Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter
September – December 2015
by Rev. Kinrei Bassis
If your mind becomes firm like a rock
and no longer shakes,
in a world where everything is shaking.
Your mind will be your greatest friend
and suffering will not come your way.
Therigatha (verses from earliest collection of Buddhist teaching by female monks in the Buddhist Scriptures)
A central and necessary quality for spiritual progress is equanimity, which means we are calm and at peace when we confront life’s difficult conditions. The practice of equanimity is one of being open to whatever we are experiencing without getting lost in our reactions of love and hate, fear or desire. When we stop being agitated by difficult conditions, we can begin to see beyond our fears and desires. It seems to be the most normal and deeply rooted aspect of life that we cling to all that gives us pleasure and joy and we try to push away everything that gives us pain and suffering. To many people, equanimity can seem to be trying to find a state in which we are numb and unfeeling. Yet practicing equanimity does not mean that we are not feeling all the conditions flowing through our lives but, instead, we are not blindly reacting to them. Without equanimity we often demand that happiness occur in the ways that we think it should, rather than just embracing and dealing with the way things are. Equanimity leads to wisdom, which helps us to see how we are creating suffering and how we can stop doing that.
The practice of meditation is also a practice in equanimity. Whatever we are feeling in meditation, whatever we are experiencing, whatever thoughts or feelings are arising, we are asked to just recognize what we are experiencing and then let it go, and to come back to our practice of looking at the wall. Whether we feel good or bad, whether we are having a profound insight or experience or just feeling restless or worried, it is all not spiritually, what is important. What we are asked to do in meditation is to just be still and not react to this flow of thoughts and feelings. As we practice meditation, we can recognize our restlessness as an underlying characteristic of whatever is grabbing hold of our attention. Whether we are experiencing a worried thought, a mind caught up with plans for the future, or with regrets or anger for the past, it is all accompanied by a restlessness, an inability to be still and be at peace with ourselves and the world. When we meditate, we confront all that is within ourselves that demands to figure out where our life is taking us and trying to control what happens. This keeps us suffering since we can never really know where life is going to take us and we can never be in full control of how our life unfolds. Part of meditation is seeing our doubts, our agitation, our fear and letting them all just arise in the mirror of our minds and then, if we stop clinging, allowing everything to fade away. Equanimity is needed to let our hearts and minds be open to all our passions and fears and then by being open, we can experience the deeper truth that can free us from feeling bound by this flow of powerful thoughts and strong emotions.
The practice of equanimity is learning that we do not need to react to whatever we are feeling and thinking. The ground of suffering lies in our unskillful response to our thoughts and feelings, which is often a blind reaction. It took me quite awhile in my Buddhist practice to understand that I do not need to automatically react to powerful feelings and strong opinions. I began to see how much of my life had been driven by my karma, under the control of powerful emotions and deluded patterns of thoughts. I often heard myself thinking and saying, “I cannot put up with this.” “This is unacceptable.” “I cannot let go of this desire, this fear.” “I cannot stop worrying about this problem, complaining about this person.” I sometimes felt powerless and unable to look at my life without being overwhelmed by feelings of despair or hopelessness. When we cling to something strongly, we can easily be overwhelmed when change comes. Clinging makes our heart and mind fixed and brittle when confronting the change. When I would think of who I was, it was these deluded habits of behavior and patterns of thoughts that I mistakenly saw as my identity.
To find the place of equanimity, I needed to see that I often have conflicting desires. The practice of meditation is the practice of letting go of whatever I am experiencing. I can easily fill my mind in meditation with all my opinions, with a seemingly endless flow of my desires, with my memories of the past and my fears and dreams of the future. Often I leave the place of equanimity by demanding that some aspect of myself or the world that I find unacceptable, be different. And, all the time I am looking elsewhere, the only place I can find peace and contentment is in the present moment, in this very situation I find myself. Anything else means that I am abandoning reality to dream of a different past or an imaginary future. What I need to keep doing is to stop dreaming and stop demanding that my life and the world needs to be different.
To practice equanimity requires spiritual devotion; we need to care deeply about our spiritual life and be willing to focus our minds on the big picture of the Buddhist path rather than the narrow confines of what we are experiencing in the present. By being balanced in our feelings and thoughts, we can cultivate a sense of spaciousness around our experiences. Then when difficult conditions arise, we can be aware of the impermanent nature of what is unfolding and bring our minds back to focusing on being still, on gratitude, on our faith in the Buddhist teaching and path. Devotion is necessary since we have to care more about finding the heart of Buddha instead of the normal worldly response of only focusing on improving our impermanent conditions. When we stop clinging to our desires, we can find the real truth which is open and liberating and is grounded in compassion.
