Newsletter 2022 Oct-Dec

Great Faith
by Rev. Kinrei Bassis 

I remember reading a famous Zen Master saying that in order to realize the deepest spiritual truth, we need to have great faith. Faith is central and required in Buddhism but many people, particularly in our secular western cultures, are attracted to Buddhism because it seems to make intellectual sense and does not seem to require faith. People often like the fact that Buddhism is not asking us to believe in something like a God who is judging us or other illogical concepts. Yet to practice and to live from the central teaching of the Buddha, the Four Noble Truths, this very much requires us to develop great faith. The First Noble Truth is that suffering exists and that we cannot avoid suffering due to the impermanence of every single condition in our life. The Second Noble Truth, that all our suffering is due to our desires, to our clinging to what we want and pushing away what we do not want. The Third Noble Truth is often translated as the cessation of suffering or attaining Nirvana. The Fourth Noble Truth, the Eightfold Path, is Buddhist training and the way we can convert our deluded self into a liberated being, a buddha. The reason the Four Noble Truths require faith is that we do not understand with our minds what it actually means to find the cessation of suffering or what is Nirvana. We do not understand how letting go of all our desires will actually give us the deepest joy and happiness. Everyone wishes to be free of suffering and everyone wishes to find deep happiness. To put our energy into following the Buddhist path, we must feel very strongly that following this path will take us to that which we most deeply desire. Sometimes, a new person will ask me the obvious question, is practicing Buddhism worth it? Will it work? My answer will often not clear up many people’s doubts in the Dharma since letting go of our desires does not seem to be the way the normal worldly mind thinks it can find real happiness. The faith that is the ground of my spiritual life is not something my mind fully understands. Yet something in my heart knows what my little mind does not understand; the Buddhist path is pointing us to something that is right and true in the deepest sense. The deep commitment needed to transform our lives requires our hearts to resonate with the Dharma so its truth will be deeply felt at our core. 

The ground of the Eightfold Path is learning to let go of our desires. Yet faith is central since when we are dealing with the many difficulties in life, we need to believe that our suffering is actually flowing from our lack of acceptance rather than from all difficult problems in our lives. To really let go of clinging to our desires, we need the faith that getting what we want does not matter in the deepest sense. Now on the practical level, naturally we want the conditions in our lives to bring forth positive results. The Eightfold Path is all about doing good so we can minimize suffering for ourselves and for others. We should do all we can to bring forth the thoughts and actions that will help lead us and others to real peace and happiness. Buddhist training should help us to generate more good karma and less bad karma, which in turn, will help us to find more happiness and less suffering. Yet due to the inescapable karma that enfolds our lives, we inevitably must face many difficult and painful situations such as loss, disease and death. We need faith in the Third Noble Truth so we can open our hearts and minds and find that there is something deeper than what is happening to this little self. We can awaken to the truth that we are not bound by any of the good and bad karma that is unfolding in our lives or in the world around us. We are only bound when we are clinging to getting what we want. 

The Shushogi, which is the most central teaching by Great Master Dogen, begins with the following lines of teaching: 

The most important question for all Buddhists is how to understand birth and death completely for then, should you be able to find the Buddha within birth and death, they both vanish. All you have to do is realize that birth and death, as such, should not be avoided and they will cease to exist for then, if you can understand that birth and death are Nirvana itself, there is not only no necessity to avoid them but also nothing to search for that is called Nirvana. The understanding of the above breaks the chains that bind one to birth and death therefore this problem, which is the greatest in all Buddhism, must be completely understood. 

~ Shushogi by Great Master Dogen 

It takes deep faith to keep pointing ourselves, in the midst of major difficulties, to this sacred place of the deepest truth. Samsara is this world of change and impermanence in which suffering seems unavoidable. Buddhist training is having faith in Right View, and one teaching within Right View is that no difficulty we face in life is a real problem in the deepest sense. The arising of desire and fear is not the problem, this is all just the normal useful sensitivity to what is happening. Being hungry and wanting food, being in pain and wanting it to be relieved, having an illness and wanting to be healthy, having someone suffering and want them to be happy, is not the problem. But the way we cling to our desires is how we make ourselves suffer. For instance when we are ill, we can be still and find that the problems in our body are not actually preventing us from finding this place of peace in which we are not bound by our illness. We almost never want to be ill but we can still be at peace with being ill and not make the illness into suffering. The normal worldly mind that creates our suffering, is the mind being lost in the importance of what is happening to us right now and not seeing the bigger perspective. Buddhist training is using our faith to point ourselves to the enlightened point of view, that our real heart, the Buddha Heart, is indestructible and cannot be fundamentally damaged by whatever difficult conditions are in our lives and by whatever difficult conditions are in the world. 

I recognize my own need to train deeper when I find myself to be troubled or upset by something going astray in my life. I remind myself that this usually is not even a big problem in the larger context of my life, so why am I allowing myself to be so troubled? This troubled mind is pointing me to recognize my need to deepen my faith so I can find acceptance and peace for whatever difficulties that I need to deal with in my life. 

