Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter
October – December 2016
The Middle Way
by Rev. Kinrei Bassis
One of the most central teachings of the Buddha was the Middle Way, the path between pushing too hard and being too lax. It is a very subtle aspect of practice, how do we find Right Effort.
The following is a famous story from the Buddhist Scriptures of how the Buddha taught a disciple on how to find the Middle Way.
Bhikkhu Sona was from a wealthy family, he had given up this life to follow the Buddha. As a forest dwelling monk he lived alone in his little meditation house in the woods arduously practicing meditation and punctuating this with periods of walking meditation. It was said that we was so zealous that flecks of blood could be seen on the walking track that he used from the broken skin on his feet.
One day Sona realised that despite his great efforts he was getting nowhere and thought that maybe the monk’s life was not after all for him. He thought that perhaps it would be better to return to his old life as a businessman where he could at least practice charity to the poor.
At that moment the Buddha walked by and seeing in Sona’s heart came and sat beside him. The Buddha asked him if he had been contemplating giving up this life as his efforts seemed to be fruitless?
Sona replied that it was so.
The Buddha reminded Sona that before he joined the order he had been known as a great musician and was especially fond of playing the lute. The Buddha then asked Sona if, when tuning a lute, if he over-tightened the strings would it be possible to play a melody?
Sona replied that it would not be possible.
The Buddha now asked if he slackened the strings until they were loose would he then be able to play a melody?
Sona replied again that it would not be possible.
The Buddha asked if the strings were tuned not too tight and not too loose then would it be possible to play?
Sona replied that now it would be possible.
The Buddha pointed out that his Way also required a consistent effort that avoided the two extremes of punishing striving and lethargy and that a middle way must be walked.
With this Bikkhu Sona resolved to stay and practice as the Buddha advised.
(Zen Gateway-The Middle Way)
One of the difficulties is that each of us is different so what is the Middle Way for one person is not the right path for another. It is human to want simple answers, how much we should meditate, how much we should practice, what we should let go of and what is right effort. The practice of meditation brings up the subtle nature of the Middle Way. We are instructed to neither grasp after our thoughts nor push them away. We need to bring full awareness to our thoughts and feelings and keep making the effort to bring ourselves back to just sitting, just facing the wall. We notice our overactive mind, full of plans and fantasies, fears and desires. It takes discipline to keep bringing our minds back to just facing the wall. This is not an easy or simple practice. We can mistakenly try to obliterate our thoughts, finding ways to blank our minds and this can give us a sense of stillness and some momentary peace which is very fragile. The real practice of meditation is the work of continuously letting go of our thoughts but not forcing them to disappear. The practice of patience is the real ground of meditation. We need to be open and to keep allowing all difficult thoughts and feelings to arise and then accepting the normal reality of their unrequested and frequent reappearance. We need to trust the process of meditation and that all our difficulties will eventually wash away if we do not cling to them.
One way of looking at the Middle Way is that we need to keep making the hard effort of letting things go again and again and we need the soft openness to accept what is actually unfolding right now. We are trying not to judge whatever arises in our mind. This practice is teaching us to stop struggling with our inner and outer experience and instead learn to find a place of openness and peaceful acceptance.
Meditation and life keep bringing up thoughts and feeling that seem to require some resolution. We feel we need to solve our fears and worries; lose our restlessness and anxiety. Yet the practice of the Middle Way is to relax with these feelings, doing the very hard practice of staying in the middle and not rejecting or grasping the conditions flowing through our hearts and minds. The real practice of the Middle Way is making the choice to realize that whenever we start getting caught up in our strong and habitual patterns such as worry, despair, doubt—we can open our hearts to a sense of openness and spaciousness that allows us to see the whole drama of our life with compassion and kindness. We will lose our sense of following the Middle Way by getting caught up with harsh judgements about our own failings and the world’s failings. We need to keep making the effort of letting go of all passing conditions and trusting the Dharma and trusting the inherent purity of the Dharma body which embraces the whole world, including ourselves.
