Sangha Resources

July 28, 2022 Thursday
The Summer 2022 issue of the Journal of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives is now available.  It includes articles by Rev. Master Leandra Robertshaw, Rev. Master Leon Kackman, Rev. Master Aurelian Giles, Rev. Valora Midtdal, and Mia Livingston, as well as Order News covering North America and Europe.  

April 7, 2021 Wednesday
The latest issue of the OBC Journal is now available.  It contains a range of helpful articles written in response to the challenges of the time.   Below is the link to a PDF of the Spring 2021 Journal:

April 4, 2021 Sunday
Great Master Eihei Dogen tells us in the Shushogi:
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 realise 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.

It is very difficult to be born as a human being and equally difficult to find Buddhism however, because of the good karma that we have accumulated, we have received the exceptional gift of a human body and are able to hear the Truths of Buddhism: we therefore have the greatest possibility of a full life within the limits of birth and death. It would be criminal to waste such an opportunity by leaving this weak life of ours exposed to impermanence through lack of faith and commitment.

Impermanence offers no permanent succour. On what weeds by the road-side will the dew of our life fall? At this very minute this body is not my own. Life, which is controlled by time, never ceases even for an instant; youth vanishes forever once it is gone: it is impossible to bring back the past when one suddenly comes face to face with impermanence and it is impossible to look for assistance from kings, statesmen, relatives, servants, wife or children, let alone wealth and treasure. The kingdom of death must be entered by oneself alone with nothing for company but our own good and bad karma.

March 29, 2021 Monday
Rev. Master Ando (Talk 1), Rev. Master Oswin (Talk 2), Rev. Amanda (Talk 3) and Rev. Master Margaret (Talk 4) offer their perspectives in this recent series from Shasta Abbey:
Introduction to the Buddhist Precepts: Video Talk 1

Introduction to the Buddhist Precepts: Video Talk 2
Introduction to the Buddhist Precepts: Video Talk 3
Introduction to the Buddhist Precepts: Video Talk 4

March 25, 2021 Thursday
The Buddha teaches that the proximate cause of lovingkindness is seeing the lovable qualities of beings. 

We can all practice being kinder to one another. If we are able to make lovingkindness the basis upon which our mind is established, then we will all become kinder. The principle is so simple: the emotions we feed and nurture will grow stronger, and their opposites will starve and eventually die off. The immediate benefit of such practice is not only the growth of kindness but also the withering of hate and ill will.

The way to develop lovingkindness is to bring to mind the lovable qualities of others. Try looking at a puppy or a kitten. Don’t you just love it? It has many lovable qualities. All the people you know also have such qualities; you just have to look for them and call them to mind. Practice seeing how often you can find something lovable in another person, even someone you might not like that much. Cultivate lovingkindness.

March 22, 2021 Monday
Rev. Master Meian Elbert offered her teaching on Attentiveness on March 21.  Her 19 minute talk is available here  Listen / Download.  Rev. Master Meian will join our Dharma Discussion on Tuesday April 13 from 6:00 to 7:00pm.

March 20, 2021 Spring Equinox – Happy Spring
An anonymous Chinese Buddhist Nun writes
Searching for spring all day, I never saw it,
straw sandals treading everywhere
among the clouds, along the bank.

Coming home, I laughed, catching
the plum blossoms’ scent:
spring at each branch tip, already perfect.

Two Tramps in Mud Time – Robert Frost
Out of the mud two strangers came
And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
And one of them put me off my aim
By hailing cheerily “Hit them hard!”
I knew pretty well why he dropped behind
And let the other go on a way.
I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
He wanted to take my job for pay.

Good blocks of beech it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good
That day, giving a loose to my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And fronts the wind to unruffle a plume
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake: and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn’t blue,
But he wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom.

The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheel rut’s now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don’t forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.

