rev. Kinrei Bassis
(Reprinted from the Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter, May-June 1999)
I am writing this article to address the reasons we seek spiritual counseling. The most common reason people come to talk with a senior priest is to have some help with a problem or with something that is troubling. It can be a difficulty with the teaching or with their training. These are good reasons to seek guidance. If something in the teaching or in your training bothers you, it is good to discuss it and receive some direction. If something does not seem to be working in your practice or if you seem to keep coming up against the same difficulty again and again, it is good to talk about it and see if there is a different or better way to approach the problem.
However, there is a more basic and fundamental reason to take refuge in the senior members of the Buddhist Sangha. One of the most basic obstacles in spiritual life is our unwillingness to face, accept, and trust ourselves. Part of the human dilemma is that we generally do not fully accept who we are. We can spend our whole lives wishing, hoping and pretending that we are someone different. We dislike aspects of ourselves. We try to keep parts of our personality and life hidden, dark inner secrets that we are scared to allow anyone else to see. We can have the belief that a deeply spiritual life is the most worthwhile goal but still feel it is not for us. We feel there is something fundamentally wrong in who we are that precludes us from purifying our heart and making significant spiritual progress. We are embarrassed of whom we perceive ourselves to be. We think that before we can be open and expose our deep flaws to the sight of someone else, we must first correct some of these deeply troubling problems. Some-time in the unspecified future, when we feel we are doing better and sincerely training and are no longer in such a mess, only then can we let go of our compulsive need to hide and protect this self. Thus we wait until we feel we are sufficiently pure to open our hearts and take deep refuge in the Sangha.
An important aspect of trust in Buddhism Is the trust that we are fundamentally pure. Our own seemingly unclean heart and the Buddha heart are the same heart. Yet if we are unwilling to see and accept our impurity and If we are afraid and ashamed of who we are, how do we expect to experience our own immaculacy? To open our hearts to true trust, we begin by trying our best to view ourselves without judgment, without criticism and without revulsion. Faith In our own immaculacy means we must learn to trust ourselves. It logically follows that there are people more spiritually advanced than ourselves, and that we can trust them. True trust in Buddhism is not real if we limit our trusting to just ourselves. We must be willing to open and expose our true thoughts, feelings and mistakes. It takes deep trust to be that open with someone else and trust their spiritual maturity that will not look at us and say “yuk.” If we always feel that the only possible response anyone can give us is “yuk,” then we bind ourselves by the hardness of our judgmental hearts rather than learning to see ourselves from that nonjudgmental place that knows that everything is pure. True spiritual trust blossoms not just with acceptance of ourselves but opens our hearts so that we can find and experience the immaculacy that enfolds the whole of existence.
Real help in spiritual counseling comes when we present ourselves to the senior members of the Sangha for guidance and we do not put up any walls between us and the senior. We openly offer how we are doing, what problems and difficulties we are facing, what is giving us faith and working well in our spiritual life and what is giving us doubts and appearing as an obstacle. I know that when I talk with someone, the better I understand their approach to life, what is causing them suffering, and their difficulties in practicing Buddhism, the better my advice can be. However, trust is necessary for this process to unfold and for us to stop our habitual and deeply-held desire to hide personal blemishes and secret difficulties. Sometimes people feel deeply stuck in their training yet they are unable to ask for help or drop their hard conviction that has convinced them that they know what they really need to do and they do not need to ask for help and guidance. Taking refuge In the Sangha means opening your heart so that whatever difficulties you are having, they will be discussed. It is having the trust that this process will direct you towards a purer heart and the Buddha. Feeling stuck in training comes from not really trusting either ourselves or the Dharma. Trust is the ground of our spiritual life and we must trust our own hearts if we are ever to find the Buddha within. We must learn to trust the Sangha or the hard protective shell in which we enclosed ourselves will not soften and we will view others through the harsh filter of a judgmental mind. We must learn to trust the unfolding of our karma and the world’s karma or we will not ever find true peace or joy, because we will always be wishing for a different life and a different world.
