2020 Jan-Mar

Featured

Not Necessary, but Useful

by Rev. Kinrei Bassis

 (Reprinted from The Journal of Shasta Abbey, July-September,1984. Parts of the article have been rewritten.}

Great Master Tendo Nyojo said, “Learning meditation is to cast off body and mind. It is not necessary to burn incense, prostrate oneself recite the name of the Buddha, perform repentance, or chant sutras. If you concentrate on meditation, your main purpose will be attained”.1 To understand the “not necessary” in this quotation is essential if one is to comprehend the relationship between all the religious forms that are used in Buddhist practice and the true heart of Buddhism.

Many of us in the West were brought up in religions that seemed to substitute rigid doctrines and rituals for true spiritual practice and experience. The attitude of “not necessary” within Buddhism, having an iconoclastic tone, is therefore appealing to Westerners, promising a direct experience of the Truth, rather than strict adherence to hollow forms. Yet many people who have been interested in the literature of Buddhism are often disenchanted when they confront the actual practice of the religion.

When I came to study Buddhism, I found a practice filled with what Tendo Nyojo said to be “not necessary”. The life in the monastery involved long dally scripture recitations, many ceremonies, innumerable bows, and a heavily-structured schedule. At first I was confused because I took the advice of such masters as Tendo Nyojo literally. I did not understand why there were these other activities instead of simply “concentrating on meditation”. I wondered why we spent so much time on work, religious services, reading, and the like, instead of just doing formal sitting meditation. I have even met people who have equated depth of training with the time spent in formal meditation. Yet something is amiss, because if you look at the actual life of such masters as Tendo Nyojo, you see that they always practiced, taught, and transmitted the forms of bowing, incense offering, repentance, and daily recitations of the scriptures. So why did Tendo Nyojo teach that it is enough if you concentrate on meditation?

One of the problems that many people have with Buddhism is understanding the fluid manner in which many of the key terms are used. Words such as Dharma, Buddha, and meditation can have different meanings in different contexts. Meditation can refer to the formal practice of seated meditation, and it can refer to meditation in a much broader sense. Unless one can see the Buddha nature throughout all the mundane activities of daily life, one is still bound; there is one’s meditation practice and then there is one’s life, two separate things. The true meditation of Tendo Nyojo, however, is not just another isolated technique, but the transformation of the focus of one’s life. “To concentrate on meditation” is not to allow worldly matters or personal problems to take precedence over the true spiritual purpose of life, the effort to be find and be one with the Buddha Heart, the Bodhicitta. Meditation in daily life is the effort to maintain an inward stillness and awareness so that one is always nurturing the ability to find a deeper spiritual purpose and meaning in whatever we are doing. It is sensing what is truly needed and doing that so we do not get in the way of our Buddha Nature. True meditation is not limited to facing the wall; yet this is not to say that formal meditation is not important, for it is there that one sets a time and place where the only purpose is to deepen one’s practice of the Way. It is through the formal practice of meditation that we can learn the attitude of mind that we should cultivate at all other times so that it permeates our whole life. In “Rules for Meditation”, Great Master Dogen gives very detailed instructions on how to do formal meditation because it is the key practice in Zen Buddhism. Yet Dogen says within these instructions, “all activity is permeated with pure meditation – the means of training are thousandfold but pure meditation must be done”. The endless activities of daily life are a means of training and the place where pure meditation is done. Since the heart of Buddha can be found in all places, and at all times, and in all situations, there is no place outside of the mind of meditation.

Descriptions of deep meditation given to us by the great Masters may sound wonderful and enticing, but the real question for most of us is how do we experience this “pure meditation” for ourselves? The purpose of Buddhism is to help us make pure meditation a living experience. All the myriad teachings and practices of Buddhism can be seen as tools that direct us out of delusion. Although the path to the finding the heart of Buddha is not bound to any single practice or teaching, that does not mean we should disregard the immense value of following a spiritual teaching and practice? If we were all able to “concentrate on meditation” without faltering, then Buddhism would be unnecessary, but if we feel the need to seek out Buddhism, it means we seeing the need for us to have help and direction.

The many bows that everyone does in a Buddhist monastery are an example of how the forms of training help orient the us toward the mind of meditation. One great Zen Master said, “As long as bowing lasts. Buddhism will last…When bowing ceases. Buddhism will be destroyed”. The true bowing is the opening up and offering of the self to that which is Boundless. Body and mind are one, and disciplining the body to show respect, reverence, and gratitude helps direct the heart and mind to realize those qualities as well. Once we realize the true value of bowing in our hearts, the resistance to the bowing of the body disappears. To get down on our hands and knees and fully bow will help break down the mental barriers, bringing joy and the inner confirmation that we are truly on the Way.

