Newsletter 2021 July-Sept

Connecting with the Buddha Heart

By Rev. Kinrei Bassis

One of the deep seated ways we are suffering in our lives is not feeling connected to what we are doing and connected with people we are with. This sense of disconnection is a common aspect of life and one that we need to examine it if we wish to make spiritual progress. There is a Buddhist saying, The Buddha Heart can be found in all places, can be found at all times, and can be found in every situation. This is the real connection we need to have in order to free ourselves from suffering. The question arises, how do we actually find the Buddha Heart in the midst of our daily life?

The first step is to take a deep look at what we are actually connecting with in our lives. The normal worldly mind most of us are living with is usually lost in a self-absorbed fog. We are usually caught up with our many desires and fears. When we meditate, we generally notice the way our thoughts keep gravitating towards all this stuff in our life that we are making important. For instance, our mind will notice all of our concerns about what others are thinking about us, all of our many and varied desires, all of the aspects in our life that are causing us to be worried or anxious. 

Underlying the practice of meditation is the deep teaching that we can practice letting go of all this seemingly important stuff in our lives. While we are meditating we are just trying to be still and present. We are making an effort to let go of the way our mind is usually absorbed in what we want, in what we are doing, and in where our life has been in the past and where it seems to be going in our future. We are filled with our dreams of what we are hoping for in our life and we filled with the fears of the misfortunes we may face. This seemingly simple practice of meditation is really the practice of letting go so we can see and experience our life without this overlay of fear and desire. And frees us to find a deeper spiritual place that is always there, just waiting for us to be open our hearts to it.

Buddhist mindfulness in daily life has many different aspects but a key aspect is seeing things with a proper perspective. And the first step of a proper perspective is try to see things the way they are instead of being lost in our judgments of how we want them to be. For instance, we often feel somewhat disconnected from many of the people in our life. In order to connect to others, you will have to let go of your judgments of how you want them  to be, or how you think they should be, or how you wish them to be. Instead, try to just be with them, and try to have sympathy and understanding for how they are being right now. Compassion means not clinging to judgments of the other person but having sympathy for whatever difficulties that they are having and trusting the Buddhist teaching that there are deep karmic reasons for all the various ways that we all behave and all the problems that we have.

To connect with the Buddha Heart in our daily life, we first need to have acceptance of whatever we are experiencing and encountering. Because without that acceptance, we are instead judging and rejecting what life is offering. This means you are not just judging and rejecting what is happening to you right now; this judgment and rejection cuts you off from finding the Heart of Buddha. True acceptance means accepting and connecting to whatever you are encountering, to whomever is around you, to whatever you are feeling, thinking and experiencing. These are all gateways to the Buddha Heart, but you cannot find that spiritual place if you are cutting the world into pieces, trying to grasp the parts of your life that you like and reject the parts you dislike. 

The Buddha Heart is a mighty whole that embraces everything, both the good and the bad. So you have to develop insight into how we are cutting off our spiritual life by telling ourselves, we do not want this reality. We can get upset with others and think they should not be this way. We can get upset with ourselves, thinking we should not be this way. We can feel disturbed by the world and all the mistaken behavior and misfortune in the news and think these problems should not exist and people should not behave in these ways. I naturally have the wish that all the problems and suffering that exist in myself and in the world would vanish but I need to accept and be at peace with all the deluded behavior and suffering that fills the world and also be at peace with all the delusion and suffering that is still within me. Buddhist training is not being passive in the face of suffering, and we should do all we can to alleviate suffering. But we also need to realize and accept the limits on what help our little self can offer that will create positive change within this vast sea of suffering.

Acceptance will allow us to connect with the Buddha Heart only when we keep trying to take to heart the underlying Buddhist teaching that nothing is fundamentally being harmed or lost when there is suffering. Lack of acceptance comes out a sense that something is fundamentally going wrong when there is suffering. The Buddha said “All I teach is how to free ourselves from suffering.” Yet the solution to suffering is not having us do what is impossible, which is to control all the conditions that can cause suffering but to realize that nothing is being fundamentally hurt or damaged even when there is difficult and painful conditions. 