The time when most I loved my task
These two must make me love it more
By coming with what they came to ask.
You’d think I never had felt before
The weight of an axhead poised aloft,
The grip on earth of outspread feet.
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the woods two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps.)
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
They judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax,
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay
And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man’s work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right — agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For heaven and the future’s sakes.

March 19, 2021 Friday
Upachala – The Second Sister
(from The First Free Women:  Poems of the early Buddhist Nuns)
I left home soon after my sister.She found a cave, I a community.Typical middle sister – always the social one.
The voice inside my head always used to ask,
Why do I have to be the middle sister?Never first. Never last.When is it my turn to feel special?
These are our stories.
I thought the Path would make me feel special.
But instead it sang
such deep rich tones
that the voice inside my head
just couldn’t helpbut sing along.
If you’re going to tell yourself a story,
why not tell yourself a story of freedom.

March 17, 2021. Wednesday
Here are the Scriptures and Ceremonies in our Tradition as they are chanted at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey,

1. Dawn Drum and Kesa Verse

2. Sandokai

3. The Most Excellent Mirror–Samadhi

4. Ancestral Line

5. The Scripture of Avalokiteshwara Bodhisattva

6. The Scripture of Great Wisdom

7. The Litany of the Great Compassionate One

8. Adoration of the Buddha’s Relics

9. Vandana and Ti-Sarana

10. Pancha Sila

11. Rules for Meditation

12. Vespers

Ceremonial plays an important role in the Serene Reflection Meditation Tradition (Soto Zen); it is a way of expressing meditation in activity. To participate in a ceremony with wholehearted attention allows the meaning of the Scriptures to be realised. As we recite the Scriptures each day, different aspects begin to come alive for us and we find our understanding grows as we follow their teaching. Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett has translated the Scriptures into English and has provided settings which are based on traditional plainchant, a form which expresses the spirit of Zen and is well suited to western trainees.

The first track is the Dawn Drum being struck seven times at the end of morning meditation. This represents the footsteps of the Seven Buddhas (Shakyamuni Buddha, plus the six Buddhas preceding Him). Their footsteps resound anew each morning, resonating within the hearts of those who listen. The Kesa Verse follows, each trainee affirming their willingness to follow the Precepts during the day ahead.

Morning Office starts with the Sandokai, followed by The Most Excellent Mirror—Samadhi. We begin in the Meditation Hall, learning how to sit still within all the states of mind which arise and pass away. These Scriptures show us how to be still within the opposites, how to understand in meditation the interrelatedness of all things, and how to find the place where ‘all is one’ and ‘all is different’ are experienced in a simultaneous unity.

The Sandokai, written by Sekito Kisenn (700-790 AD) describes how to understand the intimate relationship between all things from the true perspective of meditation. The Most Excellent Mirror—Samadhi (J.HokyoZammai) by Tozan Ryokai (807-869 AD) explains the necessity of going beyond the opposites, beyond words and mere intellectual comprehension. In this place lies the ‘freedom original’, and only those who are able to walk the path between all extremes can hear the wooden figure sing and see the stone maiden dance. It is to see the Buddha Nature in all things. Such a person lives an ordinary daily life, but a life filled with unbounded gratitude. Morning Office ends with the offering of the chanting of the Scriptures to all the Buddhas and Ancestors. The Ancestral Line names those who have passed on the teaching from the Seven Buddhas down to our own founder, Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett. We express our gratitude and respect to these monks for, through their compassion and sincere training, we are able to meet today and follow the Buddha’s Way.

Then the monks process to the Ceremony Hall for Morning Service; they spread their mats and make three bows towards the main altar. The bows express gratitude to the Eternal Buddha and the Ancestors through whom we receive the Teaching. The Scripture of Avalokiteshwara Bodhisattva is chanted first. This Scripture points to the transformative power of compassion, which, when truly cultivated, takes us beyond all disasters and difficulties. Then comes The Scripture of Great Wisdom(The Heart Sutra) which describes how all things are pure and immaculate, and already one with the Buddha Nature. Through meditation, one’s training and understanding deepen endlessly within the dynamic heart of Buddha Nature “….O Buddha, going, going, going on beyond, and always going on beyond, always BECOMING Buddha. Hail! Hail! Hail!”. The bells and gongs rung throughout the Scriptures indicate incense offerings by the celebrant.