It is hard to trust, so what do we do when we seem to be full of doubt? Learning to trust is like learning to meditate. When we first begin to meditate, we sit down and our mind runs busily about. We must accept it and still bring it back. We have faith that eventually our heart and mind will learn to let go of all obsessive patterns of thought and desire. Then we can awaken to true peace, love, and joy. When we go to spiritual counseling, we are trying to trust; we are trying to ask for help. We have to accept our doubts and mistrust, and try to soften them by acting with trust. By learning to trust ourselves and to open our hearts and trust the Sangha, we can awaken a trust that embraces all of existence and knows that there is nothing we need to fear. Spiritual counseling helps direct us that we may stop feeling we need to defend who we are. When we stop cutting the world into pieces with our judgmental mind, everything within us and within the world can then be experienced as Buddha.
Sange-A Personal Encounter
(reprinted Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter–Spring 1984)
With the advent of Jukai, I would like to share the following experiences with my fellow trainees and the readers of this newsletter.
The sequence of events herein related came about during my 56th year of life—while at work—and within a two-week time frame. During this time, it became painfully necessary for me to look into a mirror whose reflections went back many years—to view there patterns of behavior which were all too familiar—patterns which I had never changed and which thus had been repeated over and over again.
The catalyst for this change was my immediate supervisor who had the unenviable task of calling me on my behavior at work. He told me that no one at work “knew what to do about me.” He pointed out how I seemed to want to control and manipulate people; how I judged them and tried to mother them. In an extremely kind and loving way, he pointed out things to me that I found very difficult to look at—he was an amber light blinking: danger! danger!
I was literally jolted into an immediate awareness that, unless I could change drastically, a job which I truly love—and in which I am very efficient—would no longer be mine! I had two choices: either change NOW, or lose the position. I chose the former—not knowing how I was to achieve this metamorphosis.
My first reaction was guilt and shame, followed by fear and then remorse. I knew that wallowing in self-pity would not work, for I could see that feeling sorry for myself—or blaming others for a situation which I had set up for myself—was not the way to handle what was happening. So, I just “sat” on it, searching for ways to be more respectful to my peers.
Fortunately, three days after the encounter with my supervisor, I attended the weekly retreat at the Berkeley Priory. And there, I found almost immediate help, because in turning to the Priest and the Sangha, it was possible to experience a deep and quiet empathy and understanding. They really listened—with their hearts—and I felt that they knew what I was saying. It was just as if they, too, had experienced similar and/or other devastating patterns of behavior in their own selves which had been—as with my own—as tape-loops recurring over and over again.
In the meantime, I made a real effort at work to radically change myself. One way was to send little notes to people saying I was truly sorry and would have acted differently, had I taken the time to consider my actions. Somewhere in How to Grow a Lotus Blossom, Rev. Master Jiyu suggests this very same technique. Here are two examples of how it worked:
In the case of a man who had left the front door open all night, I apologized for yelling at him and for embarrassing him in front of his co-workers. When I found out the true story—that this man had actually asked someone else to lock up—I realized yet again how quick I am to judge and to react with anger, when a moment’s reflection might have produced a different way of handling the situation. The man who received that note reacted with a lovely smile and was most appreciative.
In another case, the note expressed my regret that I had gotten angry because a person was smoking in a non-smoking area. It occurred to me here that it just wasn’t my business to observe the non-smoking rules for him. And so it went—not only the notes went out, but my entire attitude changed—literally overnight—IT HAD TO! I had hit bottom, or so it seemed. Instead of giving a nasty or sharp or tired answer to someone’s question, I just curbed my short, quick responses and smiled graciously or did what they asked without complaint.
In The Wild White Goose, Rev. Master Jiyu quotes Rev. Taro saying, “Japanese tempers very hot…put in pocket, it burn hole if not taken out sometime…” . And this was my fear: that if I did not speak out, I would get an ulcer, be “walked on,” and not be assertive enough. What actually happened is that I found I could react with love AND feel comfortable at the same time. Why? Because the reactions from the people I was relating to were so gratifying that any frustration that I thought I would experience did not occur!
As I looked back to try to understand why I had needed to respond in the old ways, I saw that the lack of respect to others came about because I was willing to do almost anything to get what I wanted. And what was it that I wanted? For one thing, control of others, and a great need to be needed, to be irreplaceable. And this is what the mirror was showing me—so vividly, indeed, that I was finally determined to do something about myself. This, I believe, is what it means to surrender to something greater than oneself.