When we make something in our life too vital and important, we will have a lack of acceptance when it does not go the way we wish. This lack of acceptance is showing up whenever we feel angry, frustrated, irritated or disheartened. For instance, if you place too much importance in doing something successfully and then if it does not work, you can easily get overwhelmed by strong feelings of failure. If you feel failure in this situation is unacceptable, how do you connect to the Buddha Heart when you are that person who is source of the failure. The way to find acceptance is to see whatever is going wrong in our life and whatever is going wrong in the world are just a normal worldly conditions that will arise and pass through our life just like the weather. The real problem is not whatever seems to be the difficulty but how do we find acceptance for whatever difficulty is happening. The real practice is staying connected with the way things are and not being caught up with the way we think things should be. For instance, I can say something that causes someone else to be upset. It would be good for me to try to understand if there was a way for me to have made a better choice and not caused this problem. Also, I should see if there something I can learn from this difficulty and then try to do better in the future. However, being upset or disturbed with myself will just cause more suffering. With an underlying attitude of acceptance, we do not need to view making a mistake as a problem but a normal aspect of life. As long as we live, we will keep on getting some things right and some things wrong and that is not a problem. Buddhist training should help us to be more mindful and have more understanding and wisdom which should help us to gradually make fewer mistakes, but we will never be perfect and we will always be making some mistakes. 

The worldly mind is usual very much absorbed in what is happening to ourselves. The practice of acceptance weakens this normal but deep sense of self importance and allows us to connect with something deeper than this little me. That sense of self, this strong identity of the self starts loosening and weakening, because it’s very much tied into the way we’re connecting with the world through our judgments of how we want things to be and not connecting with the compassionate mind that embraces how things actually are. And if we want real spiritual progress, we can only experience the deeper truths when we wholeheartedly embrace ourselves and the world around us with compassionate understanding rather than judgment and criticism. When we look with a critical mind, we can always be upset about what is wrong rather than realizing we do not need to get caught up in judgments on what is going right and what is going wrong.

Without acceptance, we often mindlessly react to the conditions in our life. Someone insults us and we get angry. Something attracts us and we allow ourselves to be filled with desire. Something scares us and we get absorbed in our fearful thoughts and feelings. Feelings are giving us necessary feedback and information but clinging to them gives them an importance that can control our behavior. Often our feeling motivate us to blindly react, oblivious to karmic consequences. A threatening condition causes us to worry and rather than accepting the worry and letting it pass, we cling to it and allow our lives to be filled with worry. And instead of finding gratitude and joy in what life is offering us, we can be living, consumed with worry. Buddhist practice has us becoming more aware of this restless mind that keeps getting caught up in worry, getting caught up in fear, getting caught up in our desires, getting caught up in dreams of the future. When we allow worry to fill us, we lose awareness of all the many things we are being given in our life that we should be grateful for– the food we eat, the people in our life, the health that we have, the Dharma which is a medicine for all our suffering. When we are not being grateful for all that we are being given, we will then wonder why we have this suffering in our life. We do not see that the lack of acceptance is cutting us off from the grateful mind which is required if we wish to find the Buddha Heart. The mind of acceptance is the way we convert the mind that is struggling with so much of life. 

It usually takes quite awhile for most people to change their attitude that wants to get rid of their difficulties rather than learning to accept their difficulties. We don’t get rid of worry and fear; we accept worry and fear. And we let them dissolve on their own. We are trying to trust that all the seemingly problems and difficulties that cause us to have worry and fear have no fundamental substance. We cannot stop worry and fear from arising. The acceptance allows the worry and fear and all life’s difficulties to dissolve since none of them have any fundamental substance other than the energy we give them. That is why when the mind becomes worried and fearful, we just stay with it. We have patience. Buddhist training is this patient acceptance that goes against the impulse of trying to control everything. We are not trying to be something. We are not trying to get rid of the desiring mind, the worried mind, the judgmental mind, the impatient mind, and thinking all these minds are a problem. Rather we just recognize that they all are just like bubbles popping up in the stream, and they do not have any fundamental substance. They’re just something appearing and disappearing. A normal question people will have is, how do I deal with unwanted states of mind like fear. But the most important thing is just to accept that it is fine to be afraid. It will come and it will go. We don’t have to convert it, we do not have to get rid of it. We can just accept it. But also we do not need to feed and give more energy to these difficult states of mind. And by having this acceptance of, for instance fear, we get in touch with a deeper part of ourselves that knows that there is nothing to fear.

