2017 Oct-Dec

Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter

October  –   December  2017

Looking Down

by Rev. Kinrei

(Reprinted from the Berkeley Priory Newsletter March-April 2005)

The expression looking down is very expressive of what I amdoing when I get caught up with my suffering and despair. When something goes wrong in my life, I just keep looking at the mess and not seeing much else. That is looking down, all I see is what is wrong.

Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett used to tell people who looked like they were down in the dumps and feeling miserable, that they needed to look up. When someone is having a hard time, they often literally keep their eyes downcast. However, looking up is not just raising our eyes but directing our attention towards the Buddha, looking at where we are going in our spiritual life. It is very easy to be completely absorbed and lost in what is happening right now. It astonishes me how I can be so fully absorbed with my troubles, my worries, my fears. My problems can fill my life and color everything. In looking down, we focus on what is lacking, what appears to be getting in our way.

I did not understand for a long time that looking down is also the result of allowing myself to be too focused on my joys and my pleasures. I can, sometimes, fill myself with the wonders and pleasures of life. There is nothing wrong with enjoying something but Buddhism teaches, wherever we look, we should see impermanence. Let’s say I am enjoying a delicious meal or pleasurable company. I should still recognize and keep in mind that it as a fleeting pleasure and not of deep importance. When I encounter something attractive, I need to cultivate nonattachment-see it is as not a big deal, nothing special. The Buddhist path is the seeing of the emptiness of both worldly joy and worldly suffering: to see the dreamlike and insignificant nature of the ups and downs of our daily life. When I encounter something that raises aversion, worry, fear or anger, I should see it as Dharma teaching and work on patience and compassion for this piece of difficult karma. When I meet something that seems neutral, something I do not seem to care about, I need to work on bowing to it and see both its sacred nature and its pure emptiness. When I approach my daily life in this way, everything becomes open and positive, everything points me to the Bodhicitta, the boundless heart of Buddha.

Instead of using the expression looking up, I like to think of it more as looking forward, looking for my next step on the path to Buddhahood. Instead of getting completely caught up with this little self, the drama of my life’s story, with its triumphs and failures, a Buddhist takes refuge in the Three Treasures. The Three Treasures are the heart of Buddhism and a vehicle of liberation. For me, looking up means to maintain equanimity with the endless ups and downs of my daily life and to put my effort and heart into taking the next step forward on the Buddhist Way.

When I take refuge in the Buddha, I am saying everything I want, everything my heart desires, is not found in this world of change but is only found in the depths of my heart, in this place of peace and stillness. When I open my heart with kindness and compassion to whatever I encounter, I find everything has brightness and everything contains goodness. The Boundless exists within all of us and is our True Heart. Finding this place is our deepest and most fundamental longing. When I take refuge in the Buddha, I am pointing myself to this completeness and to a fearlessness that knows that nothing can ever be fundamentally hurt.

When I take refuge in the Dharma, I am saying that all I need to do is follow the teachings of the Buddha and everything will be taken care of. The Dharma is telling me to purify my heart and let everything go, so taking refuge in the Dharma is seeing what I am holding, what I am demanding, what I am asking for, and focusing my heart and mind on doing only what the Buddhist Precepts and my mindfulness directs me to do. When I encounter obstacles or suffering, I need to let go of my expectations and desires, and trust that there is no problem, that everything, in a deeper sense, is still the life of Buddha. All acceptance is the key to the gateless gate. I am not taking refuge in the Dharma when I tell myself, “This is unacceptable, this is wrong.” When these doubts arise, I need to compassionately embrace them like a mother soothing an upset child, giving the Dharma like medicine to my upset or frightened heart. I need to keep reminding myself, there is no problem. Every step I take on the Buddhist Way is leading me to my Real Home.

Taking refuge in the Sangha is the key in keeping my Buddhist training going and most importantly, keeping it going in the right direction. Trust is the ground of the Sangha Treasure. To trust a senior member of the Sangha; to be willing to be open about what you are experiencing, your difficulties, your doubts. This openness is based on a trust that there is nothing wrong with us, nothing we need to hide. I have often felt I need to keep some of my difficulties and failings secret because I was ashamed of them. I would think that I know what I need to do, it seems so obvious and I will be open about myself after I have changed. Yet it was so liberating when I was willing to be open with someone I could trust and talk about my dark, secret messes. Then I could see myself through the reflection of much wiser eyes that had compassion for my struggles and still saw a pure heart within me. Also, it is very deluded for me to think I always know the right direction. The deep wisdom of the Sangha can point me in the right direction when I go astray. This experience and wisdom is what allows me to trust my next step since I know that if I am mistaken in my training, the Sangha will see my mistakes and will help me to find my way back on the Path.

One common form of delusion is the feeling we are special and unique. Whenever I feel ashamed or believe that there is something is wrong with me, I can look around and see how I am like everyone else, struggling with my passions and fears in this very difficult world. To let go of my efforts to be someone special frees me to put my efforts into following the Dharma.

The Sangha Refuge is also the willingness to be with others, to put up with and learn to trust and love the ordinary, flawed people that comprise the Sangha. My heart often opens to the immeasurable gift of having the company and the support of all these varied members of the Sangha, all walking the Path to Buddhahood with me.

