2019 Oct-Dec

Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter

October-December 2019

Seeking Nothing

Rev. Kinrei Bassis

The core of Buddhist training is our efforts to direct our lives in the direction of that which will give us liberation from suffering. This mean we have to look at what we are asking for in our life. Seeking nothing is pointing us to stop looking for life to give more of what we desire but instead to look towards letting go and opening our hearts to what we are always being given.

Bodhidharma, the Indian  Buddhist monk who brought the Zen Buddhist tradition to China, gave some very concise but profound teaching on seeking nothing. In a short work, The Outline of Practice, Bodhidharma wrote the following, “To enter by practice refers to four all-inclusive practices: Suffering injustice, adapting to conditions, seeking nothing, and practicing the Dharma.

Bodhidharma-Third practice, Seeking Nothing

“People of this world are deluded. They’re always longing for something-always, in a word, seeking. But the wise wake up. They choose reason over custom. They fix their minds on the sublime and let their bodies change with the seasons. All phenomena are empty. They contain nothing worth desiring. Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity! To dwell in the three realms is to dwell in a burning house. To have a body is to suffer. Does anyone with a body know complete peace? Those who understand this detach themselves from all that exists and stop imagining or seeking anything. The sutras say, “To seek is to suffer. To seek nothing is bliss.” When you seek nothing, you’re on the Path.” 

I remember meeting with a mixed group of people from different spiritual traditions and someone said to me, it is good that you are a seeker. And I thought to myself, I am not seeking. I am trying to trust that I already have what I would be seeking. The very word Buddha means awakened and Buddhist training is awakening that knowledge that we already possess what we are seeking. In this Soto Zen tradition, one of our daily morning service scriptures is The Most Excellent Mirror Samadhi and it begins with the following:

The Buddhas and the Ancestors have all directly handed down this basic Truth: Preserve well for you now have; this is all. 

How do we learn to trust that we now have all that we really need. I know my little self is always letting me know it various needs and desires. When I first started practicing Buddhism at Shasta Abbey, I saw posters with a saying by Great Master Keizan, “Every day is a good day.” I remember my gut level response was hell no. I would have days that were clearly bad days. It took me a long time to realize, it was not the days that were bad but simply my deluded reaction to the difficult conditions I was dealing with. I was making my day into suffering by rejecting what I was being given that day.

Everyone starts Buddhist practice with desire. We want to change things, to have less suffering and be more happiness and peace. But we need to use this deep desire which brings us to Buddhism so that we can to let go clinging to all our specific desires. If we are always desiring something that hasn’t yet happened, if we want things to be other than they are, then this will be the cause of more suffering.

The deep underlying reason we meditate is to learn that we can find peaceful heart no matter what conditions we are experiencing. In the midst of strong emotions like fear, desire, worry, we have the opportunity to let go and find a deeper place within hearts and minds that can learn to know that nothing fundamental is being touched by these strong emotions and thoughts. Instead of the compulsive need to change some condition, we need to be still and cultivate the trust that what we really need to do is “preserve well for you now have; this is all.”

     People of this world are deluded. They’re always longing for something-always, in a word, seeking. But the wise wake up. 

Life is like someone is thirsty but they keep trying to drink that which will not satisfy the thirst. The world is full of people thinking that gratifying some desire will allow them to find real happiness. Thinking the way to find happiness is to have the success that we want, to gain the money and material stuff we wish for, to get the right partner, the right friends, the right government. True wisdom is found by trusting and then experiencing that we really do not need anything, that we already possess the limitless water that satisfies all our thirst.

     They fix their minds on the sublime and let their bodies change with the seasons.

The conditions in life keep changing and our bodies after youth are in a downward slope to old age and death. Yet we will find much suffering if we cling to the conditions of our body. The sublime is the indescribable place that we can only find by not clinging to our many desires. Instead we need to open our hearts with acceptance to whatever life is giving us. This sublime has many words in Buddhism that points us to this indescribable place which is unbounded and transcends birth and death and all worldly conditions. Fixing our minds on the sublime means we are trying to learn to stop ourselves from so strongly identifying with our little self and its self-importance. What we are letting go of is the fixation with what happens to this little me. Being self absorbed causes us to grasp at conditions and spin with desire. For instance, our body is just another condition that keeps changing but what is sublime and real will not be affected by what happens to our body.

     All phenomena are empty. They contain nothing worth desiring. Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity! To dwell in the three realms is to dwell in a burning house.

Emptiness in Buddhism is often misunderstood. It is not that conditions have no meaning or significance. Most of what I am spending my time in daily life is making the best of the all the various conditions I am dealing with. Trying to have a successful result in my work, taking care of my health, being responsible and thoughtful with finances, find ways to be helpful to others, are all important aspects of my Buddhist training. Yet when I stop viewing whatever I am doing through the prism of my wants and fears, I can be open to the truth of impermanence and experience the ever presence of change washing through everything. This points me to the basic truth of the inherent insignificance and relative unimportance of everything I am trying to accomplish. For instance death seems profound yet nothing is more mundane and ordinary. Every living thing is on the path of dying. Not only is every person moving towards death, but so is every sentient being, every insect, mammal, and plant. 

     Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity! To dwell in the three realms is to dwell in a burning house. To have a body is to suffer. Does anyone with a body know complete peace?

