About Berkeley Buddhist Priory

Buddhist temple following the tradition of Soto Zen.

Newsletter 2023 Jan-Mar

Turning the Stream of Compassion Within

by Rev. Kinrei Bassis

(Reprinted from the Berkeley Priory Newsletter December 2005) 

When I first heard Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett speak, the words that resonated with me most were, “Buddhist training begins with compassion for the self.” At the time, I really had no understanding what these words meant. Being critical of myself was a central aspect of my personality. I saw this trait as a virtue being very aware of my faults would keep me grounded and real, and that it would be impossible to make spiritual progress unless I recognized what I needed to change. What I didn’t realize was that being aware of how I need to improve my behavior did not mean I should be critical and upset with myself. My problem was I had no understanding of what it meant to be nonjudgmental. 

Cultivating a nonjudgmental way of looking at things is the key to opening our hearts to real compassion. But how does one go about this? What should I do when I see that something is wrong? How should I approach it? What exactly is the compassionate mind rather than the hard judgmental mind? 

In the years since I first heard Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett speak those words, I have since learned that the mind of meditation is to see problems and failures without judging the person. We can judge an action as a mistake without criticizing the person. If I make a mess of something, or if I am lazy or angry or proud, I am breaking the Buddhist Precepts. However, being aware of this does not mean I have to judge and criticize myself. There is not something fundamentally wrong with me; there is only a problem with my behavior. And here lies a subtle but important point: There is a vital difference between being aware of the harmful nature of certain patterns of thought and behavior, and having harsh judgment of oneself. 

It is an inescapable aspect of reality that everyone is imperfect everyone is making mistakes and having difficulty in one way or another. I can always look at myself and see ways that I can do better. Yet if I begin criticizing myself, being angry with myself, or despairing with myself, it’s very important to recognize that in do- ing so I am taking refuge in my deluded view of who I am instead of taking refuge in the Buddha. “Do not criticize but accept everything,” is Great Master Dogen’s teaching in the Kyojukaimon. In her commentary on that teaching, Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett wrote: “Each expresses the Truth in his own way as do all things; they do that which they do in their way and express the Lord within it. Do not criticize the way of another, do not call it into question; look within it and see the Lord. Look with the mind of a Buddha and you will see the heart of a Buddha. 

It is essential that we apply this teaching not just to our views of others, but to ourselves as well. I need to look at my imperfect self with the mind of a Buddha so that I can realize that this seemingly flawed heart of mine is the heart of a Buddha. If I am waiting for the day when I will see myself without flaws, I will never see my Buddha Heart. Looking back at my years of Buddhist training, I can only smile when I realize it took me many years to recognize that when I criticize myself, I am breaking the Precepts in the same way as when I criticize someone else. 

Compassion is really just the opening our hearts to suffering with- out allowing our judgments to get in the way. If someone is suffering and we judge them, this closes our hearts and fills our mind with harsh opinions. Compassion does not mean we do not see the mistakes others make; it means we have sympathy and understanding for their difficulties, knowing we are not really different from them. We are all born and live in this human realm in which ignorance and delusion strongly influences our lives. 

When I see myself making a mistake, I need to take refuge in the Dharma and do whatever action will hopefully bring a good result rather than more suffering. It is easy to get stuck dwelling on our un- enlightened actions of the past. The absurdity of this is that we can easily stay stuck, dwelling on wrong actions while losing awareness of what the right action should be in the present situation. Faith in Buddhism is having faith in the fact that although the stream of karma that has brought us to this present moment has both good and bad within it, all we need to do is what is good in the deepest sense in the present situation. Just doing this is enough, moment by moment, day by day, year by year, life by life, to bring ourselves and all sentient beings to Buddhahood. 

Key to attaining this perspective is to see all our wrong actions everyone’s wrong actions as just normal karma that needs help. When someone is making a mess of their life or someone else’s life, I can choose to get upset and judgmental rather than realizing that their actions are the result of normal and understandable human karma, and then do whatever I can to help. And Buddhist training is just giving the most help we can within the limits of our situation. I always find that it is much easier to be upset with and judgmental about someone else’s mistakes when I only focus on their seemingly wrong behavior. Yet if I gain a deeper understanding of the person, I find that the quick condemnation often dissolves, and sympathy and compassion arises. 

