January 26, 2020 Tuesday
We explored the Five Hindrances at our Meditation Tune-up Morning on Saturday and at our Dharma Talk on Sunday. The Five Hindrances are desire or craving, aversion or ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness including anxiety and worry, and doubt. They are ways the self distracts us in meditation.
The Buddha said: When ill will is internally present, one is aware: “Ill will is present for me.” When ill will is not present, one is aware: “Ill will is not present for me.” When the arising of unarisen ill will occurs, one is aware of that. And when the abandoning of arisen ill will occurs, one is aware of that. . . . One is just aware, just mindful: “There is a mental object.” And one abides not clinging to anything in the world. (MN 10)
The second of the five hindrances is ill will, which, like the first hindrance, desire, is a mental state that arises and passes away from time to time. Highlighting this factor in the swirl of experience and noticing when it is present and when it is not helps us realize that the annoyance we often feel is a fleeting phenomenon. This in turn gives us the ability to abandon that annoyance. We need not give in to it.
Annoyance is a good way of practicing with ill will, because it is a mild form of it. Anger, hatred, and fear are more charged and thus more difficult to work with. See if you can notice when you are annoyed and also when you are not. See how annoyance is just a state that arises and therefore is a state you can let go of. Instead of holding on to the justification for the annoyance, see if you can just let it go and “abide without clinging.”
We can do the same for the other hindrances – desire, sloth and torpor, restlessness, and doubt.
January 23, 2020 Saturday
Rev. Master Chosei Swann offered this teaching on Change at Shasta Abbey in 2015. Rev. Chosei was ordained by the Abbey’s founder, Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett, in 1974. In the years following, in so many ways, he did much to contribute to the building of the Abbey into what it is today. He died in 2018.
January 22, 2020 Friday
Let This Darkness Be A Bell Tower
Rainer Maria Rilke
Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell.
As you ring,what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth:
To the rushing water, speak:
January 21, 2021 – Thursday
The Hill We Climb
When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry. A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain.
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
January 20, 2021 Wednesday
Last night we explored the lives of Kisogatami, Isadasi, and Subha the Goldsmith’s daughter – three of the first women monastics in Buddhism. Their lives then hold deep teaching for us in 2021. Here are their gathas:
Kisogatami – Skinny Gotami
A child dead.
And a mad search for a magic seed.
It’s a story as old as dust.
Brave up, my sisters.
The day will come
When you run
From house to house.
People will meet you at the door,
look you in the eye,
and they won’t let you in.
I’m sorry, they’ll say.
But we can’t help you.
When everyone you love is gone,
when everything you have
has been taken away,
you’ll find the Path
These are the words of Kisagotami
Isidasi – Attended by the Wise
Isidasi and Bodhi were sitting together
after their morning meal
in a shady corner of the Pataliputta Forest.
Bodhi said to Isidasi,
How did it happen, my sister –
That you came to leave home?
And so Isidasi told Bodhi her story:
My father gave me everything I asked for.
When I came of age, he gave me to a wealthy merchant.
I cared for my husband
as a mother would care for
her only son.
And like a spoiled child,
he constantly complained
and humiliated me in front of others.
When his parents asked him why,
my husband only said,
She is in every way the perfect wife.
Still, I can no longer live in the same house
They took me back to my father’s house –
and left me there.
Soon my father gave me to another rich merchant,
but with only half the dowry.
I lived in Number Two’s house
and served him as a slave would serve her master.
And in turn he treated me
as a master would treat a slave.
After a month or so, he too sent me back.
One morning a wanderer came to out door.
He and my father got to talking,
And my father said to him:
Good man, put aside your robes and bowl.
Stay here with us –
and take my daughter as your wife.The wanderer and I lived together as husband and wife
for two whole weeks.
Then one morning he said to my father.
Good sir, give me back my robe and bowl.
Once again I will take to the open road.
Your daughter is, in all ways, the ideal companion.
Still, I can no longer live in the same house
That night I couldn’t sleep.
Something inside was pulling and twisting.
In the morning I gave myself to the Path –
And the Path took me away.
I remember those first weeks and months.
At night I was often cold.
During the day I was often hungry
And I was lonely all the time.
While meditating late one night,
I saw far, far back –
Back to before I was ever Isidasi –
back to when I was the daughter of a poor man
who was always in debt.
I saw the afternoon when a rich merchant
Came to collect on a debt –
And my father gave him me instead.
When I came of age,
the merchant’s son took me for his own.
