Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter
July – September 2017
by Rev. Kinrei Bassis
It is a basic human desire to seek happiness and satisfaction in our lives. The question we all face in life is how do we find this happiness and satisfaction. The way we answer that question is the way we will direct our lives. Our volitional choices, the way we conduct our lives, the way we direct our longing, is our answer.
Sometimes our answer to the question is confusion – I do not know what to do. Sometimes our answer is despair – nothing we do seems to work. Sometimes our answer is blind desire. We allow our lust to control us, our greed to control us, our fear to control us. When I was a young man, travelling to exotic places enticed me. Then, in my travels, I was living my image of an exciting life. Yet my underlying purpose in travelling the world was simply to have a good time. But having a good time is actually not that easy and even exotic places can easily be boring. I eventually realized travelling was not an answer to what I am looking for.
People are often driven by blind ambition because they are not looking at the reality of what they are trying to grasp but just following some deep seated desire. I remember talking to someone who had finally become a neurologist after many difficult and exhausting years of education and medical training. He was now surprised that even though he finally attained the success and financial rewards that he had been seeking, his heart was still looking for something more. It like the line from the popular song of the rock group U2, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.
Our lives are a demonstration of our choices and what has meaning in our lives. I remember hearing someone speak of his wife asking him, “what in the past year meant the most to you?” The husband said, “I maintained daily distance running and ran a marathon.” The wife looked at him with disapproval. He had three children and a wife and what mattered most to him was his running. The marriage soon fell apart.
We all have the tendency to believe that, “If I had this job, or this experience; if I could be with this person or have this lifestyle, this would make me happy and satisfied.” We keep answering the underlying question in our life by all the various ways we attempt to fill the the emptiness. Our life answers our inner longing by drawing us into patterns of pursuing and avoiding, of attainment and failure. And as we chase our dreams, we keep experiencing disappointment and frustration. Whether we fulfill our dreams and goals or fail, we will still eventually keep finding ourselves in the place of “I still have not found what I am looking for.”
Rephrasing U2, I have found what I am looking for. The question of our lives has an answer, the deep longing of our hearts can find the wholeness it seeks. Yet we miss seeing the answer to our question because we are looking the wrong way. The normal worldly mind keeps asking life and the world to give us what we want. Mostly we are asking with demands and expectations. We are filled with wants and needs, and their automatic partner, fear and aversion. Since we never fully control the conditions in our life, we are always both getting what we want and getting what we do not want. The more we answer the question of our lives by filling ourselves with more demands, more wants, the more we keep getting what we do not want.
All of our various longings of our heart are an effort to be whole, to fill the sense of emptiness in our heart. Yet, if we keep asking the wrong question in life, a compassionate aspect of law of karma is that life keeps giving us serious problems and we keep confronting suffering. The Dharma is pointing to the mind of all acceptance, to put the Buddhist teaching into practice and work at having an open and willing mind and heart. Instead of trying the worldly way of obtaining happiness by controlling the conditions within our life, we learn to be inwardly still, with an open heart. We need to try our best to let the waves of desire and strong emotions flow through us without grasping anything or pushing anything away.
The real question is not why we are not getting what we want; the real question is why we are not practicing all acceptance and seeking the Buddha Heart. Letting go in faith and trusting that there is nothing to fear is the way we learn how to ask the right question. To recognize that all of our difficulties is not coming from the world’s failures or my personal failures but what I am asking for. We begin to liberate ourselves from suffering by realizing nothing, neither our suffering or our happiness is our own. We are looking in the right direction when we bow to our suffering and have faith that points us to look up with gratitude.
The difficulty in life comes from the fact that we care deeply about what happens to us. This provides overwhelmingly powerful motivation, driving people to put tremendous amounts of energy into whatever it is that deeply matters to them, whether work, family, friendship, recreation, art, collecting, etc. When we care deeply enough about something, we are even willing to risk our lives.
Sometimes our lives are relatively empty of much meaning and all that person cares about is being comfortable and not suffering. They are just trying to get by, to survive and grasp a little bit of happiness.
The Buddhist path requires that you make the Buddhist practice the central aspect of your life. And naturally this is difficult and goes against the normal human motivation we have to maximize our comfort and avoid suffering. Yet each act of Buddhist training, whether it is meditation, mindfulness, studying the Dharma, ceremonial, practicing with the Sangha, are all ways to help us to look in the right direction. Every time we turn our hearts in the right direction – whenever we think, speak and act with kindness, compassion, generosity and gratitude, we are helping to free ourselves from our defilements. Within us is a fire of a deep longing, and this fire will burn away all obstacles when we feed it with our faith and acts of Buddhist training.
We need to accept that we do not control how our life will unfold and we can trust that what we really want, the true Treasure, lies within the stillness of our hearts. If we live this Truth, it can and will free us from all suffering. When we sit still, the stream of compassion turns within and we can hear the call of the Buddha. Let us be willing to do all that we can so that we will hear and answer that call.
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 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.
Wesak Ceremony on May 14
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, July 29 and Saturday, October 7.
Priory Meditation Retreats
July 15 August 12 October 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.
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 Weekend Retreats: July 14–16 August 11–13
Continuing Practice Retreat July 27–30
Teachings of Our Tradition Retreat August 20–27
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.
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