Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter
January – March 2018
by Rev. Kinrei Bassis
(Reprinted from the Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter, January–February, 2003)
Being at peace is the heart of Buddhism. When I think about what I am trying to do in meditation, I am trying to view everything that arises as the Buddha; that nothing ever needs to be pushed away or grasped after. In my daily life, I am trying to bring a peaceful heart to whatever I experience, without qualification.
Although I have been meditating and training for twenty-five years, I still find it is very easy to get lost and absorbed in the flow of my life and lose my perspective on what is important and real. I often find myself getting caught up in the details of my day, allowing my mind to be filled with worries and fears, desires and dreams. In meditation, I am trying to be still and quiet enough to be aware of what I am thinking and feeling.
For instance, I have spent many days allowing patterns of worried thoughts to fill me. When I am worrying, I need to remind myself that I am choosing to worry. Being worried is not something that is being imposed upon me by difficult circumstances. I am allowing my mind and heart to cling to my concerns and desires. I cannot stop a worried thought from arising in my mind. However, letting myself be absorbed in my worries is my choice. I always have a better choice, to let go of my worried thoughts and return my heart to stillness and acceptance. It would be easy if I could find peace by letting go of a worrying problem just once, but I generally need to let go of my worries again, and again, and again. The real solution is difficult and requires patience and willingness.
This letting go again and again is not a cold mechanical act of practice. Letting go requires my faith that everything in my life is an expression of the boundless heart of Buddha. Then I can bring my faith to illuminate the true nature of my problems so that I can free my heart and see and experience the unreal nature of my problems and my suffering.
When I realize each act of letting go is an act of faith, I find it easier to have compassion for the part of me that still doubts the Dharma. Defilements are still finding a home in my heart, which means I still burn with very real desires, fears and ill will. The peace of letting go and just being present and accepting is very hard because the result may appear to be just the absence of everything that I find meaningful. This is why the world is full of people who wonder why anyone would wish to look at a wall for hours. It is rare to meet the person who is pursuing peace rather than a life that is filled with seemingly meaningful activities and, hopefully, even some excitement.
Letting go is the heart of spiritual life, but spiritual life is difficult. This is because, while our life and even our dreams can seem to possess a living, burning reality, letting go can seem cold, empty and unreal. Yet what brings one to spiritual life, and then keeps one going, is the intuitive sense that within the stillness of our hearts, we can find our true and deepest longing. Spiritual life is the growing of this small flame of spiritual intuition until it illuminates our whole life and world with the light of Buddha.
Our meditation practices is centered on allowing all thoughts and feelings to be seen. to be felt, and not suppressed. We are trying not allow any thought or feelings to control us. Our aim is to allow everything that arises, to simply reflect off our mind. Our mind is grounded, first in our faith, and then in our growing experience as we train, that everything we want, we have already within our hearts.
Often I have wanted peace but then pushed peace away by demanding that some aspect of my self or the world is unacceptable and must be different. I often see myself wishing that I was more willing, that I was not so filled with so many desires and fears, and that I did not hurt so much. I often want the world, other people, myself, to be different. I have, at times, found myself dreaming of being a better monk. I have dreamed of being deeply spiritual, dreamed of being wiser, dreamed of training with fierce determination. Yet, all the time I am looking elsewhere, the only place I can find peace and contentment is in the present moment, in this very situation I find myself. Anything else means that I am abandoning reality to dream of a different past or an imaginary future. What I need to keep doing is to stop dreaming and stop asking for my life to be different. The Dharma is very simple, I just need to keep reminding myself to be at peace and content right now. When I stop grasping and asking for things to be different and I am willing to be still with an open heart, I sometimes find, to my amazement, that peace, joy and contentment are already flowing through me. The Dharma is pointing me to the Truth; that I already possess my deepest wish. What is needed is very simple but I find it hard as it goes against many deeply ingrained habits of my heart and mind. All I need to do is be
willing to try again and again to be fully present and to try again and again to accept what I am being given in this present moment.
What we normally view as reality is really just life viewed through the distorting lenses of what we want and fear, and it can seem very depressing and hopeless. Often I see that I am
allowing all my desires, passions and fears to fill me. Not
surprisingly, I then find that my life becomes very confusing and dark, and my daily life seems to be out of touch with the teachings of the Dharma. Yet when we stop demanding and asking and look at life with a still and open heart, reality is always the life of Buddha.
My spiritual problem and most Buddhists’ problem is how we try to qualify the Dharma and add a “but”. I can be at peace but this has to change. I can be at peace but some difficulty first needs to go away. When I am suffering, I find it invaluable to ask myself what I am asking for. Then I need to compassionately remind myself that my suffering is the result of what I am asking for, that I should only be asking to open my heart to the Buddha. When frustration with some situation arises, I need to tell myself to let go, that it will be all right even if the worst thing happens. When I feel something is a problem, I need to tell myself that there is no problem. I may need to take action, but that is not a problem. I just need to be willing to respond to the needs of the present situation and do what seems to promote the most good and the least harm.
Instead of being upset or despairing about my restlessness, my frustration, and my fear, I need to treat all these difficult states of mind with loving firmness. I am causing myself to suffer if I let these feelings control my life. Meditation is learning to see and experience suffering or joy without feeling the need to react. Meditation helps me see the changeable nature of this endless flow of feelings that are always moving through me. I need to have compassion for my small self with its many difficult emotions. Often I experience a voice in me crying out how important this feeling is, how vital this desire is, how fearful and unacceptable this situation is. And what I need to do again and again, is to let go and allow each lost feeling of fear, of desire, of anger, to find peace in the stillness of my open heart. When I stop clinging and offer an unqualified yes to the unfolding of my life, peace is everywhere.
Seeing all of life with deep wisdom is what liberates us. Yet the path to wisdom is viewing all of life through peaceful eyes. When our minds spin an endless stream of thoughts telling us what reality is, we will not see the Buddha. Peace, contentment, and wisdom are always living within us. We need to stop indulging our minds spinning their old, deluded tales and take refuge in the liberating Dharma, where, in reality, there never was, is, or will be anything stopping us from letting go and finding peace and contentment.
Mischa Wendel’s husband, Bruce Rice, age 71, died from cancer on August 24. We held a well attended memorial for Bruce on Sunday, October 8th.
On December 1, we held funeral ceremonies for two dogs, Schmee and Griffin and a cat, Gem, who had all died awhile back. These services were requested by Tobi Zausner.
The Priory work day on November 25 was well attended and much was accomplished. We put a fresh coat of stain on the fence by the garage and it is wonderful how much that helped the fence’s appearance. Plus much gardening, yard work and cleaning was done.
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, January 27 and Saturday, March 24.
Priory Meditation Retreats
January 13 February 10 March 10 April 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.
Introductory Workshop February 24 (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, then a few periods of meditation and then a talk on bringing mindfulness and compassion into our daily lives. There is no charge for the workshop and we ask people toregister in advance.
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.
February 9–11 April 13–15
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.
Continuing Practice Retreat March 2–4
Keeping of the Ten Precepts Retreat March 25–April 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.