I still find it very easy to look down and can find myself dwelling on what is wrong with me, wrong with others, wrong with the world. Letting go is the Way yet letting go can sometimes feel so hard it appears impossible. The following teaching from the Scripture of Great Wisdom points to a truth, In the mind of the Bosatsu who is truly one, the obstacles dissolve. I need to just keep coming back to the stillness within my heart, to just accepting, to stop asking for things to be different, and then the Way opens. Sometimes it appears as a little glimmer of light in the darkness. Sometimes just as a sense that this suffering on which I dwell is not completely real. Sometimes the problems completely fall away, and I look with astonishment that I have filled my life with darkness in the midst of such overwhelming light.

Priory News

On Sunday, September 10, 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.

Priory booth at the Solano Stroll

I was very pleased to have the opportunity, for the last two weeks of September, to be at Shasta Abbey and attend a meetings of senior monks of the Order. It was once every six-years meeting of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives which is called a conclave. Its purpose was to deal with the rules of the Order. One of the greatest gifts in Buddhism is a harmonious Sangha, and Rev. Kinrei felt very privileged that the prevailing spiritual attitude of meetings was clearly based on deep trust and willingness. One of the underlying purposes of these meetings is just the human contact between everyone and it was wonderful to get to see and spend time with some many old friends and getting to know some of the newer monks. The Priory also hosted eight Europeans who came through Berkeley on their way to and from Shasta Abbey. I appreciate all the help we received from the Priory Sangha with the transportation needs of our many guests.


Two spouses of Priory members died this past August. Roger Kahn’s wife, Marianne, age 71, died on August 9, from cancer. Marianne had been dealing with the cancer for the past few years and she died peacefully, at home, surrounded by Roger and her two children, Robin and Maja. Marianne had a very well attended memorial, at the Priory, on August 27 and then she had a large public memorial on September 8, at the Chapel of the Chimes, in Oakland. Her friends shared wonderful memories of Marianne and the ways she made a significant impact on their lives.

Mischa Wendel’s husband, Bruce Rice, age 71, died from cancer on August 24. Bruce had been dealing with the cancer for the past several years and he died, peacefully, at home. Bruce was cremated on September 5, and we held a Buddhist service, at the crematorium, before the body was burned.

With Gratitude

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 table saw, a compost container, a loan of a van, an electric scale,books, meditation cushions, kitty litter, toilet paper 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, July 29 and Saturday, October 7.

Priory Meditation Retreats

October 14             November 11             December 16             January 13

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.

Segaki Ceremony, Sunday, October 22

Segaki ceremony was taught by the Buddha, as a way of offering merit to those who have died in painful, difficult or despairing circumstances. The Priory will set up an outside altar and we will have a great variety of foods on the altar as an offering to the dead. A Dharma talk will follow that will examine how we can truly help those who are suffering, and how we can convert our own craving and greed through the practice of the Dharma. After the Dharma talk, there will be a potluck lunch, hopefully, weather permitting, in the Priory garden.

Buddha’s Enlightenment: Sunday, December 10

The Priory will celebrate the great Enlightenment of the Buddha, on Sunday, December 10. 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.

Spiritual Counseling

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 guestmaster@shastaabbey.org.

October 11 – 13, 2017
SILENT MEDITATION RETREAT This three-day Silent Meditation Retreat focuses is very much on meditation: there are six or seven periods of meditation each day. Meals are eaten in silence. There are no Dharma talks or spiritual counseling. Monks are asked to put aside monastic office responsibilities as much as possible to go deeply into the heart of meditation. Lay participants likewise are invited to deepen their meditation in this quiet and reflective time.  Committed practitioners who have spent time at the Abbey may consult the Guestmaster about attending this Retreat.

October 26 – 29, 2017
FEEDING OF THE HUNGRY GHOST RETREAT The importance of offering merit, particularly for those who have died in distressing circumstances or unsettled states of mind, is at the heart of this retreat. Dharma talks examine what it means to offer merit, how we can truly help those who are suffering, and how we can convert our own craving and greed through the practice of the Dharma. In the Feeding of the Hungry Ghosts Ceremony, we offer the food of the Dharma to all beings who have died under painful, difficult or despairing circumstances.

November 10 – 12, 2017
An Introductory Retreat introduces guests new to Shasta Abbey to the Serene Reflection (Soto Zen) practice in a monastic setting. It provides down-to-earth help for taking this practice back into daily life outside the monastery gates. Introductory Retreats offer meditation instruction, periods of seated meditation, Dharma talks and informal discussions about meditation, mindfulness and the basic teachings of Serene Reflection. The retreat concludes with an informal tea for retreat guests, monks and our local congregation.

November 15 – 17, 2017
This three-day Silent Meditation Retreat focuses is very much on meditation: there are six or seven periods of meditation each day. Meals are eaten in silence. There are no Dharma talks or spiritual counseling. Monks are asked to put aside monastic office responsibilities as much as possible to go deeply into the heart of meditation. Lay participants likewise are invited to deepen their meditation in this quiet and reflective time.  Committed practitioners who have spent time at the Abbey may consult the Guestmaster about attending this Retreat.

December 29, 2017 – January 1, 2018
NEW YEAR CELEBRATORY RETREAT Year-end is traditionally a time for both reflection and celebration. This 3-day retreat offers opportunities to do this together as members of the Buddha’s family. Dharma talks explore ways to deepen our resolve and our practice in the coming year. Meditation, ceremonies, and celebration offer opportunities to bid farewell to the old and welcome the new. On New Year’s Eve we hold a Vigil for Maitreya, as well as the midnight New Year’s Ceremony, followed by ringing in the New Year with the great bell. The retreat ends on January 1, and guests are welcome to stay overnight and leave on January 2.

Meditation Instruction

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.