Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter
January – March 2017
When the Buddha Does All
by Rev. Kinrei Bassis
“When the Buddha does all, and you follow this doing effortlessly and without worrying about it, you gain freedom from suffering and become, yourself, Buddha.” (Shoji-Dogen)1
The suffering and difficulties we carry around in this life centers around the importance we give to ourselves and all people and things we are attached to. The more we cling to the importance of ourselves, this me, the more we feel the weight of this burden and we inevitably will confront suffering. Yet how do we let go of this burden and see through this overwhelming sense of self-importance and allow the Buddha to fill our lives?
The importance we give the self is what gives power to our cravings and attachments. This clinging includes how we identify with our thoughts, with our history, with our achievements and failings. Right View in Buddhism is teaching us that we do not need to cling to all the difficulties we face. We make this personal self out of the way we identify and give deep importance to our thoughts and feelings, to our successes and failures.
We often want to cling to an illusion that we are in control of our lives. Yet we do not control the outside world, thus we can drive carefully and we may still have our car totaled in an accident. A less obvious truth is that we do not control what happens to us on the inside, either. I may be depressed but I never wished or sought my sad or depressed feelings. I tell myself, I will not lose my temper but then someone says something hurtful and my anger may still erupt. I can say “this thoughtless speech of another should not bother me” but then I obsess on what disturbed me and I find myself deeply bothered and hurt. To have Right View of what unfolds in my life I must first recognize that much of what I am experiencing is outside my ability to control. The question then arises, if I am not in control, how do I let the Buddha be in control. This is a very deep problem and in many ways forms the substance of many of the deeper spiritual questions we have.
Buddhist training does not place us in control but it does make us take responsibility for our choices. Buddhist training can simply be seen as learning to make the best choices. The following quotation is again from Shoji by Great Master Dogen.
The way to Buddhahood is easy. They who do not perpetrate evil, they who do not try to grasp at life and death but work for the good of all living things with utter compassion, giving respect to those older, and loving understanding to those younger than themselves, they who do not reject, search for, think on, or worry about anything have the name of Buddha: you must look for nothing more.2
Although I find the above teaching to be both inspiring and also very simple and straightforward, I do not find that it is easy to follow. I have never met or heard of anyone who could make this teaching into a living reality without great effort and without confronting major difficulties. Yet that does not stand against the basic truth that whenever we are not following this teaching, we just create more conflict and more difficulties in our life and in the lives of those around us.
I cannot control what feelings arise in me but I can work so that the choices in my life are in harmony with this teaching of Dogen and the Buddha. When strong and even overwhelming feelings and emotions cause me to act in ways that are not in harmony with the Dharma, I need to recognize myself going astray and then grasp my will and make the effort to choose to do good, to be compassionate, to be kind and generous. We point ourselves to liberation when we see whatever is happening to us, others, and the world, as just passing conditions and we bring ourselves back to the purity of the present moment and trust that it is enough to just do our best and take the next step in following the path of the Dharma.
The simple fact that we are not in control can easily be seen in our meditation practice. We all want our meditation to be peaceful and we want to let go of our strong habitual thoughts and disturbing feelings. Yet the mind wanders and disturbing feelings still frequently arise. Yet the right view of meditation sees this as an opportunity to work at being at peace with whatever is happening with us right now. Meditation is working at letting go of whatever arises and when we notice ourselves wandering off, we try to peacefully accept the wandering mind or the upset feelings and then make the effort to let go and bring the mind back to just sitting. We will never be in control what arises in our minds and in our lives, but we do have a choice in how we respond to what arises. We can try to make a response that is in harmony with the Dharma and this effort will generally bring forth good results.
What is often driving our behavior and how we see the world is our defilements, our passions, our desires, our fears, our delusions. In Buddhist practice we do not control the arising of defiled emotions, but we do have some control over our response to our defilements. The freedom and peace that Buddhism promises is found by freeing ourselves from being driven through life by our defiled feelings and thoughts. The self that we cling to is an aspect of our defilements. When we learn to loosen our grip on being so self-centered and self-absorbed, we can allow our spiritual purpose to move us rather than just being driven by our defilements. Mindfulness in Buddhism not only being aware of what we are doing in the present but being aware of what is driving our choices. The more we are aware of the choices we are making, the more we can make the choice to let go our defilements and choose to follow the Dharma.
When the Buddha does all sounds wonderful but how do I go from the life of being weighed down by this difficult self to a life of spiritual freedom? When suffering seems to be filling our lives, we need to trust that none of these difficulties has any fundamental substance. Our difficult feelings, such as disappointment, inadequacy, despair, and anger, are all telling us we looking the wrong way. In accepting whatever is unfolding, we are opening our hearts to the Buddha. Buddhist training requires a trust that there is deep meaning and spiritual importance to whatever is unfolding in the present moment.
The practical way we turn our life into the life of Buddha is by the hard work of incorporating into our life activities that point us to our spiritual aspiration, such a meditation, reciting or reading Buddhist scriptures and the Dharma, Buddhist ceremonial and simple acts of faith such as offering incense. Daily practice is our way of cultivating our spiritual intention and keeping it a living presence in our life. Coming to the temple and practicing with others is a concrete way to help change the intention of our life from just pursuing self-centered or limited goals to cultivating a deep and all-embracing spiritual intention. We are lost in the worldly mind if we only do activities that have a worldly purpose rather than choosing to do that which has no other purpose but pointing us to the Buddha. There is a deep meaning in our choice to practice Buddhism. The scattered elements in our life can be brought together and they all can be pointed towards our true deepest desire, to find and live in the place of the Bodhicitta, the heart of Buddha.
1 & 2- Shoji, translated by Rev. Jiyyu-Kennett in Zen is Life (Mt. Shasta, CA: Shasta Abbey Press, 1999), p.197-198.
by Rev. Kinrei
We had our yearly memorial for Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett onNovember 6. Rev. Master Jiyu was the founder of the Priory andis the direct source of our spiritual tradition. Her wisdom and teaching is central to the spiritual life of the temple and it wonderful to have the opportunity to express our gratitude. Also on that day, we also celebrated my 37th year as a Buddhist monk. The generosity and good wishes of the Priory Sangha is deeply appreciated.
On December 11 we held the celebration of the Buddha’s Enlightenment and the Priory had a very large gatherings. During the service we chanted many of the Enlightenment hymns and it was a moving service. The potluck that followed seemed to have even a more abundant offering than usual.
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 buddhist statues and altar supplies, rosaries, flashlights, books, 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, pasta, crackers, olive oil, rice, vegetarian burgers, vegetarian meats, peanut butter, cheese, beans, soups, salads, oats, bread, coffee, herbal and black teas, vegetable stock, 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, January 28 and Saturday, March 25.
Priory Meditation Retreats
January 14 February 11 March 11 April 15
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.
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:
February 10–12 April 7–9
Jukai-The Ten Precepts Retreat- March 19–16
Continuing Practice Retreat- March 3–5
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.