As a Buddhist teacher, I am often talking with people who are experiencing major problems in their lives such as death, illnesses, marital problems, family crisis, etc. Naturally I would like to help them to find the spiritual place in which they realize that there is, in the deepest sense, nothing is fundamentally going wrong. Good and bad condition are always flowing through our lives, yet Buddhism is teaching us to find inner peace and stillness so we can realize the real problem lies not in the painful and difficult conditions, it is in our deluded reactions to all these difficulties. Yet this place of deep trust and acceptance is not something I can fully explain, even to myself. It is something I know in my heart to be real, but how can I help someone else so that they can find this spiritual place? It is just another version of the problem the Buddha had after his enlightenment; how can the Buddha help others to understand what he had experienced under the Bodhi tree? 

The Four Noble Truths was the Buddha’s answer, but his answer still does not fully give our brains something to grasp so that we can easily see that clinging to our desires will lead to suffering. The world is full of beings who fail to understand the real value of not grasping the conditions within their lives. Only by not clinging to anything but embracing the whole of our lives can we find the unshakable deliverance of our heart from suffering. 

Every Buddha and every Ancestor realizes that he is the same as the limitless sky and as great as the universe. When they realize their true body there is nothing within or without; when they realize their true body they are nowhere more upon the earth. 

~ Kyojukaimon by Great Master Dogen 

It sounds wonderful to think of having this sense of being boundless, like in the above verse. Yet we find what is boundless by having great faith in the deepest truths of Buddhism. A central truth is Anatta, no self. To free ourselves from suffering and samsara, we need to keep pointing ourselves away from the strong karmic tendency of making ourselves important, our past and future important, whatever is happening to us right now important and to whatever we are feeling important. To fully open ourselves to our insignificance is actually liberating. We can let go of this heavy load of our self-importance which is weighing us down. Our worries, our fears, our anxiety, our anger, all are flowing from our mistaken point of view that there is deep significance to what happens to us, deep significance to what we are feeling. Our past difficulties and successes blind us from seeing deeper because we cling and are lost in their seeming importance. What is unfolding in the present can cause strong and overwhelming emotions only because we are obsessed with their seeming importance. Our future can weigh on us because we are worried and scared that life may bring us great difficulties that will create future suffering. Liberation in Buddhism is realizing and living this basic teaching of the Buddha — Nothing is me and nothing is mine. In Buddhism, we have the teaching that we are living in samsara because we are lost in this dream of birth and death. It is dreamlike does not mean it is not real. It is dreamlike in that it does not have the deep significance and meaning we usually give to what is happening in our lives. 

All our worries, our fears, our dreams are there in our lives only because we are doubting the Dharma and do not have the deep faith that “birth and death are Nirvana itself.” Whatever we are experiencing in our lives, we need to open our hearts with deep faith so we can embrace everything in our lives. We need to embrace all the good, all the bad that we find in ourselves and embrace all the good and bad in the world, with the heart and mind of all acceptance. When we fully embrace whatever we experience with deep acceptance, only then can we fully experience and live within the fundamental truth that samsara and nirvana are one. 

When they realize their true body there is nothing within or without. Often we think what is happening within us, our feelings, our thoughts, our inner world, is what is important. Yet our thoughts and feeling are like dreams, they have no substance. The ground of meditation is trying to let all our thoughts and feelings flow through us without clinging so we can fully see their ephemeral nature. Our clinging is what makes our thoughts and feelings into something that seems so substantial and important. 

Nothing within or without. Everything in the world that seems to be external to this little self – our work, our finances, all the people in our life, all of society – again have no fundamental substance. Everything in world has all has a dreamlike quality when we stop giving such deep significance to what is happening. 

Spiritual life requires us to always keep two perspectives going together. One is the perspective that as Buddhists we are following the Precepts and the Eightfold Path. This is how we help free ourselves and others from suffering. We are trying to help make our lives and the lives of others better. The second and deeper perspective is in the teaching of Hui Neng, There is nothing from the first. This is the deep perspective that the Buddha Heart, which is the real ground of everything, is never affected or damaged by anything in samsara, this world of change. That is why Dogen could teach, All you have to do is realize that birth and death, as such, should not be avoided and they will cease to exist. The meaning and significance of everything in our lives and in the world comes out of how desires and fears create this seeming movement that is happening in the flow of our lives. If we are inwardly still with an open and accepting heart, in the deepest sense, we can experience the truth that nothing is really happening. Yet while our minds never fully grasp what is boundless, in the depths of our hearts we can know with certainty, what is true and real. Buddhist training is cultivating this deep faith that can free us. 

