Training and Enlightenment
By Rev. Kinrei Bassis
Everyone who is practicing Buddhism is generally seeking what Buddhism promises, finding for themselves a deeper sense of peace and happiness. Enlightenment experiences can be described as a deep insight into the real nature of reality so that we can see beyond our worldly mind which is almost always clinging to some aspects of our life and pushing away some of our difficulties and pain. This deeper insight into the true nature of reality can help free us so we can have a clearer view of the unsubstantial nature of all the ways we create suffering. Yet enlightenment experiences do not free us from the ground of Buddhist training, taking responsibility for how we relate to everything in our lives. Buddhist training is not just a momentary experience that transforms us but is the ongoing practice of letting go of the importance we are giving ourselves and focusing on doing that which is good, for both ourselves and others. We all should have this desire to find a deeper sense of contentment and joy that is possible no matter what difficult conditions are unfolding in our life. The Dharma teaches us that “the Buddha can be found in all places, at all times, and in all situations.” However, the real question is how do we actually experience this enlightened life of Buddha rather than just living with a struggling life, filled with defilements, bound with many desires and fears. Buddhist training is the way we transform this body of karma, called the self, into a vehicle of enlightenment that will help to liberate both ourselves and others.
I can remember when I first began to practice Buddhism, I could see how much I was filled with defiled passions. My normal mind was absorbed into what seemed to be an endless flow of desires, greeds and fears. I was frequently confronting many conditions in my life that I disliked or feared. I remembered thinking that it is not fair that I have all these difficulties. Why do I need to do all this very difficult work of Buddhist training? I remember thinking, I never asked to be deluded, to be so easily disturbed and hurt. When I took a sincere look at myself, I did not like many of the ways I behaved and thought. Yet to deeply change myself seemed to be impossible. If I strictly focused on all my difficulties, wondering when they would all change, the enormity of the needed changes made me feel that Buddhist training was hope- less for me. I had to learn to take the Dharma to heart and just trust that it was enough to do the spiritual training right now, not dwelling on the past or the future. Trusting all I need to do is that which is positive and good to do right now and that will take me, step by step, to the journey’s end.
We can look at Buddhist training as having a meditation practice, attending a temple, going on retreats, studying the Dharma, trying to keep the Buddhist precepts, being mindful, etc. And all of this is Buddhist training. Yet the heart of Buddhist training is really the willingness to act on our faith in the Dharma and try to behave in an enlightened manner despite still being filled with deluded thoughts and feelings. Buddhist training is trying to behave in an enlightened manner even though we recognize that many of our thoughts and feeling are deluded and out of harmony with the Dharma. What does it mean to behave in an enlightened manner? It means we are trying to treat everyone like a Buddha no matter how we feel about them. It means still showing gratitude even when we feel ungrateful. Being generous rather than selfish. Being kind and forgiving rather than angry and upset. Being compassionate rather than judgmental. Being modest and humble rather than being proud and arrogant. Being willing to act in accordance to what seems best rather than just being unwilling and selfish.
The Dharma teaches us that we can trust that no matter is happening in our life right now, we can be at peace with it. Instead of getting caught up in the importance of what is happening, we can trust that what really matters is that we have the true Treasure, the heart of a Buddha and no difficulty affects this spiritual truth. Buddhist training is trusting this life of mine is the life of Buddha even though I feel like I am a mess and I do not understand how I can change. Yet the Dharma is telling us no problem is fundamentally real and nothing stands against the ever-present life of Buddha. When we act on our faith in the Dharma despite feeling hurt or depressed or scared, we point ourselves to enlightenment; pointing ourselves to what is real rather than just seeing a deluded view of reality which is filled with our obsessions about ourselves, about our problems and about our desires and fears.
It is easy to be grateful when our hearts is filled with gratitude. It is easy to meditate when our meditation is feeling peaceful and joyful. It is easy to be kind and generous when our hearts are filled with kind and compassionate feelings. When someone offers to help at the temple and this help saves an immense amount of work, I do not need to seek a grateful mind. It will arise naturally. Someone may help at the temple but then they mess something up and this causes considerable additional work and expense. Yet this person was sincerely offering their generous help to the temple and I still need to be grateful to them and their sincere willingness to offer their time and labor to the temple. When someone is angry with me or is treating me unfairly, it is Buddhist training for me to treat them with kindness and compassion. A mother can still be loving to her upset and angry child; can I still be kind to an upset and angry adult that I am dealing with. I remember being around a monk who was given a wool cap that a Sangha member had knitted for him. The monk turned down the gift saying he is trying to have less stuff. I corrected him later and told him he should have accepted the cap since it was a sincere and meaningful gift and he should be willing to be a bodhisattva and not to just think of what he wants but be more sensitive to the sincere offering of the person who spent considerable time knitting him a cap.
Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett gave a lecture series called Sanctifying the Mundane. It was giving teaching on how we should try to see all the deep spiritual significance of the endless ordinary activities of our daily life. When we have a meal, we often take it for granted rather than trying to see all the good karma that is providing us this gift of a meal. When we eat, instead taking the food for granted, it is good to remind ourselves to be grateful. The meal-time verse is teaching us to have a grateful mind — ”We must think deeply of the ways and means by which this food has come.” Reminding ourselves to be grateful is an example of something we can cultivate in our lives which is pointing us to enlightenment while being ungrateful is that which is pointing us to being deluded and unhappy. Having something go wrong and still trying to have equanimity and acceptance points us to finding the Buddha, while being dissatisfied and angry will only be strengthening our delusions and feelings that things are amiss.