We need to pay attention to when we have a sense of spaciousness and openness in our life. A sense of spaciousness and openness needs to be cultivated as it supports a sense of equanimity. It is helpful to explore what behavior and circumstances seem to facilitate the sense of spaciousness. When we feel content, how do we cultivate that and what behavior seem to help bring contentment into our lives? How do we create these favorable conditions for equanimity rather than creating conditions that lead to worry and anger, fear and suffering? Sometimes the very things that we doing in order to find joy and pleasure, are instead leading us to a place of discontentment and despair. As long as our flow of emotions, desires, passions, and fears are filling our minds, we will not be able to see beyond our present situation and experience the deeper Truth. We need to let go of our habitual pattern of just wishing and dreaming of a different reality, a reality in which I do not hurt, that life was not so difficult, that I was not disturbed and upset. When we suffer, help comes to us when we bow to our suffering and look up in faith and gratitude. Trusting that there is nothing to fear in the unfolding of our lives is a great help in finding equanimity and is an immeasurable gift.
From now on, no matter what problems I have to face,
I am not going to be irritated by them.
I will not regard anything that happens to me as a problem.
I will regard everything as beneficial. 1
Lama Zopa Rinpoche
This teaching by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist master, is the essence of practicing equanimity, taking everything that we encounter as being beneficial. The misfortune and difficulties we face in life are not beneficial in the practical sense – for instance, I do not seek or want illness and pain. Yet if I approach the difficult health problems and pain that comes into my life with a positive attitude of embracing these difficult conditions as a helpful part of my spiritual path, then the pain and difficulty can become vehicles which help me find a much deeper spiritual place. As a monk, counseling people who come to me with their difficulties, it not uncommon that someone has gone through a difficult illness or other hardship and they are now very grateful for that experience. All the hardship they had gone through had forced them to let go of some of their clinging and some of their frantic attempts to control their circumstances. This resulted in allowing them to find a deeper spiritual place in which they found more peace and real joy. Deepening their spiritual life was of much greater value to them than all the pain and difficulty they went through.
Equanimity is based on not clinging to whatever conditions we are experiencing. By not clinging we are no longer being blinded by the specific details of our life but embracing a wholeness that encompasses everything. Our small human minds can never grasp this wholeness but we can experience the deep connection that we have with all living things and with everything in the world. This is what is meant by the experience that everything is a Buddha. This deep longing which brings us to spiritual life is a longing to be freed from just living for ourselves and to experience our real connection, an experience that takes our limited selves to the place that is open and boundless.
1) Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, Transforming Problems Into Happiness (Wisdom Publication, 2001) p.10
Going to the Retreat
by Mary Gray
(Reprinted from Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple Newsletter, July-September 2015)
Rev. Phoebe asked me to write about my recent experience of planning to go to a retreat at Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple and ending up with an at-home retreat instead. In the week preceding the eagerly anticipated retreat I took a horrible fall and injured my left hip. Fortunately, I didn’t break it, but the injury left me with severe pain, significant immobility and a pair of crutches. My old friends anxiety, fear, and restlessness came eagerly to visit. I was sure I wouldn’t walk again, couldn’t sit still to read let alone meditate, and found myself once again tackling some very old karma-laden issues with my youngest sister. I would much rather have gone to a silent retreat at Pine Mountain than to have sit still and be unable to distract myself with busyness in the face of another’s rage and pain albeit this sister lives 620 miles away in Portland.
It’s funny how things work out. My dear sangha friend, Nancy with whom I dogwalk most days, called that first Thursday afternoon to ask me if I wanted to go to the day-long retreat here at Berkeley the following Saturday. She offered to pick me up and bring me home. There was something about the simplicity of this offer… the ease with which a retreat could still come together for me. This isn’t to say that Pine Mountain wouldn’t have been wonderful, but in my disappointment around my injury and the subsequent need to abandon the plan, other possibilities for retreat and training had become obscured.
The topic of the Berkeley retreat that Saturday concerned family karma and focused on an article that Rev. Kinrei had selected entitled “Dharma and Family Life”, by Ajahn Viradhammo. The subject, Rev. Kinrei’s talks, and our dharma discussions, were exceedingly timely and helpful in light of the very painful difficulties I had been experiencing with my sister. Lately the words, “not trying to drive the bus” has been my description of where my training seems to be taking me. This bundle of karma which I call my self has its own momentum. I don’t need to do anything except try to sit still as it moves through me, letting myself rest, relax, and recognize that the Buddha does all. One day the following week, as I was thinking about my sister and I and how stuck we seem to have been for the last 17 years, it occurred to me not to worry but rather to realize we are both doing the best we can and that there are unlimited remaining lifetimes to keep working things out for us and all beings. This awareness brought me great comfort.
As I reflect today, six weeks after the initial injury, while I did have a lot of trouble getting myself to my formal meditation seat immediately after my injury, I was nonetheless able to practice mindfulness and to realize that what was happening to me had its upside. There was a little space around the moments of my experience and a newfound sense of confidence in my ability to navigate its new terrain. I learned to ask for help and had to rely on friends to help me get to appointments, drive me to grocery shop, walk my dog, and take me to the priory. I was able to see my little self not wanting to ask for help and my mind’s tendency to feel vulnerable and “less than” in the face of my requests. Being forced to temporarily give up some of what I call my grounding daily habits, I was flung into a time of groundlessness for which I am exceedingly grateful. As of this writing, it has been six weeks since I have walked my dog for more than a few blocks. I remain uncomfortable with these limitations and moment by moment try to surrender and to gratefully accept what is. Some days are easier than others.