My Buddhist training in daily life is both my efforts to try to do good and also my effort to try to maintain an awareness that, in the deepest sense, nothing is really happening. In my daily life, I am naturally working at various tasks and I can find myself getting obsessive and anxious about trying to have a successful outcome. I often need to take a step back and look at what I am doing with a broader and deeper perspective so I can see the relative insignificance and unimportance of what I am doing. The dreamlike nature of everything we experience in daily life is apparent only when we recognize the impermanence of everything in our lives. In a short time, all our seeming successes and failures, everything we find significant, will wash away in the flow of time and all will be forgotten. This does not mean we do not try to do what is good and do what we can to help ourselves and others to find freedom from suffering. But we are also trying to keep in mind, in the deepest sense, that there never was any suffering. The Second Noble Truth is that suffering comes out of our clinging. If we stop the grasping after what we want and pushing away what we do not want, we can awaken to a sense of boundless gratitude and experience unshakable peace. I am frequently reminding myself that all my difficulties and suffering is not coming out of the difficult conditions in my life but from my lack of faith. Let us all do the hard work of Buddhist training which is how we grow the deep faith that is required for liberation. 

Priory News

by Rev. Kinrei

We are still holding Sunday services and day retreats outside, in our backyard due to the pandemic. Hopefully this Fall and Winter, as the weather becomes colder and wetter, we will move all temple activities back inside.

From August 21-28 I led a week-long retreat at Shasta Abbey. The theme was Finding Our Peaceful and Compassionate Heart. Each day, I lectured on one aspect of our practice: Peaceful Heart, Compassion, Feelings and Emotions, Adapting to Conditions, Converting Suffering, and Connecting with the Buddha Heart. The retreat was well attended with 21 people in person and approximately 23 online via Zoom. The talks are available with links on the Priory website and also on YouTube.

The Priory had a booth on the Solano Stroll this year. The Solano Stroll, a street fair that draws hundreds of thousands of people, was on September 11. It had been cancelled for the past two years due to the pandemic. We gave out hundreds of flyers and it was good to have this opportunity to interact with so many people in our community.

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 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 peoplewho are not living in the Bay area. We plan to keep having all these activities on Zoom even after the pandemic ends.

Molly (2000-2022)

Molly, the Priory cat, passed away on October 1. We held a well attended funeral for her on October 2. Molly lived for 22 years, very venerable for a cat, and she had been at the Priory for the past twelve years. She had had weak kidneys for the last five years and it was surprising that her health had not noticeably deteriorated and she kept going until almost the end, with her usual bright and energetic presence. For many years, Molly was a consistent presence at Priory Dharma talks, sitting quietly and happily on my lap. I am grateful for having Molly as a companion and for being a warm and positive presence for everyone at the temple. (Click the image below to view Memory of Molly)

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 gift cards, flowers, plants, Buddhist art book, 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, various vegetables and fruit, cheese, soy milk, coconut milk, tofu, kim chee, 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.

Buddha’s Enlightenment: Sunday, December 4

The Priory will celebrate the great Enlightenment of the Buddha, on Sunday, December 4. Part of practicing at the Priory is learning to make Buddhism an integral part of our life. Growing up in America means we were raised and familiar with Judeo-Christian religious celebrations and we are not acquainted with comparable Buddhist traditions. An important aspect of human life is sharing and celebrating with others. Although we offer many different ceremonies and services at the Priory, there are certain holidays that it is helpful for the Sangha to make a special effort to come together and share their gratitude with others. Commemorating the Buddha’s Enlightenment in December is an occasion for the Sangha to gather together and express their gratitude and joy for the immeasurable gift of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. We welcome everyone to join us for the ceremony and for a potluck lunch which follows the Dharma talk.

New Year’s Eve Meditation Vigil and New Year’s Ceremony

The New Year’s meditation vigil and ceremony provides an opportunity to reflect on the past year and establish a direction for the year ahead. Starting at 9:00pm on Saturday, December 31, there will be meditation at the Priory until 11:30 pm. Then we will hold a New Year’s ceremony to offer our gratitude and willingness to the Buddha for the upcoming year. After the ceremony there will be a festive tea in which the Sangha can celebrate the New Year in a peaceful and joyous way.

Priory Meditation Retreats
October 15 November 12 December 10 January 14

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.

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.

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, cleaning, 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. The next work day is scheduled for Saturday, January 28.

Shasta Abbey Retreats

Attending a retreat at Shasta Abbey is an excellent way to deepen one’s Buddhist life by living and practicing together with a large community of monastic and lay members of the Sangha. The introductory retreats are the recommended first step in practicing at the Abbey. For more information, you can go to their website at http://www.shastaabbey.org or contact the Guestmaster at (530) 926-4208 or guestmaster@shastaabbey.org.

Introductory Weekend Retreats October 14–16 and November 11-13 

Feeding of the Hungry Ghosts Retreat October 27-30

New Year Celebratory Retreat December 29–January 1

May our loving thoughts fill the whole world; to its height, its depth, its broad extent – without any limits. A boundless goodwill toward the whole world, unrestricted, free of hatred and enmity. Then as long as you stand or walk, sit or lie down, through all your waking hours, strive for this pure intention and then your life will bring heaven to earth.”

(Buddha-Sutta Nipata 118)