Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter
April – July 2017
by Rev. Kinrei Bassis
(Reprinted from Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter, Oct-Dec. 2002)
I began Buddhist training because all the other directions my life could go seemed meaningless. I was not at peace and I was definitely not content. I felt bound by circumstances, bound by my strong emotions, bound by desires that I knew intellectually, were shallow and empty. I was confronting the First Noble Truth, that suffering exists- the recognition that something in my life was seriously wrong. In Buddhism, I found a teaching that clearly offered a way out of suffering and a way for me to find real peace and happiness.
I had considerable resistance, however, to doing what I needed to do in order to follow the Buddhist Way. Naturally enough, I wanted to be free of my suffering, escape my pervasive negative states of mind, all the difficulties that always seemed to be present themselves. Yet the arising of suffering in my life was, and is, a vital teaching, pointing me to look deeply at how I am living, what I am choosing. Over time, I learned that in embracing the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, I found the greatest treasure, a path I could trust to lead me out of emptiness and confusion.
It is a natural and functional aspect of our humanity that we are conditioned to seek pleasure and avoid pain. That is why real spiritual life goes against the grain of how the world generally responds to suffering. The problem with the normal approach to suffering is that we flee uncomfortable situations and the painful feelings. I often notice myself thinking, I do not want this to be happening, let me escape from this situation, from this unpleasant person, from this distress in my body or from this painful emotion. Yet, when I am willing to be still and accept the difficult or painful situation, this very arising of aversion and suffering is, amazingly, a gift of liberating Dharma.
When we suffer, the suffering is instructing us to look at what we are asking for, what I am telling myself I need in order to be at peace. Everyone’s life, when seen through stillness and acceptance, is a Dharma lesson. Yet the world is filled with people closing their eyes and saying, “I do not want this difficult condition, I demand something else.” In an endless variety of ways people are telling themselves the same basic story, “I will be so much happier, if I have this career; this new boss; if I could be with this special person or not be with this horrible person; or not have this health problem.” But suffering is not flowing into us from the painful and difficult conditions. It is produced by our delusion in which we identify ourselves with our thoughts and feelings, and then feel the need to escape. Liberation in Buddhism comes from the meditative mind which recognizes that the endless flow of thoughts and feelings have no fundamental reality. When we see life with a still heart, we find that nothing is really changing. We just see the flow of thoughts and do not get caught up in them or attach our hearts to them. What we usually think of as reality is just our minds swirling out of control, being driven by an endless flow of states of mind such as worry, pride, despair, fear, envy or desire. What we generally think this world to be, in actuality, is our restless and disturbed minds and hearts, leaving stillness and peace and getting caught up in this spinning, grasping mind.
The Second Noble Truth, that suffering is due to attachment, is a teaching that is being constantly demonstrated in my daily life, almost shouting its truth at me, yet often, I put in enormous energy into not seeing this obvious Truth. I do not want to take responsibility for seeing that all of my suffering is flowing from my attachments, flowing from what I am trying to unsuccessfully grasp. The roots of all my suffering lies allowing my heart and mind to leave stillness and instead, filling myself with burning desires and strong opinions. Such colloquial expressions as “seething with rage”, “burning with lust”, “being filled with themselves”, are all accurate reflections of how overwhelming we experience strong passions and opinions. Suffering results from our hearts and minds being so focused on our desires that we become hard and inflexible.
When we meditate, we are saying that it is enough to simply let go of whatever thought or feeling arises and return to stillness and silence. Formal sitting meditation is based on the very willingness to see that whatever arises is just a changeable thought or feeling. While meditating, we do not need to deal with, solve, or examine anything. Instead, we can just see the thought or feeling and then let it go and return, in faith, to the completeness we can find in stillness. Each time we do this, we demonstrate our faith that what we can find in the stillness and silence of our hearts is more real than our seemingly strong desires. We have to see how the source of all fear is flowing from our hearts trying to grasp what cannot be grasped. Our lives are tinged with fear because we know that impermanence and change can take away all that we hold dear, whether it is a person, a position, our health, or anything else we are grasping.