When I look back on my years of Buddhist training, I can see how mistaken it was to be so upset with my own weaknesses. Once I gained a deeper understanding of my own karma, I saw how very difficult it was to let go of some of my desires and fears. Years of meditation has opened my heart and mind to recognizing how difficult it is for all of us to go through this human life, how hard it is to undergo this Buddhist training, and how difficult it is to take responsibility for our karma. Normal human karma makes it easy to indulge in blaming something, someone, or ourselves for our suffering, to live in a fog of ignorance. Instead, what we need to focus on is helping the karma that is causing the suffering. Offering that help to ourselves and others is the very ground of Buddhist training. 

For example, if my house is a mess, I can be filled with judgments about myself or others who may be the source of the mess. That is how our judgmental mind approaches situations that it does not like. Training is about noticing that our mind is filling with judgments, but then letting go of them, and focusing on what we need to do in the moment. When I face a dirty room, I need to not judge why this room is dirty. Instead, I just need to clean the room. This is the work of a Buddha. 

In the same way, it does not matter why my heart is not pure; it is the work of a Buddha to do whatever will help to cleanse my heart. Instead of being upset or angry my impure heart, I need to understand that this is what spiritual life is all about, doing the hard work of purifying my heart. I need to offer help to all the lost karma that is looking the wrong way for happiness. Rather than be upset with whom I seem to be, I need to awaken the desire to help my heart to turn to the Buddha. 

The judgmental mind comes from a fear of whom we seem to be and fear of what this suffering world seems to be. The mind of meditation is the mind that is open and nonjudgmental. We trust ourselves because we trust that nothing in our karma stands against the truth that our real heart is the Buddha Heart. We trust that nothing can hurt our real heart no matter how the karma of our life unfolds. And we trust that the real life of the world and everything within, despite appearances, is the life of  Buddha. When we see mistakes and the resulting suffering, we do not judge, but instead keep our hearts open and have compassion. All beings are just trying to be happy. Everyone confronts the same basic darkness, which is the darkness that emanates from feeling as though our deepest desires are not going to be fulfilled. 

Turning the stream of compassion within is letting go of our opinions and desires so that the same compassion that fills the universe can also be experienced filling our hearts and our lives. Although it seems utterly impossible to believe, we are generally living our lives lost in a dream of suffering, lost in a dream that is filled with harsh judgments of ourselves and others, and lost in a dream that we are lonely and separate beings. It is a dream because when we awaken to what is true reality, realize how our own minds have created this illusionary world of samsara. The life of Buddha is the all-embracing life of compassion. This compassion flows through everything, washing away all impurity, and allowing everything to seen as immaculate and filled with the boundless and liberating light of the Buddhas. 

Priory News 

by Rev. Kinrei 

During most of the pandemic, the Priory was trying to hold any well attended activity outside, in the Priory backyard. With the winter rain and the colder temperatures, the Priory is now holding many activities inside the temple. When we have a large attendance, we are still requiring everyone to wear a mask indoors. When the weather permits it, we will still hold Sunday activities and retreats outside until we are clearly over the dangers of the pandemic. 

We continue to offer our Dharma talks and 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 meet- ing includes the 9:30 am 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 had our yearly memorial for Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett on November 6. Rev. Master Jiyu was the founder of the Priory and is the direct source of our spiritual tradition. Her wisdom and teaching is central to the spiritual life of this temple and it wonderful to have the opportunity to express our gratitude Rev. Master Jiyu. Also on that day, we also celebrated my 43rd year as a Buddhist monk. The generosity and good wishes of the Priory Sangha is deeply appreciated. 

On December 4, we held yearly celebration for the Buddha’s Enlightenment. During the service we chanted many of the Enlightenment hymns and it was a moving service. The potluck that followed seemed to have even a more abundant offering than usual and it was good to have a social gathering after the limits we all have had due to the pandemic. 

With Gratitude 

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 Buddha fountain, a gold dish, water filter, books, tea pot, flowers 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. 

Priory Meditation Retreats 

January 14   February 11    March 11     April 15 

The retreats will be held outside if the weather permits it. When it becomes colder and wet, we will hold the retreats inside. We may require masks inside if that still seems appropriate behavior with regards to safety and the pandemic. All our retreats and Dharma talks are available on Zoom. 

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. 

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 will- ingness 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 yard work, gardening, clean- ing, cooking, 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 regu- lar 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 28 and Saturday, March 25.

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 dif- ferent 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.