By Rev. Kinrei Bassis
Liberation, the goal of Buddhist training, is the unshakable deliverance of our hearts from all defilements, from all our burning desires, from all our anger and ill will, and from all our ignorance and delusions. The problem is how we actually free our mind and hearts from our passions and delusions. Often, the teachings and goals of Buddhism seem so vast and unachievable that many of us can find it overwhelming. Yet Buddhism is very practical. In all situations, the proper Buddhist response is the choice that will minimize suffering and maximize happiness. One very simple teaching, central to the Four Noble Truths, is that all suffering is not caused by what is happening to us, but that all suffering is caused by our wrong view and wrong thought. Circumstances and conditions are not making us suffer. Our delusions are making us suffer.
One way that we can ground the practice of Buddhism is to look carefully at all the ill will in our hearts. Whether it is anger and criticism of others, anger at groups of people and institutions, or anger and criticism of ourselves, the Buddhist teaching is to always try our best to offer everything our unconditional forgiveness. Whenever we choose not to forgive, we are closing our hearts to something and rejecting an aspect of reality. One of Rev. Master Jiyu’s favorite sayings was “when we look with the eyes of a Buddha, we will see the heart of a Buddha.”
Much delusion and ill will seems to be part of the normal human response to life. Someone hurts us, and we harbor anger and ill will towards them. The deluded feelings that accompany this ill will are that we are hurting the other people when we blame them and do not forgive them, and that we are not letting them get away with their harmful behavior. One important insight Buddhist training gives us is to see that when we are harboring anger and criticism in our hearts and minds, we are actually hurting ourselves. It is as if we are feeding poison into our hearts and thinking that the pain and discomfort we are generating is some- thing to cherish. People are often almost completely insensitive to the suffering and discomfort they are experiencing when they are angry. When we are angry, we are usually wishing that the person we blame, will experience pain and discomfort. One important function of Buddhist practice is to get in touch with our deeper feelings and to realize how much better compassion feels than anger and how much better forgiveness feels than blame.
In the Dhammapada, the central collection of the sayings of the Buddha, these following verses are near the beginning of the collection, because they point to one of the most central and important teachings of the Buddha.
3. “He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me”, in those who harbor such thoughts, hatred is not appeased.
4. “He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me”, in those who do not harbor such thoughts, hatred is appeased.
5. Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law.
~The Dhammapada, translated by Narada Thera, Buddhist Missionary Society, 1978, p.4-8
One important aspect of Buddhist training is recognizing the underlying viewpoints we hold that lead us to suffering. Most of us feel that we have been the victim of others, the victim of their greed, hate and delusion. We all have memories of being unfairly criticized, ignored, belittled, and misunderstood. Often, the karma can even be more difficult, we may have been physically or psychologically hurt, abused, molested, or seriously mistreated. How do we let these things go? How do we not cling to being damaged, to being a victim, to rail against the injustice, the unfairness, the evil of others? Yet the liberation of our hearts that we seek in Buddhism cannot come until we forgive everything and trust that nothing was ever fundamentally damaged or lost no matter what has happened.
The wondrous aspect of Buddhist training is that all hurt and all wounds will dissolve and wash away eventually if you are willing to apply the Dharma and stop clinging. When we hold on to the hurt and the damage, we actually feed suffering and keep it alive. We nur- ture these wounds in our hearts and keep replaying the conditions that hurt us. The compassion central to Buddhist practice brings us to open our hearts to what is being offered in the present and to let go of the past. Meditation points us to the realization that nothing binds us unless we allow it to and give the defiling emotions a home in our hearts and minds. The practice of meditation points us to the ideal we are striving to awaken. Whatever we think, whatever we feel, whatever we remember, we need to let everything go and trust in what is unfolding in our lives in this very moment. The whole practice of meditation is a practice of trying to let go and not let anything get between us and the ever-present life of Buddha.
