Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter
How to Find Kanzeon in Hell
by Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett
(This article was first published in the Journal of Shasta Abbey, November -December 1982. It was based on a Dharma talk given at the Ten Precepts Retreat.)
I received a letter from one of our lay members of the Sangha recently which I felt was of such great importance that I wished to share a portion of it with you and make it the starting point of this Ten Precepts Retreat. The person concerned writes as follows:
I do not quite know how to explain the following but, I often feel that a part of me is present at the Abbey. I can feel the ground under the cloister beneath my feet, I can see the inside of the Buddha Hall and feel the presence there, and yet, my heart feels burdened by grief and despair. The thoughts and feelings of others enter unbidden into my consciousness. I seem to see only suffering, suffering. I know I must learn to see the Buddha in all things. When I sit in meditation and ask for help for myself and the world, the answer seems to be the very suffering I am trying to understand. When I ask what suffering is, I see only a deep blackness shot through with golden points of light. And still, I must go on.
Anytime someone tries to do something about himself, he will find himself burdened with other peoples’ grief unless he knows that he is not the Cosmic Buddha and that there is nothing in him that is not of the Cosmic Buddha. One of the sad things for members of helping professions is that too many of them take to themselves the sufferings of others, and eventually, make themselves ill with it. They do not yet realize that they are not the Cosmic Buddha and must ask for help from the Cosmic Buddha. This person, when asking for help, is shown the suffering shot through with golden points of light — with the essence of Buddha. These times are the “little moments that make one dance.”…One has to be willing to cry “I am not sufficient! I cannot do it alone!” This is what will make the essence of Buddha appear. What will make it possible is faith. The deeper we go into meditation, the more suffering becomes apparent and the more important it is that our faith shall deepen and that we learn to recognize the little golden moments that point the way to the Cosmic Buddha. It is important to stop trying to hold onto being able to do something by ourselves about the suffering, for, if we attempt to become thus omnipotent, all we will see is suffering; and we ourselves are then in the way. And if we are in the way, we cannot see the Cosmic Buddha working through it. It is a very hard lesson to learn, for a layman or a laywoman it is even harder. But all the signs are there.
This person is never apart from the temple — its presence is always felt. Perhaps she needs to know that the real temple is the temple of one’s own body and the real cloister is everywhere. This does not mean that one should not become a monk, nor does it mean one should go out into the world. It means that the real cloister is everywhere and the real presence is everywhere. We enter into a monastery — we retreat — in order to advance. If the burden of suffering is constantly hindering us, we cannot advance. If we cannot look at the suffering and see the golden fragments and recognize that they are the Cosmic Buddha shining through that suffering, and have faith to hold onto that, then nothing can help us. We come to Ten Precepts Retreat so that we may’ learn to keep the Precepts and thereby find the Buddha. For the Buddha lies within those Precepts. In finding the Buddha, we learn how to recognize the little golden moments within suffering. And thus, what was originally a dark and black, and seemingly grieving and despairing place, becomes the garden of the Bodhisattvas, the waveless sea of the Arahants (saints). We can find it before what is known as death and we can know that it is so after what man calls death. The Eternal is within all these situations, the Eternal is within all things. The world is a rough place to those who do not know this. The advantage of a monastery is that it is a place in which we can set the world aside, somewhat, for a little, and get closer to the Cosmic Buddha, to the little golden moments, so that they are more easily recognized, not only in the monastery itself, but in the world outside as well.
To see the Buddha in suffering, in pleasure, in pain, in joy, in sorrow is one of the greatest gifts of enlightenment. But faith is much needed to be able to do this. And you have to do a lot of work upon yourself before faith is a fully understood concept. Far too few people know what faith really means. In one sense, every one of us has incredible faith: we all believe we will waken in the morning, but we have no proof of it; we also have no proof that we won’t. We believe that we will. But one day we will not. And neither of these ideas terrify us. It is with this attitude of mind that one must go through the world and the monastery. It is absolutely imperative that we feel the cloister beneath our feet and the presence of the Buddha Hall within our hearts wherever we go. Then, however much grief and suffering others lay upon us simply because the person concerned is looking for a sympathetic ear or because we happen to be more open than others and can feel it more clearly, whatever way it is, if we have found the way to carry that presence in our hearts, then, whether we are here or whether we are sitting in the dining hall, or working in a hospital, or in a hospice, or sitting in an office or driving a bus, no matter what we are doing, whatever the suffering is that we see or that may come into us, we will see the Lord’s work and we will learn to accept that this is the way it is because this is how karma works. In accepting the karmic consequences, we will find the Lord in all things and be able to work peacefully and effectively.
