Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter
March – May 2016
The Buddha Calling Buddha
by Rev. Kinrei Bassis
(This is an edited version of a Dharma talk given by Rev. Kinrei at the Priory in May 2000. It was previously published in the Berkeley Priory Newsletter, June-July 2004.)
We seek Buddhism when we recognize that there is something seriously wrong with the direction we have taken in our search for satisfaction and happiness. Buddhism points us to deep truths that resonate in our hearts. We are drawn to Buddhism by a deep longing for something real and meaningful.
An image of spiritual life that Reverend Master Jiyu-Kennett often used is that most of us are like a fish caught on a hook. The Buddha is trying to reel us in; the hook holding us is our deep spiritual longing. We spend most of our time struggling, not wanting to be reeled in, not wanting to let go of all the things which we are desperately holding. While we often know that spiritual training will take us in the right direction, we say to ourselves, “But I need to do this,” or “I must have that.”
When we reflect on our lives, we see that we have been putting a tremendous amount of energy in fighting what the Dharma is asking us to do: to let go and open our hearts; to embrace and accept everything that unfolds in both in our lives and the life of the world.
The anonymous author of the medieval Christian classic, The Cloud of Unknowing, describes a form of prayer that also aptly describes the essence of Buddhist meditation:
When you first begin, you will find only darkness, as it were a cloud of unknowing. You do not know what it means except that in your will you feel a simple steadfast intention reaching out towards God. Do what you will and this darkness and this cloud remains between you and God. By ‘darkness’ I mean a ‘lack of knowing’—just as anything you do not know or may have forgotten may be said to be ‘dark’ to you, for you cannot see it with your inward eye . So if you are to stand and not fall, never give up your firm intention: beat away at this cloud of unknowing between you and God with that sharp dart of longing love.1
This deepest form of prayer is really the same as the deepest form of meditation. It is the simple willingness to be still and allow the longing in our hearts go out without defining or understanding where it is going. This is faith. Our minds cannot see or fully understand the goal of our spiritual life. Meditation is the willingness to let go and learn to trust so that we may enter into this seeming darkness. In the passage from The Cloud of Unknowing, the writer is expressing the idea that our minds cannot grasp God, cannot even begin to say what God is, yet our hearts are reaching out. A Buddhist way of saying this is that our small minds and intellects cannot even begin to fully grasp or understand the boundless life of Buddha.
In Buddhism, the real ground of reality is the Dharmakaya, the pure body of the Buddha, the Absolute, the One. While this immeasurable reality will always transcend the ability of our minds to comprehend it, there will always be the longing in our hearts to find this real place and to let go of everything else. We need to let go of our opinions of who we think we are, and of all our opinions of what our mind grasps as the Buddha or enlightenment. We need to turn away from our burning desires and instead seek stillness and peace and put our effort into growing this indescribable longing.
But our lack of faith makes us struggle. We say, “Yes, but….” Buddhist training is the process of gradually softening our habitual resistance. The Dharma keeps telling us to open our hearts and let go, but we keep qualifying this letting go, looking for loopholes in the Dharma and searching for attachments we believe will not cause problems. Yet anything we grasp will help to turn our hearts away from this one, true longing.
We often don’t recognize that faith in the Dharma means fully accepting ourselves. The most difficult aspect of faith is seeing that we are the Buddha, that all of our delusions are still the Buddha, and that all of our sufferings are the life of Buddha. Our faults and suffering and the world’s faults and suffering are not impure; they are simply telling us that we and others are turning away from the light of Buddha. We enfold ourselves in darkness as we focus our hearts on shallow desires and empty fears. When we don’t accept ourselves, our shame, our pride, and our often hard and critical mind, we are simply increasing the waves of difficult karma. Think carefully about how this lack of acceptance fills our lives. In anger, the whole world reflects our anger; in guilt, the whole world reflects our guilt. These delusions reinforce themselves. While we search to make our lives clean and whole, looking everywhere for what will work, we often fail to recognize that the greatest treasure is already living in our hearts. It takes faith to let go and realize the unimportance of both our pride and our inadequacies and to turn our hearts toward entering this Cloud of Unknowing. There is no way by effort of will by which we can simply say, “I’m not going to struggle any more” or “I’m not going to have any more attachments.” All we can do is be willing to see what we are grasping, what is stopping this fundamental longing from blazing up in our hearts. By recognizing these things, we can begin to open up and let go of our demands. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we no longer have to face these desires; rather we no longer try so desperately to grasp them. In The Cloud of Unknowing, the author says,
“Therefore, if I am able to give a vital and wholehearted attention to this spiritual activity within my soul, I then can view my eating and drinking, my sleep and my conversation and so on with comparative indifference. I would rather acquire a right discretion in these matters by such indifference, than by giving them my close attention.” 2
Faith allows our hearts to be open and to see what is actually moving through us. It takes deep faith to have such an open heart because this awareness often hurts. It is sometimes painful to see what we are doing, to see the wounds that we have in our heart, and to see all the suffering our mistakes have caused others. It can be painful to see the suffering that is flowing throughout the world, filling so many beings. Only with deep commitment and acting on our faith, can we open our hearts and embrace this sea of pain while trusting that the pain is not the real problem. Faith means to trust that the Dharma is true, that all this pain and suffering is not fundamental. The suffering will be washed away when we are willing to open our hearts and let the waters of compassion flow through us so that we can see that light and purity is enfolding everything.