We are told in Sandokai, “Do not waste time” . This sage advice, if followed everyday, is how we can begin to train ourselves. If we can see that we have just been “wasting time,” it is not so difficult to begin to effect changes. In my case, the crisis of almost losing my job gave me the impetus to really begin to train—to let myself progress and grow. It took courage to start, but what better time than now?
Epilogue: at the end of the second week, my supervisor came up to me and said, “I can’t believe the changes you have made this past week.” While I thanked him for saying this, I mentally and with great gratitude thanked the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. A note of warning, however: subsequent meditation, dreams and observing peoples’ attitudes about me are showing that this is not the time to be complacent. There is much work to be done. But there is now a little “voice” which keeps reminding me just before I might overreact—which keeps me on the path of right mindfulness. This allows me to respond to the Eternal, rather than to impulse, and to show myself the same compassion I am now beginning to extend to others. This experience opened “Pandora’s Box,” as it were. It may be too late, for I have found out that some people at work do not feel I have really changed and are basing their yearly evaluations on the “old” me. Knowing this makes me just want to try harder to train in perfection—which, after all, is the ultimate goal, isn’t it? I continue to be grateful for this opportunity to really change myself.
On Sunday, September 14, the Priory had a booth in the Solano Stroll, Albany’s annual street fair. Many member of our Sangha helped out at our booth and answered many questions about Buddhism and the Priory. The fair attracted over 200,000 people and there was considerable interest shown in Buddhist teaching and practice. This seems to be a helpful way to have some additional contact with people in our local community.
The fence around the Priory’s front yard needed an additional section to cover where we had removed a large hedge and during the Fall, the fence work was completed. Also we did considerable work on the front brick walkway, chipping away the excess mortar and pressure washing the whole area and it is impressive how much brighter the walkway became.
We held a special memorial for Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett on November 2. Rev. Master Jiyu was the founder of the Priory and the direct source of our spiritual tradition. It is an important aspect of Buddhist practice that we express our gratitude to our teachers. Rev. Master Jiyu gave us profound Dharma teaching and also the way she lived was a wonderful and compassionate example of Buddhist training. Also that Sunday was also an opportunity for the Priory Sangha to celebrate my thirty-five years as a Buddhist monk. I, Kinrei, am very grateful that I have had this wonderful opportunity to train for these many years in Buddhism and I am also deeply grateful for all the support and generosity that the Priory Sangha has been offering to me for these many years that I have been here at the Priory.
Buddha’s Enlightenment: Sunday, December 7
The Priory will celebrate the great Enlightenment of the Buddha, on Sunday, December 7. Part of practicing at the Priory is learning to make Buddhism an integral part of our life. Growing up in America means we were raised and familiar with Judeo-Christian religious celebrations and we are not acquainted with comparable Buddhist traditions. An important aspect of human life is sharing and celebrating with others. Although we offer many different ceremonies and services at the Priory, there are certain holidays that it is helpful for the Sangha to make a special effort to come together and share their gratitude with others. Commemorating the Buddha’s Enlightenment in December is an occasion for the Sangha to gather together and express their gratitude and joy for the immeasurable gift of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. We welcome everyone to join us for the ceremony and for a potluck lunch which follows the Dharma talk.
New Year’s Eve Meditation Vigil and New Year’s Ceremony
The New Year’s meditation vigil and ceremony provides an opportunity to reflect on the past year and establish a direction for the year ahead. Starting at 9:00 pm on Wednesday, 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.
A local Tibetan monk, Venerable Ani Mauck, had a thirty year old nephew, David Mauck, who committed suicide. We held a Segaki service for David on July 29th. On October 26th, we held a memorial for Mary Gray’s sister, Beckie Crawford who had died one year ago.
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, long wooden shoe horns, books, paper towels, napkins 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 food donations of various vegetables and fruit, soy milk, eggs, tofu, vegetarian burgers, vegetarian meats, peanut butter, cheese, beans, soups, salads, savory turnovers, salad dressing, vegetable oil, 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.
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, November 29, February 1 and March 28, from 9:30 to 3:00, but we welcome everyone to help for whatever part of the day they can come.
Priory Meditation Retreats
December 13 January 17 February 14 March 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.
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 Retreat February 6–8, April 10-12
New Year Celebratory Retreat December 28–January 1, 2015
Continuing Practice Retreat February 27–March 1
Keeping of the Ten Precepts Retreat March 22–29
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.
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.
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.