The Founder’s Ceremony, beginning with The Ltany of the Great Compassionate One follows directly after the final Three Homages of Morning Service. It expresses our grateful remembrance of Rev. Master Jiyu. Through her enlightened action, Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey was established, and has grown into the monastery that we have today. It ends with Adoration of the Buddha’s Relics.

Vandana and Ti-Sarana is an ancient Buddhist chant which formally states the taking of the Three Refuges. A translation follows: Honour to the Blessed One, the Exalted One, the Fully-Enlightened One. To the Buddha I go for Refuge. To the Dharma I go for Refuge. To the Sangha I go for Refuge. For the second time, to the Buddha I go for Refuge, etc. For the third time, to the Buddha I go for Refuge, etc.

Pancha Sila is the five Precepts: I undertake the rule of training to refrain from killing living beings. I undertake the rule of training to refrain from taking what is not given. I undertake the rule of training to refrain from sexual misconduct. I undertake the rule of training to refrain from false speech. I undertake the rule of training to refrain from alcohol and drugs which impair mindfulness.

Evening service usually takes place at 5pm. The community recite together Great Master Dogen’s Rules for Meditation; his description of the physical posture and mental attitude necessary for Serene Reflection Meditation, or Zazen.

Vespers (Evening Office) takes place after the last period of meditation in the evening. It helps trainees carry over the stillness of meditation into sleep and provides a spiritually positive end to the day. The Litany of the Great Compassionate One encourages us to continue to turn the stream of compassion within and leap beyond all obstacles. The Invocation of Achalanatha expresses steadfast vigilance in training so that we may come to know and take refuge in our true nature. The Invocation of Mahakala calls on the Bodhisattva of generosity and abundance; qualities which characterize our lives when we embrace the flow which encompasses all things. This flow, without beginning or end, is ‘the Mandala of the Sons of Buddha’. In the Invocation of the Cosmic Buddha we rejoice that the Unborn, the Undying, the Uncreated, the Eternal Itself can be discovered within ourselves and within all beings. Chanting The Golden Bell that Rings but Once helps to calm the mind and prepares us for a restful night. ‘Makura Om’ means ‘Peace upon the Pillow’.

March 15, 2021 Monday
The Buddha said in the Middle Discourses:  And what is the way leading to the cessation of suffering? It is just this noble eightfold path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.  One perfects their ethical behavior by abandoning the taking of life, dwelling without taking life, with rod and weapon laid aside, gentle and kindly, and with compassion for all living beings. 

The first and perhaps most important of the basic ethical precepts is committing yourself to the practice of harmlessness. This means not only no deliberate killing but also refraining from any kind of assault against living beings. We are asked to “lay down the stick” and broadly speaking is construed as not only abandoning any overt acts of violence but also softening the heart internally with kindness and compassion.  
How can you bring more harmlessness to your daily life? It  is an emotional attitude more than anything else. It involves seeing things through the eyes of other beings and recognizing that they do not want and do not deserve to be assaulted. Begin by brushing insects away rather than killing them, slowing down to avoid animals on the road, and in every way increasing your sensitivity to the inherent value of life. 

March 9, 2021. Tuesday
Rev. Master Leandra Robertshaw, Abbot of Throssel Hole BUddhist Abbey, has offered a series of four lectures on Bodhidharma and his teaching, given by Throssel’s abbot to the monastic community in February 2021.