To forgive everything is necessary if one is going to find the deepest truths of Buddhism. Also, forgiveness grounds our practice in seeing how the hardness of our heart is the problem, not the mistakes of others. When we recognize that our hearts are closed with anger or blame, we can begin the process of converting our difficulties into something that brings healing by recognizing that our ill will is the problem, not what causes or triggers our harsh and bitter feelings. It is very liberating when we realize that to find peace, we do not need to change the world. All we need to do is to convert our own hearts and minds, and the way we experience the world and our selves will be transformed.
The Bodhisattva vows are a central part of Mahayana Buddhist practice. They can seem so vast and impossible that many Buddhist find them overwhelming and impossible to even conceive of doing.
However innumerable beings may be, I vow to save them all.
However inexhaustible the passions may be, I vow to transform them all.
However limitless the Dharma may be, I vow to comprehend it completely.
However infinite the Buddha’s Truth is, I vow to realize it.
The word Mahayana means great vehicle. It symbolizes that our wish to help all sentient beings cross to the other shore of liberation. These vows mean that we are willing to help everyone to find their way on to this boat of liberation and that we will help all sentient beings find liberation. This willingness to help all sentient beings must include everyone, even those we find to be the most difficult and painful to be with. These vows can seem to be too vast and impossible for this little self; however, we can ground this incredibly deep vow into something that is much easier to grasp and to put into our daily life. We can forgive everyone for whatever mistake they have made, whatever hurt they have caused, and whatever suffering they have inflicted. We can point our hearts to finding compassion for whomever has made mistakes and hurt us or made mistakes and hurt others. We also need to include ourselves in the practice of forgiveness and forgive ourselves for whatever mistakes and wrongs we have committed.
Anger and hate just lead to more anger and hate, like a wheel that continues to turn in the wrong direction. As the Buddha said, “Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law.” When anger and hate arise in our hearts, we have a choice. We can recognize that our ill will is the real problem. We can stop complaining that others are acting from selfish and deluded feelings when we recognize that we are often choosing to follow our own deluded feelings. The freedom in Buddhism shows us that we always have a choice. We are always free to choose the path of forgiveness and compassion, and we can transform our hearts from the hardness of hate and anger to the soft openness of compassion and love.
The Priory, like everywhere else in the world is living through and dealing with the pandemic. We are following all of our normal schedule but we currently still requiring people to be vaccinated and to wear masks when there is a large indoor gathering, such as our Sunday Dharma talk. 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 the weather is often mild and sunny and it usually worked well to have the practice outside during the pandemic.
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 people who are not living in the Bay area. We plan to keep having all these activities on Zoom even after the pandemic ends.
Memorials and Funerals
We held a memorial for Diana Holt’s brother, Ian Holt, on January 30. We are always grateful for the opportunity to provide Buddhist memorials and offer merit and Dharma to those who have died.
Upcoming: Wesak Celebration – Sunday, May 15
Weather permitting, we plan to celebrate our Wesak ceremony outside in the Priory backyard. Hopefully by the middle of May, the pandemic will have eased and most of us are vaccinated and most of us will feel comfortable joining together for Wesak. I hope we can have our usual potluck lunch in the garden.
On Wesak, Buddhists throughout the world commemorate the birth of Shakyamuni Buddha. It is the most spiritually signifi- cant day of the Buddhist calendar, and it is helpful for Buddhists to join together as a Sangha and express their gratitude and joy for the existence and transmission of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
On Sunday, May 15, we will have the usual 9:30 am meditation, followed by the Wesak ceremony at 10 am. The Wesak ceremony is a particularly joyous service. The altar is covered with silk flow- ers, and a statue of the Buddha as a baby stands on the front altar. During the ceremony we pour water over the head of the baby Buddha, representing the water of compassion abundantly flowing over all beings.
Meditation Retreats at the Priory
April 16, May 21, June 18, July16
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.
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.
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, 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.
In recent months, we have been given many generous gifts, including flowers, plants, a lighter, books, kitty litter, face masks and toilet paper.
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 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 days are scheduled for Saturday, June 4 and Saturday, July 30.
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.