In order to see what is real and find true freedom, we need to see how all our desires and fears are just thoughts and feelings that arise out of stillness and emptiness. When we choose not to be moved by this flow of fear or desire, they disappear and pass back into emptiness. The practice of sitting meditation embodies the faith that there is a deeper reality than this passing reflection of our minds spinning with desires and fears. We need to bring that same faith to our daily lives, so that we let go of whatever arises in daily life and be inwardly still. We must be willing to act and respond to what is needed, but without allowing our minds to spin out of control by grasping our desires and fears.
The solution of suffering comes from not seeing a difficulty as something unfortunate happening to me, but rather seeing that I am generating all my suffering by how I react to that difficulty. I am generating my suffering by not being still and accepting the unfolding of my life with an open heart and mind. This is teaching that took me a long time to understand. My perception of reality is often a dream created by my heart and mind being caught up in desire and then weaving a tale. Often, when I sit down to meditate, I see that my mind has been swirling with a problem, with a fear, with a complaint. I am seeing all the world through this swirling mind, through a self absorbed fog. In this fog, I am telling myself, “I need this, I want this, I cannot believe this”. This swirling mind is looking the wrong way and, not surprisingly, finding life very confusing and difficult.
What is the right way to look? The whole Dharma is telling us where to look to find what is real. It can be very easy to say that suffering is not real yet we all know the seemingly burning reality of our suffering when we are hurting deeply. An account by Jacques Lusseyran shows us how we can look deeper at suffering so we can see its real nature. Lusseyran was a young French resistance fighter during WWII who was captured and imprisoned in Buchenwald, a Nazi concentration camp. German concentration camps are about as a hellacious a place as humans have devised. Lusseyran’s account shows how everyone can find real joy and peace in the midst of any form of suffering. In the midst of the most overwhelming horrors and suffering, Jacque Lusseyran meets a man named Jeremy who is at peace and filled with joy in the midst of this man-made hell.
“One went to Jeremy as toward a spring. One didn’t ask oneself why. One didn’t think about it. In this ocean of rage and suffering there was this island: a man who didn’t shout, who asked no one for help, who was sufficient unto himself.
A man who did not dream: that was more important than anything. The rest of us were dreamers: we dreamed of women, of children, of houses, often of the very miseries of other times which we had the weakness to call “liberty” We weren’t at Buchenwald. We didn’t want anything to do with Buchenwald. And each time we came back it was there just the same, and it hurt.
Jeremy was not disappointed. Why would he have dreamed? When we saw him coming with his immense serenity we felt like shouting, “Close your eyes! What one sees here burns!” But the shout remained in our throats because from all evidence, his eyes were solidly fixed on all our miseries and did not blink. Even more, he did not seem like someone who takes a great burden upon himself, the air of a hero. He was not afraid, and that just as naturally as we were afraid.
“For one who knows how to see, things are just as they always are.” he said. At first I did not understand. I even felt something quite close to indignation. What? Buchenwald like ordinary life-impossible! . . . I remember that I could not accept this. It had to be worse-or if not-then more beautiful. Until finally Jeremy enabled me to see.
It was not a revelation, a flashing discovery of the truth. 1 don’t think there was even an exchange of words. But one day it became obvious, palpable to me in the flesh, that Jeremy, the welder, had lent me his eyes.
With those eyes, I saw that Buchenwald was not unique, not even privileged to be one of the places of greatest human suffering. . . .Jeremy taught me, with his eyes, that Buchenwald was in each one of us, baked and rebaked, tended incessantly. nurtured in a horrible way. And that consequently we could vanquish it, if we desired to with enough force.
. . . He said that in ordinary life, with good eyes, we would have seen the same horrors. We had managed to be happy before. Well! The Nazis had given us a terrible microscope: the camp. This was not a reason to stop living. Jeremy was an example: he found joy in the midst of Block 57. He found it during moments of the day where we found only fear. And he found it in such great abundance that when he was present we felt it rise in us. Inexplicable sensation, incredible even, there where we were: joy was going to fill us.
. . . The joy of discovering that joy exists, that it is in us, just exactly as life is, without conditions and which no condition, even the worst, can kill.1
This passage points out how we can free ourselves from suffering. Jeremy did not dream, and all of Buddhist practice is aimed at liberating us from dreaming, so that we can be fully present and aware of what we have right now. The dreaming we do is the story we weave of our past and future and neither has any true reality. The past is but a memory we are grasping and repeating to ourselves and the future is just a tale we are telling ourselves of what may be. Suffering is our minds, refusing to fully accept our present experience, instead dreaming of a future that either entices or frightens us and dreaming of a past that we cannot let go. “For one who knows how to see, things are just as they always are.”