Homage to the Buddha.
Homage to the Dharma.
Homage to the Sangha.
by Rev. Kinrei
Edie de Chadenedes, had been practicing at Shasta Abbey since the 1980’s, died in Santa Rosa on May 31. Many people in the Priory Sangha knew Edie very well from attending retreats with her over the years. Edie lived on her own, in her home on San Juan Island, which is northwest of Seattle, until she was 90. Less than two years ago, she needed a move supportive living situation and she moved into Friends House, a retirement community in Santa Rosa, which was near her daughter, Lucy. This winter, Edie’s health declined and moved to another facility in Santa Rosa, which provided more care. I regularly visited Edie and her Buddhist training was clearly evident in the positive way she dealt with her mental and physical deterioration. Edie died peacefully, surrounded by two of her children and other family members and friends. We had a short but very moving ceremony at her bedside shortly after her death. We held her funeral at the Priory on June 12. On July 17, there was a large memorial for Edie at her former residence, Friends House, in Santa Rosa. Her four children attended, in addition to many other family members and friends. It was very moving to hear people memories and gratitude for Edie’s very full 91 years of life.
On June 14, the Priory had a memorial for Sandra Sedillos, a friend of Paula Westdahl. Sue Johnson’s cat, Ivan, had his funeral on July 12.
The Priory has work days every second month and our work day on Saturday, July 25 was well attended, providing the temple with much needed help. The front porch rails were painted, many of our trees were trimmed, front and back yards weeded and trimmed. Our neglected brass door knobs were polished, the dragons on the gate were washed and much of the Priory received a thorough cleaning. All the help given to the Priory, both on work days and at all other times, is a generous and much needed offering which helps keep the temple well cared for and functioning.
Priory Reading Group
Early in 2014 members of the Priory sangha started a group for discussion of Buddhist readings.
The books chosen by the group so far have been Buddha Recognizes Buddha, by Reverend Daishin Morgan, Don’t Take Your Life Personally, by Ajahn Sumedho, Reflections on the Path by Reverend Meiten McGuire, When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron,and Buddhism From Within by Reverend Daizui MacPhillamy. The monthly reading is several chapters, usually between 50 and 75 pages.
The discussions evolve around how the readings expand understanding of the Dharma and help bring practice more fully into everyday life. The meetings are also an avenue for members of the Sangha to get to know one another better.
The group meets monthly, usually on the first Thursday of the month, from 7:15 to 9:00 in the evening. Several members of the group take turns hosting the meetings.
Anyone who is interested in joining the group can contact Jennifer Chinlund at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Charity is one of the four wisdoms and demonstrates theBodhisattva’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 toexist and for the Dharma to be freely offered to whomever is interested.
In recent months, we have been given many generous gifts, including an electric drill, cat food, meditation cushions, meditation mats, books, kitty litter, tissues, a gong, brass polish, paper towels, tissues, and cleaning supplies.
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, apple juice, peanut butter, cheese, beans, soups, salads, olive oil, oats, muffins, bagels, bread, coffee, herbal and black teas, granola, salsa, fruit juice, crackers, 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.
Priory Meditation Retreats
October 10 November 14 December 12
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.
Part of practicing at the Priory is learning to make Buddhism an integral part of our lives. 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. The traditional offering in Buddhism for those who died in distress is the Segaki Ceremony. Commemorating the Buddha’s enlightenment in December is another occasion in Buddhist cultures for the Sangha to gather together and celebrate the immeasurable gift of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. This is one of the reasons we scheduled a potluck meal to follow both the October 11 Segaki Ceremony and the December 6 Enlightenment Day Ceremony.
We will have a memorial for Rev. Master Jiyu on Sunday, November 8. Rev. Master Jiyu was the founder of the Priory and the source of our teaching, and it is an essential aspect of Buddhism that we learn to express our gratitude for her teaching. It is not important to Rev. Master Jiyu that we express our gratitude and reverence, it is very helpful for our own spiritual life that we do not take this gift of the Dharma for granted. When we are not willing to offer our gratitude, then we are spiritually closing our hearts from realizing the boundless gifts that are always flowing through us. Ceremonies are designed to be opportunities for us to offer our faith and gratitude. It is important to recognize that our spiritual lives depend upon our willingness to open our hearts and be grateful, and when we are not offering faith and gratitude in our lives, we are then turning our lives away from the Buddha.
Introductory Workshop October 31 (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.
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 email@example.com.
Introductory Retreat September 4-6 October 23 – 25 November. 20 – 22
Feeding of the Hungry Ghosts Retreat October 29–November 1
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 day is scheduled for Saturdays, October 3 and November 28, from 9:30 to 3:00, but we welcome everyone to help for whatever part of the day they can come.
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.
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.