Bowing is an ever present feature of Mahayana ceremonial because it also symbolizes the willingness to offer ourselves in service to all living things. Out of respect and gratitude to the Buddha Heart, we find the deep willingness to share the merit of our training with others. This is central to all Mahayana Buddhist ceremonial, directing us to the truth that we are all bound together spiritually and that in helping others, everyone benefits, including ourselves.

Buddhist scriptures and written teachings are often misused by people who just trying to gain an intellectual understanding of the Buddhist teaching instead using transforming themselves by living their life in accordance with the Dharma. Yet it is of immense value to study the Buddhist scripture, as they were written by great Masters who had reached the summit of spiritual life. The Buddhist scriptures can be seen as maps of the way to find Buddhahood. A map cannot climb the mountain, but it can give the direction to follow. A map is not a necessity in ascending the mountain; however, being human, we can easily become lost or disheartened when we encounter unanticipated obstacles. Why make a difficult task even harder by climbing into unfamiliar ground without using the best map we can find?

Another misunderstood, and often considered unnecessary element of training is the disciplined and ordered behavior within Buddhist temples. Yet as the following quotation of Dogen illustrates, he found this practice to be at the heart of Buddhist training: When, by the correct ordering of our daily life, we exhibit the heart of Buddhism, we are free from delusive body and mind. As this is so, the disciplined life of the trainee is the embodiment of both enlightenment and practice, pure and immaculate since before time began.”2

However, many newcomers when practicing in a monastery or temple, may find the schedule, the silence, and the rules intimidating and confusing. One of the reasons they were attracted to Buddhism was the promise of complete freedom as described in the writings of many of the Masters. For instance, Great Master Keizan wrote, “Throw away heaven, earth, the holy, the mean, subject and object; wherever you go you should be disturbed by nothing, completely free”.3 It seems to be a contradiction that it is necessary to discipline oneself in order to be free.

Freedom is usually thought to be the ability to have some choice in, or control over, our external circumstances. However, this freedom has a very limited sphere because, as Buddhism teaches, “the universe is not answerable to our personal will”.4 We may work for peace, and war still arises; or spend years building a successful business, and an economic depression forces us into bankruptcy; or exercise and eat health foods, and still be stricken with cancer. We all inherit a stream of karma and, although we can purify it and alter its direction, we are not free of the karmic consequences of our past actions. The good actions in our past will bring happiness and the wrong actions will bring suffering. Buddhist training does not lead to instant happiness and bliss; rather it cleanses our hearts, purifies our desire for the Way, and ultimately opens our hearts to the boundless life of Buddha. Life is filled with worldly dualities: joy and suffering, health and illness, life and death. True freedom, on the other hand, is not to be compulsively concerned with these worldly matters because we know that we are with our Unborn Buddha Nature no matter where we find ourselves.

The disciplined life of Buddhist training does not indulge all our personal preferences and thereby points us to true freedom by forcing us to look within. What truly matters, and what training is trying to awaken, is that which we all share, the Buddha Heart. Each of our individual lives does not have deep significance, except to ourselves. When we stop making this little insignificant being the center of the universe, as we do when we are overly concerned about our likes and dislikes, wants and fears, we can then realize our true nature as part of the boundless body of the Buddha. Hearing this, people are sometimes frightened, fearing that the practice will strip them of their individuality. This concern is unwarranted because Buddhist training does not eliminate the differences between people. Each of us is an heir to a unique stream of karma and, when we train and convert our karma, the light of the Buddha becomes apparent within this individual body and mind. Then our differences no longer divide us, because each person can be seen as a unique and singular jewel of the Dharma. An important lesson Buddhism teaches is not to judge ourselves or others because that judgment will distort our vision and prevent the experiencing the light of Buddha permeating all things.

It is also helpful to see that the correct ordering of daily life is a reflection of the Buddha Mind, the Dharmakaya, and by trying to treat all the commonplace actions of dally life with an attitude of reverence and gratitude, we are helping to remind ourselves that there is a spiritual purpose and meaning in everything we do.

The teaching of “not necessary” exhibits the true liberating quality of Buddhist teaching. There is no single form of practice that is absolutely essential in order for us to find liberation. Pure meditation is the only necessity and that, in the deeper sense, has no form. It is liberating because it is saying that the forms of Buddhist teaching and practice only point us to the Truth. The deepest spiritual truths transcends Buddhism. Yet all the teachings and practices of Buddhism should not be ignored for they are all deeply skillful means of leading humans out of delusion. If we, in our lives, are not seeing the formless form of the Buddha, then why discard anything that may help us in clearing the distortion from our vision? The mind of meditation teaches us to waste nothing, particularly that which may prove to be our key to finding unshakable liberation and the deepest joy.