Ball and Fish
by Roger Kahn
Many years ago, at the Shasta Abbey Gift Shop, I saw a fish with a ball in its throat. It was a pendent one could wear around one’s neck. I thought “Why would anyone want one of these? Why would the Abbey have this in its store?” This fish cannot spit it out or swallow it, and the ball can be hot as well. What could be more horrible than this? Just the thought made me really uneasy. Once, I told someone about the fish and ball, and she became so upset that she started crying.
For a long time now, I have been trying to find one of thosefish pendants to own. The thought of that makes me really uneasy. What is it about this image? Why is it so compelling? Why would I want anything to do with this? What does this have to do with me? Are we stuck with a burning ball in our throats that we can’t spit out or swallow?
Recently a sibling opened her flood gates and let me have it for a really long time. It lasted a really long time because I didn’t try to stop her. Whatever she said I heard. She went on and on and I listened on and on. Some of the complaints were applicable to me and lots of it didn’t apply to me. I understood that I could not change her experience of the situation. What she said, she believed as the truth. Who am I to argue with her truth, so I just listened. When she was finally done, I sympathized with her and agreed it would be nice if everyone helped out like she thought they should. I had heard a lot of frustration and knew there was definitely a lack of peace within the situation.
As I listened, I knew that I had to accept her rant. It was the ball in my throat. I knew I wasn’t going to get to spit or swallow. I also understood that whatever help she might receive, probably wouldn’t solve the situation. There really is not going to be a simple “spitting out or swallowing” this one. Do we really have to live with a red hot ball stuck in our throats?
In the beginning of this article I deliberately avoided using the word “stuck” and “red hot,” when describing the fish and ball. I never said the ball was stuck or red hot. I don’t think that the ball is aways a problem. It is not always hot and inflamed. I don’t think I always need to spit it out or swallow it, and most of the time I don’t even know it’s there. But it is. Isn’t the ball our karma?
“To become one with our karma”. What a lofty thought. How blissful it sounds. Well maybe it is, but the answer is that the fish and the ball must become one. Actually, maybe the fish and the ball have always been one, and that there has never been a need to swallow or spit it out.
We all have know peace and we all have tried to get away from the way things are. My karma is in my throat and I need the faith to allow It to make Its presence known to me. I need to deal with It or It burns more and more. “I’d love to get rid of It, why me?” No! “Thank you,” for helping me know what I need to do, or not do.
I think that the fish and ball must be similar to the man who sits upon the beast of self and plays his flute like never before. He has become one with his Karma to the point that he is no longer led around by the beast. He and the beast are one and have always been one.
What could be worse than a fish with a ball in his throat? It would be a fish who didn’t want the ball in his throat. Well too bad, cold comfort. We don’t get to spit or swallow the ball. But, we do have the opportunity to train ourselves so we can learn and be grateful. We can do what we can do and we can accept the Truth. We can become one with the ball in our throats and swim freely.
So, where is the fish and where is the ball? And please let me know where I can get one.
by Rev. Kinrei
On Sunday, September 11, 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.
On Sunday, September 25, the Priory held its yearly Segaki ceremony. In the Segaki Ceremony, we offer the food of the Dharma to all beings who have died under painful, difficult ordespairing circumstances. We had wonderful weather for an outside sevice. Rev. Kinrei gave a talk on how to change the momentum of our karma and how we can convert our own craving and greed through the practice of the Dharma. The potluck which followed the talk had a wonderful abundance of foods and good company.
Charity is one of the four wisdoms and demonstrates the Bodhisattva’s aspiration. Deep appreciation and gratitude isoffered 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 buddhist statues and altar supplies, plants, prayer flags, books, meditation cushions, mats and benches, kitty litter, toilet paper, paper towels, paper napkins, 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, crackers, olive oil, rice, vegetarian burgers, vegetarian meats, peanut butter, cheese, beans, soups, salads, oats, bread, coffee, herbal and black teas, vegetable stock, 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.
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, November 26 and Saturday, January 28.
Priory Meditation Retreats
October 15 November 12 December 17 January 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.
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.
Buddha’s Enlightenment: Sunday, December 11
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 Saturday, 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.
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
October 14–16 November 18–20
Feeding of the Hungry Ghosts Retreat
October 27- 30
New Year Celebratory Retreat
December 29 – January 1
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.