The more we practice acceptance, the less we will be overwhelmed by all the difficult conditions in our life. Then we can find a real connection to whatever is happening in our life. We become more connected to our feelings, more aware of our thoughts, more aware of the impermanence and lack of substance to everything in our life. We give less importance to our feelings, to our thoughts, to what is unfolding in our life and this gives us a sense of freedom and joy. With the mind of acceptance, we can find that deep spiritual connection that allows us to connect to and embrace everything in our life. 

May 30th Wesak Dharma Talk

Priory News
By Rev. Kinrei

During the pandemic, the Priory was closed for all of its normal daily meditation periods and services. Throughout the pandemic we continued to hold Sunday activities and day retreats outside, in the Priory backyard. On April 10, the Priory resumed all of its normal daily schedule. It feels very good to have the Priory functioning normally again, being available for people for meditation and Buddhist training. The Priory will continue with offering many of our activities on Zoom as that seems to be filling a need, particularly for those who are living outside the Bay area. 

We have made some changes in the Priory schedule. We have moved the Tuesday to Friday morning meditation period from 6:30am to 7:00am. We have cancelled the Tuesday to Friday 11:15am meditation period and have cancelled the Saturday 7:30 pm meditation period.

On May 30, the Priory celebrated Wesak. It was the first large gathering of the Priory Sangha since the beginning of the pandemic. We held the Wesak ceremony outside which is our normal practice. We also had a potluck and it was wonderful for people to share food and talk with others in the Sangha after such a strange year in which most of us were without much of our normal social interactions.

Funerals and Memorials

There have been a number of deaths in our Sangha during the past few months. Elaine Freeman died on March 22. I had known Elaine since the 1980’s and although she lived in the Sacramento area, she came regularly to the Priory and was a very sincere and deeply committed Sangha member. We held a large memorial for Elaine at the Priory on April 25. Many of her family members and friends attended and a large number of people participated in the memorial via Zoom. 

Eliot Bilecki, age 32, died on April 10. He was struck by a car and died. Eliot was the son of a Sangha member, MaryAnn Bilieki. We offered a graveside service for Elliot on April 15 at the Fernwood Cemetery in Mill Valley. Despite taking place on a Thursday morning, two hundred people attempted to attend. Due to the pandemic, they only allowed a hundred people at a time by the graveside. After the Buddhist service and a Jewish Kaddish (prayers for the dead), people shared moving memories of Eliot. It is very hard for family and friends to suddenly lose someone so young.

Gwendolyn Smith died on May 4. Gwen had been coming to the Priory for more than twenty years. I was able to visit her regularly during the weeks that she was dying and Gwen offered a wonderful example of faith and gratitude as she was facing death. We held her funeral at the Priory on May 22. It was held outside with more than fifty people attending. Gwen had a large family and many friends and it was moving to hear how she touched so many lives. The family offered a meal to everyone at the funeral and many people stayed around for hours, connecting with family and friends and sharing their memories.

The interment of Gwen’s ashes took place at the Rolling Hills Memorial Park in Richmond on June 25. We held a Buddhist service for Gwen at the mausoleum. All of her immediate family attended the service. 

Gwendolyn Smith

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 flowers, plants, cat food, kitty litter, face masks and paper towels.

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 provide most of the food for the Priory. During the past few months we have been given food donations of various vegetables and fruit, cheese, soy milk, coconut milk, bottled water, eggs, tofu, breakfast cereal, oats, vegetarian burgers, vegetarian meats, cheese, 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 Retreat

July 17 August 14 September 11 October 16

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. The retreat is also being offered on Zoom. Please register in advance for all the retreats.

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 talk, either in person or by phone or Zoom.

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 different time for the instruction. 

Altar in the back garden