1 See Great Master Dogen, Shobogenzo: The Eye and Treasury of the True Law, four volumes (Tokyo: Nakayama Shobo, 1983) volume 3, p. 40.
2 “Bendoho” (How to Train in Buddhism”), in Zen Is Eternal Life, trans. by Rev. Roshi Jiyu-Kennett (Emeryville, CA: Dharma Publishing, 1976), p. 113.
3 Denkoroku, ibid., p. 221.
4 See the Glossary of Jiyu-Kennett, Zen is Eternal Life, s.v. “Five Laws of the Universe”.

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 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, oat 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.

Memorial

On November 24, we held a memorial for Peggy Reskin, age 78, who had died on October 24. 

Priory Meditation Retreats

 January 11    February 15    March 14    April 18

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 offer your help.  The next work days are scheduled for Saturday, January 25 and Saturday, March 28.

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.

Priory Support and Membership

There are no fees for participating in meditation, Dharma talks, Buddhist services, retreats, spiritual counseling or any other services the Priory offers. We are supported by the donations of our congregation and friends. All gifts of any kind, whether money or materials or labor, are deeply appreciated.

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. This commitment is a tremendous help to the Priory because it gives us a stable financial base. More importantly, deciding to become a member has deep spiritual significance. It means you are choosing to help take responsibility for the continued existence of the Priory. Some of you may only be able to pledge a few dollars a month and think it is not worth making such an insignificant commitment. Yet it is important to offer whatever you can and be willing to make a formal commitment to be part of the Priory. The most important help members bring to the Priory and the Sangha is not their donations but their Buddhist training. By being willing to come to the Priory and train with others, we help make the Priory a true refuge of the Sangha.

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.

Great Vows of Samantabhadra

Every Wednesday evening at 7 o’clock, the Priory has the group chanting of The Scripture on the Practices and Vows of Samantabhadra. At this time of “Shelter in Place” due to the coronavirus, may the great vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva (普賢菩薩) inspire you and accompany your spiritual practice at home (a monastic at the Priory will chant in the Buddha hall at the regularly scheduled time.)

The Scripture on the Practices and Vows of Samantabhadra
(listen/download 19:21 recording of Shasta Abbey choir)

Body, speech, and mind are pure and unsullied
If you would rid yourself forever of your defilements and impurities
Wholeheartedly reverence, respect, and pay homage
To the Buddhas in all the ten directions in past, present, and future.

Because of the strength of Samantabhadra’s vows
Wherever we look we will see Buddhas
In each and every place resides a Tathagata,
So to all their realms as countless as dust motes let us pay homage.

Within a single mote of dust
Are all the Buddhas to be seen,
A host of bodhisattvas encircling Them;
In the dust motes of the whole universe is it also thus.

A wonderous sound arises from the host,
Proclaiming their praise for the Victorious Ones
The immeasurable seas of their merit
Can not be exhausted.

Because of the powers of Samantabhadra’s practices
This unsurpassed host offers up all,
Tendering in the ten directions whatever may be nourishing
To every Buddha in the three worlds of time.

By the wonderous redolence of their flower chaplets
And the diverse forms of their music and dance
All is wonderous and majestic,
Pervading everywhere, offering nourishment to the Buddhas.

You, by your greed, hatreds, and delusions,
Create all your evil actions;
If with your body, speech, and mind you are doing no good,
Repent your errors, completely abandoning them forever.

All sentient beings will be blessed,
For shravakas and pratyekabuddhas,
Bodhisattvas and Buddhas,
By their merit fully rejoice in the success of others.

All Buddhas in the ten directions
Have from the first attained to perfect enlightenment
When we let everything act to invoke the Buddhas,
We turn the unsurpassable Wheel of the Law.

With hands reverently in Gassho, respectfully invite
Those who would make nirvana manifest here and now
They will abide for all eons beyond calculation,
Using their means to make sentient beings joyful.

Whatever merit you accumulate
Pray transfer it, bestowing it upon sentient beings
Master the Bodhisattva practices
And reach supreme enlightenment.

When you offer all for the nourishment of others, your faults vanish
And in their place appear Buddhas in the ten directions
I vow that such future World-Honored Ones
Will quickly realize the path to enlightenment.

Their splendor and majesty throughout the ten directions
Will adorn all the Buddha realms
These Tathagatas will sit in Their Seat of Enlightenment
And Their assembly of Bodhisattvas will be filled.

They will enable sentient beings in the ten directions
To rid themselves forever of evil passions,
To understand profoundly the meaning of Reality,
And to attain a state of peace, dwelling forever therein.

When you cultivate the Bodhisattva practices
You attain the ability to know your former lives
And rid yourself forever of all your fetters
So that they are gone forever and none remains.

Birth and death are altogether left far behind
Along with bedevilments and the karma from your evil passions
Like the sun dwelling in space,
Your lotus blossoms do not cling to water.

To practice everywhere, wandering the ten directions,
To teach and convert the multitude of sentient beings,
To forsake forever the evil paths and the suffering they bring
These comprise the practices of Bodhisattvas.