Dogen offers us similar teachings: “When the opposites arise, the Buddha mind is lost”.2 The opposites are thinking that in the flow of existence, something is really changing; that there is something we can gain and something we can lose. Again Dogen writes, “The most important question for all Buddhists is how to understand birth and death completely for then, should you be able to find the Buddha within birth and death, they both vanish”.3
Meditation and spiritual practice is teaching us that unless we stop clinging to what is changeable, we will not find what is real. The whole point of Buddhist practice is to find the place that knows we have nothing to lose and nothing to gain. Jeremy was not afraid because he found what is real and indestructible. Jacques Lusseyran writes, “The joy of discovering that joy exists, that it is in us, just exactly as life is, without conditions and which no condition, even the worst, can kill.” Even when we are in pain, even when we are surrounded with the intense suffering of others, we can let go and find the Buddha, and be free. “For one who knows how to see, things are just as they always are.”
When I am suffering, I need to remind myself to stop my mind from spinning its woeful tales and its empty dreams. I must stop trying to grasp this flowing life or else I cannot find my way out of suffering. I must not worry about the unfolding of my life’s karma or the world’s karma, but instead, I need let go and trust the Three Refuges with the deep trust of a small child holding its mother’s hand. In the stillness of my heart is the unbounded life of Buddha and this cannot be grasped but can only be found with an open heart which knows it does not need to ask for anything. The real goal of Buddhist training is to have an open heart and mind which has the faith that there is nothing to fear. Then we will find that we have always possessed our deepest longing, the living Heart of Buddha, the place of real, indestructible peace and joy.
1 Jacques Lusseyran, Against the Pollution of the I:
Selected Writings of Jacques Lusseyran; translated by Noelle
Oxenhandler., (New York, Parabola Books, 1999) pp.150-153.
2 (Rules for Meditation by Dogen) translated from by
Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett in Serene Reflection Meditation (Mt. Shasta, CA: Shasta Abbey, 1996), p.1.
3 (Shushogi by Dogen) translated from by Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett in Zen is Eternal Life (Mt. Shasta, CA: Shasta Abbey, 1999), p.94
by Rev. Kinrei
Rev. Veronica Snedaker, who has been a monk at Shasta Abbey for ten years, has been living mostly at the Priory for the past year. Her 94 year old mother, who lives in Napa, now requires some assistance. Rev. Veronica has been spending some days each week with her mother and the rest of her time at the Priory. Since her mother need for some help seems to be ongoing situation and Rev. Veronica is mostly living at the Priory, she has officially switched her primary residence from Shasta Abbey to the Priory. It is naturally a help to the Priory to have another monk in residence and to have someone who can assist with all the temple work.
Rev. Daishin Yalon, who is vice-abbot of Shasta Abbey, had his knee replaced in Berkeley at the beginning of February. He was here for several weeks, both for the pre-surgery preparations and the post surgery recovery and therapy. Rev. Enya came down from Shasta Abbey to help with Rev. Daishin’s care. His surgery and recovery went well and it was a pleasure to have Rev. Daishin and Rev. Enya at the Priory.
We had our yearly memorial for Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett on November 6. Rev. Master Jiyu was the founder of the Priory and is 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.
Memorials and Funerals
We held a memorial for Roger Kahn’s father, Wilbur Kahn, on January 8. Wilbur, was 94 years old when he died on December 9. There was an animal funeral for Lorna and Vincent Townsend’s dog, Louie, on January 21.
Introductory Workshop April 22 (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 14
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 Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
On Sunday, May 14, 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 around12:15 pm, we will have a vegetarian potluck lunch. All family and friends of our Sangha are welcome to come to Wesak or just join us for the potluck and share in our celebration of the birth of the Buddha.
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 free pest service, orchids, garden plants, Buddhist statues and altar supplies, books, kitty litter, toilet paper, paper towels, paper napkins 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 June 3, and Saturday July 29.
Priory Meditation Retreats
April 15 May 20 June 17 July 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:
June 2–4 July 14–16 August 11–13
Wesak Retreat May 19–21
Shobogenzo Retreat June 18–25
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.