A key to cultivating faith is not letting ourselves to indulge in doubt. We should view doubt like any other emotion, such as anger, worry, desire or fear. Without cultivating doubt, or grasping it, simply recognize that it is only a wave of thoughts and feeling sweeping through us. In the same way that there is no reason to be angry, there is no reason to doubt. There is no reason to doubt the Buddha, there is no reason to doubt the Dharma, and there is no reason to doubt the Sangha. Just as there is no reason to doubt ourself or to doubt others.
To allow this spiritual longing to grow, we need to learn to trust that the unfolding of all karma is not a fundamental problem. The fact that there is suffering, the fact that there exists beginningless greed, hate and delusion, is not a reason to doubt. The faith is not that there will not be any suffering; rather that under all of the suffering is the compassion of the Unborn. Nothing is ever fundamentally hurt; all hurt is simply waves of feeling sweeping through our bodies and minds. If you do not cling to them, nothing is really being hurt. Suffering is a Dharma lesson that is pointing us to the Truth. To see karma, to see cause and effect, is not a reason to doubt.
If we wish to see what is real, we need to have faith in the Dharma and work at accepting whatever life is offering us. This allows our hearts and minds to be peaceful, and then we will find something much deeper calling us.
Meditation is a way to learn to hear and respond to the call and the longing that is flowing out of the stillness in our hearts. There is a love that keeps looking the wrong way, mistakenly trying to grasp whatever seems to help us be happy. Then there is deeper, unshakable love that is the ground of Buddhism, a love that demands nothing and is open and embraces everything. This love is calling us and this love is our true heart, the Bodhicitta, the boundless heart of Buddha. The depths of this love is unfathomable, and it will wash away all the barriers we face. What we need to do is to be still, whether we are sitting on a cushion or going about our daily lives, and allow this deep and inexpressible longing to grow in our hearts. This longing is the Buddha calling the Buddha, and it will open our hearts and free us from the seeming darkness of our passions and confusion.
1. Translated by Clifton Wolters, The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works (Penguin Books, 1978) pp.61-62.
2. ibid, pp. 110.
by Rev. Kinrei
Early in January, Rev. Veronica Snedaker came down from Shasta Abbey, to stay at the Priory for several months. Her mother, who lives in Napa, needs some assistance with some of the problems that come with aging. Rev. Veronica, before becoming a monk, was a member of the Priory Sangha and it is good having her spend some time at her old temple.
Larry Donovan, a Sangha member who died in December, 2014. left his property in the city of Alameda, to the Priory, to be used as a retirement home. The property needed to go through the probate process and it will soon be legally owned by the Priory. We plan to offer affordable housing for a few retired Sangha members who can still live independently. If anyone is interested in either living at the retirement home or helping with this project, they may contact the Priory.
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 ceramic food storage containers, cat food, water filter, books, kitty litter, cleaning lotion, toilet paper, 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, breakfast cereal, granola, pasta, polenta, olive oil, rice, vegetarian burgers, vegetarian meats, peanut butter, cheese, beans, soups, salads, oats, bread, coffee, herbal and black teas, coconut milk, fruit juice, nuts, chips, raisins, fruit preserves, chocolates, cookies, candy, pies, and cakes. You are always welcome to check with the Priory on what foods are currently needed.
The Priory held a memorial for Vera Nilson, the mother of Maryann Kahn, on December 20. Vera died, at the age 103, in Sweden. There was a memorial for Harold Schmidt and Kay Hamlin, Sally Schmidt’s parents, on January 17. Justine Sabina Kahn, the mother of Roger Kahn, died at the age 92, and we held her memorial on February 14. It is a gift to be able to have these ceremonies to the deceased and offer our faith and gratitude.
Priory Meditation Retreats
March 12 April 16 May 14 June 18
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 5 pm. Please register in advance for all the retreats.
Introductory Workshop April 23 (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.
Wesak Celebration–Sunday, May 22
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 22, 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, there will be 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 Wesak or just the potluck and share in our celebration of the birth of the Buddha.
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 website at www.shastaabbey.org or contact the Guestmaster at (530) 926-4208 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Introductory Retreat April 8-10
Jukai- The Ten Precepts Retreat March 20–27
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 offerfer your help. The next work days are scheduled for Saturday, March 26 and Saturday, May 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.
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.