Although such may conform to the ways of the world,
They do not renounce the Bodhisattva path.
But till the end of time itself
Devote themselves completely to the practices of Samantabhadra.

If any of you carry out these same practices
Your vows will ceaselessly accumulate in the One Abiding Place
The good deeds of your body, speech, and mind
Will all be uniformly equal.

Should you meet a good and virtuous teacher
Who will elucidate the practices of Samantabhadra
Then, due to this act of his, that Bodhisattva
Will be close at hand and never distant.

Thus you will always see every Buddha
Encircled by a host of Bodhisattvas,
So till the end of time itself and in all places,
Reverence, respect, and make offerings to Them.

Defend and uphold the Teachings of the Buddhas,
Sing the praises of the Bodhisattva’s practices,
And till the end of time cultivate
The supreme way of Samantabhadra.

Although in the midst of birth and death
You will be endowed with inexhaustible merit,
Wisdom, skillful means,
And the samadhis will be your liberation.

Within each and every mote of dust
You will see lands beyond description;
In each and every land
You will see Buddhas beyond description.

Likewise you will see in the ten directions
Every ocean of worlds;
In each and every ocean of worlds
You will fully see oceans of Buddhas.

Within the sound of a single word of yours
Will all the wonderous sounds be contained,
Each and every wonderous sound
Endowed with the Supreme Sound.

The profound depth of your wisdom’s power
Will awaken inexhaustible, wonderous sounds
And turn the immaculate Wheel of the true Law
Of all the Buddhas in the three worlds of time.

In every future aeon
You will be most capable of giving rise to concentrated thoughts;
For each aeon in the three worlds of time
You will completely manage the extremities of concentrated thoughts.

Within this concentrated thought you will fully see
The Tathagatas of past, present, and future;
In all the dust motes in the ten directions
The wonderous and majestic realms will also be no different.

You will fully see the Buddhas yet to come,
Bring the path to its perfection and turn the Wheel of the Law;
The activities of Supreme Buddha will be brought to their fulfillment
So that after you manifest them you will enter into nirvana.

By means of your spiritual strength you will travel everywhere,
The strength of the Great Vehicle serving as a universal gateway,
The strength of your compassion will cover all,
The strength of your practices will be filled with merit.

The strength of your merit will be pure and unsullied,
The strength of your wisdom will be unbounded,
Your mind will be concentrated on the strength of your skill in means
And you will attain the strength of the highest wisdom.

By the strength of your pure and unsullied good deeds
You will rid yourself completely of the strength of evil passions,
Destroying and dissipating the strength of bedeviling hindrances,
For you will be endowed with the strength of Samantabhadra’s practices.

In majestic and pure oceans of Buddha lands
You will release from the wheel of Rebirths oceans of sentient beings;
Your will discern the oceans of karmic deeds
And thoroughly explore the oceans of True Wisdom.

In pure and unsullied oceans of all practices
You will fulfill oceans of vows;
You will fully see the oceans of Buddhas
While within oceans of aeons you do your practice.

The practices of all Buddhas in past, present, and future
Include innumerable great vows;
You are all endowed with everything
So that through Samantabhadra’s practices you will become a Buddha.

Thus, Samantabhadra Bodhisattva is called
The first-born of all Buddhas;
Whenever you transfer the merit of your good deeds to others,
Your vows are shared with others everywhere.

Your body, speech, and mind are pure and unsullied,
Operating freely in splendorous and majestic realms
For, having realized a fully perfected enlightenment equal to that of all Buddhas,
All of you, without exception, will be the same as Samantabhadra.

Like the practices of me, Manjusri,
Are those of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva,
So, from whatever good roots you may have,
Transfer merit by the same means as He and I do.

All Tathagatas in the three worlds of time
Extol your transferring the merit from your treading of the path,
For whenever you transfer the merit from your good karmic roots,
You fulfill the practices of Samantabhadra.

Vow by your life until the end of time
To rid yourselves forever of your hindrances and fetters,
Then face to face will you see Amida the Boundless One
And be reborn in His Peaceful Realm.

Or, should you be reborn into some other Buddha Realm,
Fulfill your great vows.
Then Amida Tathagata
Will manifest before your eyes and predict your future attainment of Buddhahood.

The majestic and pure practices of Samantabhadra
Fulfill my, Manjusri’s vows,
So until the end of time itself
Strive to master the practices of the Bodhisattvas.

We offer the merit of this practice to ALL:

May they be well, happy, and peaceful.
May no harm come to them.

May they always meet with spiritual success.
May they also have patience, courage, understanding and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
May they always rise above them with morality, integrity, forgiveness, compassion, mindfulness, and wisdom.

Homage to all the Buddhas in all worlds
Homage to all the Bodhisattvas in all worlds
Homage to the Scriptures of Great Wisdom