2019 Apr-June

Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter

April–June 2019

Be Nobody

by Rev. Kinrei

When one studies Buddhism, one studies oneself; when one studies oneself, one forgets oneself; when one forgets oneself, one is enlightened by everything and this very enlightenment breaks the bonds of clinging to both body and mind, not only for oneself, but for all beings as well.  Dogen-Genjokoan

When I started my Buddhist practice, I clearly saw that the real difficulty I was having with my life was being caused by me, the way I was approaching life. I was filled with a seemingly endless flow of needs and wants. In other words, from a Buddhist perspective, I was confronting and feeling bound by my defilements, my greed, my ill will and my delusion. Initially, my practice was really about trying to make a better me, in other words, self-improvement. Trying to be a spiritual person. And this seems to be a very reasonable and worthy goal. Whenever I had spiritual counseling with a senior monk, it was always about how I was doing and my progress or seeming lack of progress. So like the above quote from Dogen, I was studying oneself.  I think for most people that is the normal entrance into Buddhism. We are trying to improve ourselves, stop the thoughts and behaviors that are causing us to suffer and become an improved version of me.

A teaching attributed to the Buddha is “Nothing whatsoever is to be clung to as ‘I’ or ‘mine.’ Whoever has heard this has heard all the teachings. Whoever practices this has practiced all the teachings. Whoever realizes this has realized all the teachings.” The Buddha emphasized becoming peaceful, which is not a quality that most people are seeking. They are seeking happiness by trying to get what they want and trying to be special in some way. As long as we are trying to be something, we are actually still seeking suffering. When we talk about letting go in Buddhism, the main thing we are letting go of is our obsession with ourselves. The meaning of our life is really the story we tell ourselves about who we are. Two people can go through the same difficult conditions and one tells themselves a story that is full of woe and injustice, and the other tells themselves a story that is, despite the hardships, full of gratitude. When we grasp some aspect of our life as this is what is really important, for example, getting this job, being with this person, accomplishing this, we are losing sight of the spiritual aspect of our life and are lost in a worldly view. This even applies to trying to be a spiritual person, not that it is wrong to focus on cultivating our spirituality.  But trying to be spiritual person will get in the way of realizing real spirituality. 

The normal human tendency is trying to be special, which also means we are evaluating our lives in relation to others. As long as we are clinging to our little self, we are doomed to the mind that is comparing ourselves to others and then judging ourselves as superior or inferior. We live our lives desperately clinging to our successes, but then we are ashamed of our weaknesses and often wishing to hide our failures. We can never find real peace as long as we live our lives clinging to how we are doing in relation to others. 

So how do we study ourselves and still forget ourselves?  That seems contradictory. The way we do that is by focusing on what we are doing and not on who we are. For instance, we are not trying to be a kind person. Instead we are trying to act with kindness.  And if we cultivate the desire to be kind, then we can learn to accept our failings and use them to study where we need to look deeper, see why we made a mistake and try to do better the next time. Recently at a Dharma talk, I said to the gathering, “no one here is a good person”.  It generated much laughter. But then I said, “no one here is a bad person”. It is deluded to define yourself as something.  For example, if you say you are a kind person, what does it mean when you behave unkindly?  And, actually, no one is always kind.  And, if you judge someone as not being a kind person, they will at times behave with kindness. I know of someone who has great difficulty treating people well, but he treats his animals with considerable love and care.  We all have tendencies with which we define ourselves, but they actually are not who we really are.  Whatever kind of person we think we are is not our real self, but just a flow of changeable karmic tendencies. An important part of Buddhist teaching is that no karmic tendency is fundamental, and they all can be converted if we choose to work at converting them.  One way of viewing Buddhist training is that we are converting the defilements, greed, ill will and delusion, into the enlightened states of compassion, love and wisdom.

Concentrating on what we are doing, rather than trying to be something, is very freeing. We can bring ourselves back to the present and try to see what is good to do here. Instead of always thinking about how we are doing, we bring ourselves back to what we are doing – doing good rather then trying to be good.