And even though I served him as best I knew how,
After a couple of weeks, he started to complain.
And somehow I wasn’t surprised by what came next.
Listen, my heart.
When they send you away,
make sure you wave goodbye
With both hands.
One river flows towards you.
In the end,
you will be the one
to carry yourself
Subha – the Goldsmith’s Daughter
They all told me the same thing.
There’s only one way to be truly safe.
Get as much as you can –
and hold on tight.
We don’t take greed seriously enough.
I grew up in a house made of gold,
So I ought to know.
You see what it does to people,
slowly, over time.
You find yourself saying,
I’ll learn to be generous.
I’ll give it all away
I just need
Stop lying to yourself.
See a clenched fist for what it is.
Not in twenty years.
I am Subha the goldsmith’s daughter.
Easting whatever is offered.
Sleeping whenever I can.
This is what freedom looks like –
not a bucket of coins buried out back.
Just like you,
I spent a long time
Going back and forth.
But eventually I had to stand up
And say it out loud.
I will not be owned.
January 18, 2021 – Monday
Members of Shasta Interfaith – including Rev. Helen – Reflect on Martin Luther King Jr: https://www.facebook.com/scac.tv/videos/1066196330566853
January 15, 2021 – Friday
Compassion is not an innate disposition but a skill to be learned and cultivated. Our capacity for compassion is innate, but whether or not it is expressed has to do with how we train ourselves to behave in the world. Cruelty is as natural as compassion, something demonstrated often in human history. But we, right now, can choose to care about others and to alleviate their suffering. The choosing to care is itself the practice.
The value of compassion for others is obvious. They are comforted, made to feel safe, and are often given what they need to feel better. The value of compassion for oneself is subtler. It helps mold your personality and character in a healthy way and blocks any chance of its opposite, cruelty, manifesting. Practice caring when you see people or other beings suffering. Then notice how you are changed by this caring.
January 13, 2021 – Wednesday
We explored the Gathas – the songs or the verses – of the First Buddhist Women in our Tuesday Dharma Discussion. Specifically we looked at the lives of Mahamaya, Mahapajapati, and the Five Hundred Women, and their gathas here:
Mahapajapati – Protector of Children
I know you all.
I have been your mother,
You see me now in my final role –
It’s a fine part to go out on.
You might have heard
how it all began –
when my sister died
and I took her newborn son
to raise as my own.
People still ask,
Did you know then what he would become?
What can I say?
What mother doesn’t see a Buddha in her child?
He was such a quiet boy.
The first time he reached for me
The first time I held him while he slept.
How could I not know?
To care for all children
as though each
Be the one
This is the Path.
The Five Hundred
By some road she came into this world,
not because you asked her.
By some road she left this world,
not because you told her.
In between her coming and going
she passed some time here with all of us.
Oh, the places she’s been.
Next time she might be a lion
or a god
or a slave
or someone’s mother –
Then it could be your turn to die young,
and her turn to chase after you.
If you really want to cry for somebody,
why not cry for yourself?
Why not cry for all of us –
who are just passing through?
Get it all out.
Now get up.
You’ve got work to do.
Mitta – One of the Five Hundred
To be reborn among the gods
I fasted and fastedEvery two weeks,
day eight, fourteen, fifteen
And a special day.
Now with a shaved head
and Buddhist robes
I eat one meal a day.
I don’t long to be a god.
There is no fear in my heart.
The Harem – Individual Women within the Five Hundred
Tissa, practice the practice.
Don’t let attachments overwhelm you.
Free from ties,
live in the world without obsessions.
Seeing the elements as pain,
don’t come back to be born.
When you throw away
your longing to be,
You will live at peace.
Upasama, you should cross
this flood, this place of death
so hard to cross.
Upasama, you have conquered
Mara and his forces.
Endure this body:
It is your last.
Who has left home in trust,
take delight in friends.
Cultivate good qualities
to gain peace.
Practice the Buddha’s teaching:
you won’t regret it!
Right now wash your feet
and sit down beside him.
I was in full possession of
body, speech, and mind.
With the root of craving uprooted,
I have become cool and quenched.
It was twenty-five years
Since I left home,
And I hadn’t had a moment’s peace.
Uneasy at heart,
steeped in longing for pleasure,
I held out my arms and cried out
as I entered the monastery.
I went up to a nun
I thought I could trust.
She taught me the Dharma,
the elements of body and mind,
the nature of perception,
And earth, water, fire, and wind.