There is an old saying of a Zen Master, “Sometimes I raise the eyebrows of old Shakyamuni Buddha and sometimes I do not.” One way of interpreting this saying is sometimes we all show enlightened behavior, generally without us knowing it, while at other times we are demonstrating deluded behavior. A great Buddhist master will still have moments of being caught up in their desires and fears and even the most deluded person will sometimes act selflessly and do the right thing without any concern for themselves. We are all living in the midst of enlightenment and delusion. Buddhist training is our attempt to bring together these opposites by simply concentrating on doing what is good, no matter how we are feeling. Someone once asked, how can they have the proper amount of caring? Sometimes they care too much about something and sometimes they do not care enough about something, how do they find the right amount of caring? The way we do this is to try to see what is good to do in the deepest sense and then just do that which seems to be good. Whether we feel a great amount of care or we feeling that we do not care, that is not what is important. Training would be easy if our feelings were in harmony with the Dharma. Instead we have to grasp our will and still try to do what seems best even when we wholeheartedly do not feel like doing what seems to be the right action.
A simple example of this, is when I give meditation instruction, I usually mention that if you will meditate only when you feel like meditating, it is almost guaranteed that will not maintain a meditation practice. To practice meditation requires us to still maintain our meditation practice even when we are finding it difficult and uncomfortable. We do this because we trust that it is valuable to meditate even when it is difficult. It is like someone who has a problem with a joint that requires painful physical therapy. Few people would want to experience painful therapy but when they do painful physical therapy, they are doing it with the faith that it is helpful and beneficial. It the same with Buddhist training. It is often difficult and uncomfortable but we do it because we have faith that it will help in the long run with the pain and suffering we are experiencing in our lives.
“The Wheel of the Dharma rolls constantly and lacks for nothing yet needs something.” The light of Buddha is everywhere but unless we train, we live enclosing ourselves in darkness. Nothing is fundamentally being damaged by all our suffering but, on the other hand, everyone definitely cares deeply about how can they relieve their own suffering and the suffering of the people they care about and love. The Four Noble Truths are a teaching on how to free ourselves from suffering. Buddhist training is taking the Four Noble Truths to heart and trying to live by them and not just following the endlessly changing flow of our what we are feeling. The Noble Eightfold Path is a description of Buddhist training, and by trying to have Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Wisdom, we pointing ourselves to freeing ourselves from the opposites and more and more to live in a way that allows the Buddha to be found within our own lives. Whenever I have trouble accepting what I am being given in my daily life, I need to come back to my Buddhist training and open my heart to what life is giving me and recognize it is up to me to try to find the Buddha within these difficult conditions.
“In the mind of the Bosatsu who is truly one with Great Wisdom, the obstacles dissolve.”
~ Scripture of Great Wisdom (The Heart Sutra)
The Priory, like everywhere else in the world is living through and dealing with the pandemic. The omicron variant is right now surging through the Bay area and it is causing the Priory to again adjust to what seem to be safe. We are still following all of our normal schedule but we are requiring people to be vaccinated and to wear masks. When weather permits it, we will plan to hold Sunday activities and day retreats outside, in the temple backyard. The good fortune of being in the Bay area is that even in the winter, the weather is often mild and sunny and last winter it usually worked well to be outside during the pandemic.
A Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Venerable Quang Tue, stayed at the Priory for much of the autumn due to his difficult medical problems. He has been staying at Shasta Abbey and he did return to the Abbey when his health improved. We appreciated having him with us and we also had the benefit of the many wonderful Vietnamese meals he prepared.
This fall we did have our yearly memorial for Rev. Master Jiyu on November 7 and our service for the Buddha’s Enlightenment on December 5. It was good to have the Sangha to come together and celebrate these special occasions.
We have been offering Dharma talks and our day retreats on Zoom. There is a Sunday morning Dharma talk at 10:45 am and Wednesday evening Dharma talk at 8:00 pm. Also the Sunday Zoom meeting includes the 9:30 meditation period and at 10:05, either another meditation period or a Buddhist service. Many people are joining the Zoom meetings and they seem to be filling a need both for the local Sangha and also for many people who are not living in the Bay area. We plan to keep having all these activities on Zoom even after the pandemic ends.
As I write this, the pandemic has been getting worse with the omicron variant. This is a good time for us all to try to be open and flexible with all the unusual and difficult conditions that we face while living through a pandemic. My best wishes that we all can find a peaceful and grateful heart while we all live through these unusual and difficult times.
Memorials and Funerals
We held a memorial for Janelle Reinelt’s friend, Joan Bauerly on October 10. Diana Holt’s cat, Sophie had a a funeral on October 13. Sue Johnson’s cat Gracie had her funeral on December 11. We are grateful we can offer these services to the departed people and animals.
Charity is one of the four wisdoms and demonstrates the Bodhisattva’s aspiration. 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 flowers, kitty litter, face masks and toilet paper.
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. During the past few months we have been given food donations of pies, soups, salsa, various vegetables and fruit, cheese, soy milk, coconut milk, tofu, breakfast cereal, oats, vegetarian burgers, vegetarian meats, coffee, teas, fruit juice, nuts, various chips and fruit preserves. You are always welcome to check with the Priory on what foods are currently needed.
Meditation Retreats at the Priory
January 15, February 12, March 12, April 16
Due to the pandemic, we definitely plan on having these retreats but we are not sure of exact manner we will be holding them as conditions keep changing. We will be requiring everyone to be vaccinated and to wear masks inside the Priory until further notice. We will be holding the retreats outside if the weather permits it.
Retreats are an excellent way to deepen our meditation and training. The retreat is 8am to 5pm and the day is a mixture of meditation, Dharma talks, spiritual reading and Buddhist services.
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 talk, either in person or by phone or Zoom.