Talk 1: ‘Setting the Scene’
Talk 2: Two Entries and Four Practices
Talk 3: The Bloodstream Sermon
Talk 4: The Wake-up Sermon
And a (partial, not verbatim) transcript of all four talks can be downloaded from the following link: BODHIDHARMA talks transcript

March 7, 2021 Sunday
The recent continuing Practice Retreat explored how Serene Reflection Meditation and the practice of the Buddhist Precepts work together to help us cultivate true insight into the compassionate wisdom of our Buddha Nature and to learn to live from it. Great Master Keizan teaches: “…pure meditation does not stand against the Precepts, mindfulness, or wise discernment. Rather it combines with these three aspects of spiritual training. ‘Precepts’ are the resisting of what is wrong and the ceasing from what is evil. When seated in pure meditation, we observe that there is no duality whatsoever; we cast aside the multitude of things and bring all conditions to rest.
Master Astor Douglas and Rev. Valora Midtdal offer the first talk on this important teaching:   Listen / Download   38 minutes

Rev. Master Daishin Yalon and Rev. Amanda Robertson offer the second talk on this important teaching:   Listen / Download   40 minutes   

March 2, 2021. Tuesday
Recent Shasta Abbey Dharma talks point us to aspects of mind and heart.  
Rev, Master Daishin spoke on Our Fickle Mind  2/28/21   Listen / Download   22 minutes

Rev. Master Meian spoke on A Change of Heart.  2/21/21   Listen / Download   23 minutes

February 27, 2021 Saturday
The Buddha said in the Majjima Nikaya (MN):  Intoxication is unhealthy. Refraining from intoxication is healthy. (MN 9) What are the imperfections that defile the mind? Negligence is an imperfection that defiles the mind. Knowing that negligence is an imperfection that defiles the mind, a person abandons it. (MN 7) One practices thus: “Others may become negligent by intoxication, but I will abstain from the negligence of intoxication.” (MN 8)One of the dangers attached to addiction to intoxicants is liability to sickness. (DN 31)

Ever practical and down-to-earth, the Buddha does not moralize about intoxication but points out its practical dangers. Intoxication is anything that evokes negligence, and negligence can mean anything that prevents you from seeing clearly. This is unhealthy, not just in the physical sense but also in mental and emotional ways. Becoming more sensitized to the various obstacles to our own diligence is a valuable practice.

Find something you tend to get intoxicated by—it need not be alcohol or drugs, but can be ordinary things like coffee or sugar, the news or other media, or emotions like sadness, self-pity, or envy—and look more closely at your relationship to it. In what ways might the negligence and lack of clarity involved in that intoxication contribute to sickness, whether it be a physical sickness or a less tangible mental or emotional affliction?

February 22, 2021 Monday
The Buddhist Precepts. The Precepts are the abiding foundation of Serene Reflection Meditation – for both the newest and the most-experienced trainee, the Precepts continue to guide one’s efforts and guard against self-deception.

The Three Refuges
I take refuge in the Buddha
(the Source of the teaching).
I take refuge in the Dharma
(the Buddha’s teaching).
I take refuge in the Sangha
(those who practice the teaching).

The Three Pure Precepts
1. Cease from evil. By refraining from that which causes confusion and suffering, the Truth will shine of itself.
2. Do only good. Doing good arises naturally from ceasing from evil.
3. Do good for others. To train in Buddhism is to devote one’s life to the good of all living things.

The Ten Great Precepts1.
I will not kill.
2. I will not steal.
3. I will not covet.
4. I will not say that which is not true.
5. I will not sell the wine of delusion. (Whether drink, drugs or the emotional appeal of delusive thinking.)
6. I will not speak against others.
7. I will not be proud of myself and devalue others.
8. I will not be miserly in giving either Dharma (teaching) or wealth.
9. I will not be angry.|
10. I will not defame the Three Treasures. (I will not deny the Buddha within myself or in others.)

We take refuge in the Buddha by trusting the wisdom born of the compassionate heart, and we also develop the humility to check our understanding with the Buddha’s teaching (the Scriptures) and with the Sangha (the living community of those who follow the Buddha’s Way). We are all human and even the greatest teacher can make a mistake; however, when the Precepts are taken seriously, they provide necessary safeguards and guidance.