The wonderful teaching in Buddhism is that we all have the Bodhicitta, the heart of a Buddha. Seeking the Bodhicitta is often described in Mahayana Buddhism as the Buddhist path. And, since we all have the same Bodhicitta, this means none of us are special and no problem is fundamental. When we let go of clinging to all our karmic tendencies, all that is left is the Bodhicitta. No self, anatta, is a Buddhist teaching that is often misunderstood and thought of as something too deep to understand. Yet it is very simple. Nothing we identify as the self really belongs to me. I do not possess my body.  My body follows its own karma, and naturally old age and death means it will fall apart. My memories are just karma again.  This happened and that happened. And all memories are transient and will be forgotten.  Feelings and thoughts just arise in us without us wanting them to arise or being able to stop them from flowing away. They are all just conditions that we actually do not own and possess. It is the teaching of the eight worldly conditions, fame and disgrace, gain and loss, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. For instance, we help free ourselves from selfishness and point ourselves to liberation when we recognize that we cannot possess these conditions or any conditions. 

Buddhist training is learning that we do not need to cling to these worldly conditions. Buddhism is directing us to seek what is deeper than these worldly conditions.  We open our hearts and minds to what is deeper than birth and death, and this points us to solving the problem of suffering. Buddhism is awakening that faith that none of our problems are the real problem. The real problem is why we are not seeking and finding Bodhicitta.  Keeping an awareness of the deeper purpose of Buddhist practice is what frees us from that very human default position of obsessing and being fixated on our desires and fears.  We need to keep working at lifting our mind to its deeper purpose. We need to do our best with all the difficult conditions of our daily life.  Yet, whenever we get lost in worldly conditions, we need to remind ourselves that “nothing is me and nothing is mine,” and have faith that our true heart is the Bodhicitta.

Priory News

by Rev. Kinrei

I had the privilege, through the generosity of Russ Miyashiro, of having a trip with him and another lay Buddhist, to the Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India and Nepal.  I left on January 29 and flew to Varanarsi, in northern India, which is near Deer Park. This is where the Buddha gave his first teaching, which was on the Four Noble Truths. We then went to Lumbini in Nepal where the Buddha was born. A large area around the main temple in Lumbini area was set aside by the Nepalese government so that all Buddhist countries and traditions could have a space in which to construct Buddhist temples. And there are innumerable beautiful temples in Lumbini. We then went to Kushingara where the Buddha died. And then we went to Bodhgaya, where there is the Mahabodhi temple, a 2000 year old temple built next to the Bodhi tree, a descendent of the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha was enlightened. It was very moving and deeply meaningful to be in all these places that have deep significance within Buddhism. And being around innumerable Buddhist monks and lay people of all the different traditions was a wonderful experience for me. We flew back from Bodhgaya, India on February 13 and although it was good to be in India, and see the Buddhist sites, it was good to be back at the Priory.

On Saturday, March 30, we had our bimonthly workday. We have had some statues in our garage from a Vietnamese temple that had been closed. I have been meaning to find a place for them at the temple. This work day, among other tasks, we moved two of these very heavy marble statues into their new homes on the grounds of the Priory. One is an Avalokitesvara statue which was placed on top of the Priory gate between the two dragons. A large marble Buddha is now on the altar in front of the Priory replacing a smaller gold Buddha which had been there for close to twenty years.  Due to the very heavy weight of these statues, we needed to rent a mechanical lift with which we could crank the Avalokitwsvara statue up to the top of the gate.  We also lifted the Buddha statue over the fence in front of the Priory and then slid the statue across a table and onto the front altar. The task went surprisingly smoothly for which we were very grateful. Also, many other needed tasks were done during the work day including rebuilding some rotted railings on the back porch of the Priory.

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 a gong, 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, 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

April 20     May 25     June 15     July 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.

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 8. and Saturday, July 27.

Wesak Celebration–Sunday, May 19

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 19, 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 around 12:00 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. 

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. 

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.