I heard her words
and sit down beside her.
Now I have entered
the six realms of sacred knowledge:
I know I have lived before,
the eye of heaven is pure,
And I know the minds of others.
I have great magic powers
and have annihilated
all the obsessions of the mind.
The Buddha’s teaching has been done.
January 10, 2021 – Sunday
Going Deeper than Appearances
This New Year Retreat Talk by Rev. Mugō White was given during a formal meditation period and is a recap of themes developed during the recent online New Year Retreat at Throssel Hole Abbey. The Sandōkai scripture was used as the starting point from which talks were developed. ‘The harmony of relative and absolute’ is Rev. Mugō’s preferred translation of ‘Sandōkai’. The talk commences with a short guided meditation, followed by guidance on locating oneself physically both in formal zazen and in daily life; the senses – focusing on hearing; going deeper than appearances, and form and ’emptiness’. It is intended to be heard while sitting still in the mind of meditation
January 8, 2021 – Friday
The Buddha said: Refraining from malicious speech is healthy…one does not repeat there what one has heard here to the detriment of these, or repeat here what he has heard there to the detriment of those. One unites those who are divided, is a promoter of friendships, and speaks words that promote concord. One practices thus: “Others may speak maliciously, but I shall abstain from malicious speech.” When others address you, their speech may be true or untrue. . . . One is to train thus: “My mind will be unaffected, and I shall utter no bad words; I shall abide with compassion for their welfare, with a mind of lovingkindness, without inner hate.”
These days, it seems we are surrounded by malicious speech. So much speech is intended to divide, to insult, and to vent anger and frustration. We do not need to participate in this, however alluring it may seem at times. We can choose to work in the other direction, speaking in ways that unite people and promote concord. As you become sensitized to this, its healthy benefits become increasingly apparent.
It is hard to remain equanimous when you know people are lying to you. “But still they do what’s hard to do,” the Buddha said in the face of this. To resist the reflex to strike back and instead respond with kindness and compassion is a difficult practice. Yet it can be done. Regardless of the facts on the table, the quality of our own response in any situation is the measure of our wisdom and understanding.
Rev. Master Kodo Kay offered her teaching on Finding Common Ground at Shasta Abbey in August, 2020, during the Issues of Our Time Retreat. It may be helpful as we move into 2021.
Sitting With Feelings is a Dharma talk given by Rev. Leoma Hague, Prior of the Norwich Zen Buddhist Priory (UK) at a Basic Buddhism Evening in April 2020 during the coronavirus outbreak. It addresses how to meditate with feelings when they arise, outlining some of the fundamentals of our practice.
January 4, 2021 – Monday. At our Sunday Dharma Talk yesterday we spoke about the Buddhist teaching of the Six Worlds. Valerie Allison’s article on Six Worlds and Six Paramitas was referenced as offering insight into how those Six Worlds unfold in our daily life
January 2, 2021 – Saturday A Question and a Blessing
What in your life is calling you, when all the noise is silenced, the meetings adjourned… the lists laid aside, and the wild iris blooms by itself in the dark forest… what still pulls on your soul? RUMI
A Blessing for the New Year
Earth teach me quiet ~ as the grasses are still with new light.Earth teach me suffering ~ as old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility ~ as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth teach me caring ~ as mothers nurture their young.Earth teach me courage ~ as the tree that stands alone.Earth teach me limitation ~ as the ant that crawls on the ground.Earth teach me freedom ~ as the eagle that soars in the sky.
Earth teach me acceptance ~ as the leaves that die each fall.
Earth teach me renewal ~ as the seed that rises in the spring.Earth teach me to forget myself ~ as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness ~ as dry fields weep with rain.
This link takes you to a musical rendition of this lovely Ute prayer
January 1, 2021 – Friday Dharma voices to start the New Year
Rev. Master Daizui MacPhillamy gave this Dharma Talk on Radical Sobriety on January 1, 2001, offering his perspectives on our Buddhist practice that are relevant as we enter 2021: https://shastaabbey.org/audio/dmradical.mp3.
Rev. Master Oswin Hollenbeck gave Shasta Abbey’s first New Year Retreat Talk on The Four Immeasurables. It’s 31 minutes, and well worth listening to as we start 2021. Listen / Download
Rev. Master Kodo Kay and Rev. Caitlin Clark gave Shasta Abbey’s second New Year Retreat Talk on the Light of the Buddha in our practice in the year ahead. Listen / Download