The Serene Reflection Meditation booklet is an excellent introduction to our practice.  Articles include teachings on how to bring the Buddha’s Teaching into all aspects of our lives and how we can live in harmony with ourselves and all living beings. All of the articles are valuable in our practice but may I point your attention to
 ***The Buddhist Precepts. Rev. Master Daizui MacPhillamy,  page 51.
***Kyojukaimon and Commentary.  Great Master Dogen and Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett, page 56.
***Reading the Kyojukaimon and Commentary.  David Powers, page 68.

Here are four Dharma Talks that may deepen your appreciation of the Precepts:
A History of the Precepts. Rev. Master Daizui MacPhillamy           Listen / Download   2002.  52 minutes.

On the Precepts   Rev. Master Daizui MacPhillamy   02-08-97   80 minutes

The History and Practice of the Precepts.  Rev. Master Daishin Yalon     Listen / Download   2007.     38 minutes.

Working with the Precepts   Rev. Master Margaret Clyde. Listen / Download  2018.   32 minutes.

February 21, 2021. Sunday
The Buddha said:   However the seed is planted, in that way the fruit is gathered. Good things come from doing good deeds, bad things come from doing bad deeds. (SN 11.10) What is the purpose of a mirror? For the purpose of reflection. So too social action is to be done with repeated reflection: (MN 61). One reflects thus: “A person who thinks in hurtful ways is displeasing and disagreeable to me. If I were to think in hurtful ways, I would be displeasing and disagreeable to others. Therefore, I will undertake a commitment to not think in hurtful ways.” (MN 15)

Bodily and verbal actions have obvious effects on others, but in Buddhist teachings even what you think can affect the world around you in significant ways. Every thought plants a seed, and the fruits—both good and bad—can emerge in unexpected ways to do harm or to bring about benefit. This is why it is so important to look inward, using the mirror of mindfulness practice to see and refine the quality of your thoughts and attitudes.

It is easy to condemn other people who do not think like us. But we know how it feels to be condemned by others for thinking the way we do. This antagonistic cycle can be broken by having enough empathy to look at things from another’s point of view and to even make a practice of it. Instead of thinking about how other people should change, try as an exercise looking for ways you can change. Learn from others how not to be.

February 18, 2021 Thursday
Great Master Eihei Dogen said in the Shobogenzo Zuimonki:In my childhood, I was fond of studying classic literature on Chinese history and other texts. Up to that point, reading both Buddhist and non-Buddhist texts was necessary to go to China and transmit the Dharma, and to become familiar with the local Chinese language. I thought it was important, and in fact, it was an extraordinary thing even in wordly society. Lay people also appreciated it as exceptional and wonderful. Although in a sense it was necessary, when I reflect deeply on it now, it was a hindrance to studying the Way.

How does your learning and knowing get in the way of truly experiencing your training, of fully  living your practice, of deeply embodying the Dharma?

February 13, 2021 Saturday
Rev. Master Meian spoke recently about Sharing the Merit that Fills the Universe.  It is a valuable teaching on both giving and receiving merit.

February 11, 2021 Thursday
Meditation is not necessarily about generating intense concentration. It can be about the exact opposite: a slow, steady gentleness that adds no intensity to what already exists.     
M. Sophia Newman.  
Ritual is able to hold the long-discarded shards of our stories and make them whole again.  It has the strength and elasticity to contain what we cannot contain on our own, what we cannot face in solitude.    
Francis Weller. 
Suffering arises and falls away moment by moment, just like everything else. Suffering is not an abstract characteristic of the world but is manifest in thousands of little ways every day. Any time you feel afflicted by suffering, you can inquire into what it is that you want to be other than it is and then relinquish your hold on that episode of wanting. Desires and discontents come up but need not rule us. Just let go of them, one by one. The Dhamma Wheel

  • February 9, 2021 Tuesday
    Common Questions About Meditation
    How do I know if I am doing it right?
    You don’t. In fact, you can’t. That is because meditation is one with you, so there can be no separation of a “doer” and an “observer” who knows that it’s right. But you can know if you aren’t doing it, and that is all you need to know, because then you can bring yourself back to simply sitting

    Nothing seems to be happening during meditation; what is wrong?