Sometimes we can seemingly get a handle on our life. We can have a good work situation, good relationships. We can find life enjoyable. Despite the present lack of major difficulties, we are still living in a burning house. At anytime, unfortunate karma can happen. We can come down with cancer, we lose our job, we can have financial hardships. Our spouse can leave us or die. Our children can be ill or suicidal. We are never in full control of what life will be giving us and no matter what we do, we all will face considerable suffering as we go through our life. If nothing else we can never escape from old age, disease and death. Thus our life and everything that we love and care about, is ephemeral and must eventually vanish. As long as we cling to having our life go the way we think is necessary in order to make us happy, we are going to frequently be filled with worry, anxiety and fear since bad things can and will happen to us and will also happen to those we care about and love.

     Those who understand this detach themselves from all that exists and stop imagining or seeking anything. The sutras say, “To seek is to suffer. To seek nothing is bliss.” When you               seek nothing, you’re on the Path.

How do we seek nothing? How do we drop our expectations? How do we find “that we have all”? For me, the key is to be mindful of this truth of not seeking. It is trying to keep in mind this truth as Right Viewas I deal with the many difficult conditions of daily life. One way I have used to try to keep this Right View in my mind, is often telling myself when something is not going the way I want, “Nothing is going on here”. It is my self importance, the way I make my life into a drama, this is what transforms my difficulties into suffering. Sometimes when someone is finding some difficulty overwhelming, I tell them “nothing is going on here” and it can cut through the importance they are giving the difficulty and helps them to see deeper into what is happening. For instance, I remind myself that if I was seriously ill tomorrow, all the important things I think I must do, would suddenly be dropped and the whole world will go along fine without me doing anything useful. Our suffering comes out of the importance we give to what is happening. The world is not outside us but we make the world with our minds spinning with our concerns, with our desires, with our fears. We allow this world of desire to fill our minds and then wonder why it cannot see beyond our attachments and why it cannot find peace. Our strong desires, our hard and set opinions, our harsh judgments, they all close our hearts and minds and trap us in a life that is not peaceful or happy.

We are cultivating the not seeking by learning to relinquishing ownership of the conditions that are passing through our life. We are doing this not in an irresponsible way, but by finding a space within that’s a little lighter and more spacious around all the bad and good conditions we are experiencing. 

Preserve well for you now have, this is all. 

How can I trust that no matter what is going on, I have all I need? Whenever my desires and fears are filling my mind, I try to remind myself, it is good to be here. Whatever is happening, no matter what the conditions are, it is good to be here. Whenever I find the present moment is not good, this automatically means I am seeing what is unfolding in my life with deluded eyes and that is the real problem and not the present difficult conditions. The true practice of being still is that we are letting go of whatever conditions are flowing through us and bring ourselves back to trusting that we already possess all we could ever want or desire.   

“Seeking pleasure and having fun is never-ending, one is never satisfied. It’s like a water jar with a hole in it. We try to fill it but the water is continually leaking out. The peace of the   religious life has a definite end, it puts a stop to the cycle of endless seeking.”  ~  Ajahn Chah

Gratitude and an Apple Tree

  Margie Siegal

I decided it was time to get the apples off my three young apple trees and went out with a bucket. The Braeburn was especially fruitful- some of the branches were bending under the weight. The 

Gala in front is recuperating from a bad childhood – we initially planted in an area with bad soil. After it started dying, we moved it to its present location and it has regenerated. This is the first year for fruit, and it had three beautiful apples. The Gala in back is also recuperating from a bad childhood – we got the tree half price because it was badly rootbound. It is getting a little better every year. 

I picked the apples and felt motivated to give thanks to the Braeburn. In retrospect, I should have given thanks to all three trees – just for being there and doing the best they could. If the Braeburn did better – well, it had  a better childhood than the other two. 

I described the Braeburn to a friend, and she reminded me of “The Giving Tree,” a children’s book about a tree who gives everything to a boy who makes demands and gives nothing in return. I thought how I (and my now-deceased partner) did our best for the Braeburn – planting it carefully in a good spot, watering, mulching, weeding, pruning. Perhaps the Braeburn is expressing its gratitude as an apple tree expresses gratitude – by producing apples. 

Priory News 

by Rev. Kinrei

On the weekend of June 29 & 30, the Priory participated in the 11th Global Conference on Buddhism on the campus of UC Berkeley. Shasta Abbey and the Priory shared a booth to provide information about our organizations and teachings. Many Buddhist groups participated and many well known Buddhist teachers gave Dharma teachings. I gave a well attended talk on Zen meditation and Shasta Abbey gave a presentation on chanting to western sacred music. It was good to see so many people interested in Buddhism and have some contact with the diverse world of Buddhism in America. Many members of the Priory attended the conference and all seemed to appreciate this unique opportunity.

On Sunday, September 8, 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. 

For the last two weeks in September, I went to a gathering of the monks of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives at our main European monastery Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey. It was good to have the opportunity to spend time with many of my fellow Buddhist monks. It was to see again many of those whom I have known for more than forty years and also to meet a number of monks for the first time. Sangha is a treasure and I deeply appreciate the deep Buddhist training that is clearly shown by my fellow monks. 

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 belt sander, water filter, flowers, garden plants, books, kitty litter, toilet paper, tissues, paper towels, 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, 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

October 19    November 16    December 14    January 11

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, spiritual reading 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, November 23 and Saturday, January 25.

Introductory Meditation Workshop    Nov. 9 (10 am—1 pm)

This workshop to be provide the basic information on our meditation practice  It will include instruction on meditation, periods of meditation and then another talk on bringing meditation and mindfulness into our daily lives. There is no charge for the workshop but we ask that people register in advance.