I felt I wanted to share this letter with you because it is so important. Some things should be shared and such problems as this in training should definitely be shared. I am sure that there are lay people who have had similar experiences to this. And certainly, if anyone has been meditating for a long time and has not yet learned to be truly one, in faith and certainty, with the Cosmic Buddha, the greater sensitivity that meditation brings will seem to increase the amount of suffering that person is aware of. There are schools of Buddhism, therefore, that think it is best that lay people do not meditate at all. Fortunately, neither I nor the whole of the Soto school of Zen believe this. Meditation is always good. Both Dogen and Keizan said this and so did Shakyamuni Buddha. Meditation is always good, no matter who does it. But it is good that we can have time to be together, like this, to discuss these things and to be able to help each other….
Lessons on Loss
by Carrie Crespo
There are moments when I reflect on the past few years of my life and I see much loss. The deepest sorrow I thought I would experience was the inability to have a biological child. I spent years attempting to get pregnant through fertility treatments. I remember in the midst of my struggles attending a Sunday Dharma talk where Reverend Kinrei recounted the teaching of The Mustard Seed. I grieved with Kisa Gotami as she carried her dead son to her neighbors looking for medicine. When she was told to go to Sakyamuni, the Buddha, the Buddha told her to return with a handful of mustard seed with the instruction that,
“The mustard-seed must be taken from a house where no one has lost a child, husband, parent, or friend.”
I thought then of my friend Linda who, at almost nine months pregnant, had an emergency delivery of her daughter only to discover she was born with a rare form of cancer and would die less than two weeks later. I thought of my friends Rebecca and Natalie who after repeated miscarriages, chose to adopt; they were each matched with babies then faced the bittersweet disappointment of birth mothers deciding to keep the child after delivering. We all grieved with Kisa, for a lost child, a lost hope. I found comfort in the Dharma like Kisa.
“Returning to the Buddha, she took refuge in him and found comfort in the Dharma, which is a balm that will soothe all the pains of our troubled hearts.”
Earlier this year, I was laid off from a job, I lost my beloved dog to cancer, I faced frequent marital strife that comes with the stresses of midlife and personal challenges. My mother, who lives on the East Coast and had been diagnosed with dementia experienced a drastic decline. I have a strained relationship with my sister; she and I had to move my mother to assisted living in September, the process of which was physically, emotionally and financially draining.
I sought refuge again in the Dharma and the wisdom Reverend Kinrei shared with me on having an open heart. He explained,
“Part of having an open heart is the willingness to accept these painful feelings. But what allows us to have an open heart and not be afraid of the difficult feelings, is the faith and trust that nothing fundamental is being lost and a loving heart will always find something to love.”
He also shared the wisdom from the scripture, Trust in the Heart,
”Pain if you seek serenity in the Boundless, will eventually
dissolve all on its own.”
At my darkest times, I return to gratitude. Gratitude for the Reverend, his friendship and his wisdom. Gratitude for mundane miracles, like getting across four lanes of traffic on 580 to 24, time and time again. It is gratitude that has helped me look beyond the ups and downs of daily life to get through my present difficulties, that dissolve my pain. In 2013, at a friend’s suggestion, we started sharing gratitude lists every night; three small things that we were thankful for that happened that day. I still do these lists when I feel a shadow of despair upon me. I’ve invited new friends who are having troubles to exchange gratitude lists with me.
I was able to put my ego aside and move forward to conceive with an egg donor in 2016. I had two beautiful girls who I refer to as “my little Buddhas.” They will celebrating their second birthday on January 3, the same day of birth as Reverend Kinrei. They, like the Reverend and the Dharma, are my constant teachers. They sow my compassion and reinforce the fundamental truth of impermanence. They are my comforts and guides to maintaining a loving heart. To them I offer many bows and to the Sangha I offer my gratitude for reading my words.
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 a used imac computer that is an upgrade over the Priory’s current computer, altar plants, flowers, garden plants, books, kitty litter, toilet paper, tissues, paper towels, candles, 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 provides much of the food for the Priory. During the past few months we have been given food donations of many prepared meals, various vegetables and fruit, soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk, eggs, tofu, breakfast cereal, oats, soups, rice, vegetarian burgers, vegetarian meats, cheese, beans, soups, salads, bread, coffee, herbal and black teas, fruit juice, nuts, sunflower seeds, various chips, fruit preserves, chocolates, cookies, candy, pies, and cakes. You are always welcome to check with the Priory on what foods are currently needed.
Priory Meditation Retreats
January 12 February 16 March 16 April 20
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.
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 offer your help. The next work days are scheduled for Saturday, January 26. and Saturday, March 30.
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.
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 Priory is solely 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 we receive is the continuing practice of Priory Sangha.
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.
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.
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.