    The problem is more likely to be with your expectations of what should “happen” than with the meditation. Meditation has profound effects over time, but the whole process is much larger than we can know and judge. Try letting go of the expectations and just sit. The same holds true if a lot is “happening”. It may help to remember that this is the practice of a lifetime: let it do its work.

    How can I stop from constantly wandering off?  
    Don’t try to stop yourself from wandering off, because then you will be trying to add something to pure meditation. But each time you are aware of having wandered off, do not waste time in coming back.

    I seem to “float” from one thought to another; I don’t often get caught by any one thought in particular, but I am sort of “elsewhere”, rarely being aware of actually sitting there?
    This happens. Try putting a bit more energy or concentration into what you are doing: an alive, aware, gently focused mind is best. But don’t take this too far, or it becomes “trying” rather than meditating. See the next question.

    I find that if I concentrate hard on just being aware of sitting, if I sort of “bore in” to this, then I get caught a lot less often. Is this OK, or am I trying not to think?
    Sometimes this seems good, as a response to the “floating” mentioned above, for instance. But don’t make a general practice of it, as this, too, is adding something to pure meditation. Trust that “just sitting” really is enough.

    How can I stop from falling asleep?
    There can be many causes for this. Perhaps the posture is not quite right or the room is too warm; perhaps you are not putting enough energy into the sitting; maybe some part of you is fighting the meditation; or maybe you are simply too tired and need to go to bed!

Please feel free to ask for advice about these, or any other questions about meditation which may arise.

February 1, 2021 Monday
The Thing Is – Ellen Bass
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

January 29, 2021 Friday
Out of our discussion about The Second Great Precept in 2021 last night one of our Sangha offered this poem:

The Moment – Margaret Atwood
The moment when, after many years 
of hard work and a long voyage 
you stand in the centre of your room, 
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country, 
knowing at last how you got there, 
and say, I own this, 

is the same moment when the trees unloose 
their soft arms from around you, 
the birds take back their language, 
the cliffs fissure and collapse, 
the air moves back from you like a wave 
and you can’t breathe. 

No, they whisper. You own nothing. 
You were a visitor, time after time 
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming. 
We never belonged to you. 
You never found us. 
It was always the other way round

January 28, 2021 Thursday
Great Master Dogen said:  In the ocean there is a place called the Dragon Gate. Here waves constantly billow. Once they have passed through the waves at this place, all fish without exception become dragons. Therefore, this place is called the Dragon Gate. Now I say, at this place the waves are not different from those in any other place, and the water is also ordinary salt water. However, mysteriously enough, when fish pass through this place they become dragons without fail. Although their scales do not change and their bodies stay the same, they suddenly become dragons. 
Through our meditation and our keep of the Precepts, our practice is a practice of transformation.  What are the “Dragon Gates” you pass through in your ordinary daily life?– 
Redding Zen Priory

January 26, 2021 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, 2021 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, 2021 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:
I flow.
To the rushing water, speak:
I am.

January 21, 2021 – Thursday
The Hill We Climb
Amanda Gorman

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
every rock
on the 
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
as Isidasi.
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
as Isidasi.

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.
Another away.
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
But first
I just need
a little

Stop lying to yourself.
See a clenched fist for what it is.
Not tomorrow.
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:

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,
your son,
your father,
your daughter.
You see me now in my final role –
kindly grandmother.
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 
Without exception
as though each
Will someday
Be the one
To show 
Us all
This is the Path.

The Five Hundred
Your daughter.
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?
On your
And weep.
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:

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