The months of January and February were dominated by winter weather at the temple’s location in the mountains. The five-year-long drought in California was suddenly reversed by a series of winter storms which dropped a lot of rain even in Southern California. The National Weather Service reports that our valley has received close to 15 inches of rain in 2017, and over 19 since October 1, the beginning of the “rainfall year”. Most of that rain fell in wonderfully spaced, modest storms until the last one on February 17, which produced over five inches. That storm tested our drainage improvements made in the wake of the summer downpour in 2015; everything worked fine and we sustained no damage from the runoff. Spring weather has arrived now, in March, and promises to bring with it an abundance of wildflowers such as we haven’t seen in quite a few years.
The winter rains closed our local roads for parts of January and February, and so we had very few guests as a consequence. The temple was closed as usual in January so that the monks can recharge at the end of the year and the start of the new one, but in February the weather prevented many people who wanted to visit from driving to the temple. Our February retreat was cancelled due to the rain the previous day.
During January a group of people kept in contact with each other to do the Home Practice Month ( for info please ask rev. Phoebe), and here is a sample of what occurred:
Steve wrote: In a discussion of politics recently, I thought I was being calm and then I found myself on a cusp of anger and then just lost it and got angry. Not physical anger or name-calling anger, just a louder voice and much frustration. Later a scripture arose: “If you lost become, there will arise obstructing mountains and great rivers.” In this instance, the obstructing mountains were that which obstructed my perspective and the great rivers were rivers of emotion which swept me away. I later acknowledged my poor behavior, made bows, and resolved to try harder to see this cusp arising and work on Right Speech and Right Understanding. I noticed that my mind was pretty skillful at coming up with justifications for anger in this case, how the other person was unreasonable, and on and on. It was a chance to see my mind at work as slave of the self. On another day, I had a flare-up of a physical problem. It is most noticeable when I’m trying to sleep. It can result in poor sleep and a very long next day. Sometimes with this problem, I take the medication and follow the doctor’s orders and the problem does not abate. That was the case in the middle of a recent night. I found myself on the cusp of panic and despair. This time I did not fall into panic. I was able to keep coming back to the present and not identify with the problem. Sometimes, even when tired, I get up and meditate. There could be a scripture: “If you practice for some time, there will arise calm vistas and great bridges.” These don’t always arise for me; it’s a great comfort that there are times when they do arise. A monk once told me: perfect stillness is always present. I resolve to try harder to be open to that perfect stillness. With Bows, Steve Murray
Thank you Steve for sharing, as I have been struggling with the precept: “on feeding anger and hardheartedness…awaken in yourself a compassionate heart, cultivate in all beings the roots of goodness as well as the absence of controversy.” Not easy work…Changes…. As we in America witnessed the peaceful transfer of power in yesterday’s inauguration of our 45th President, I struggled with my own anger and sense of disempowerment. Yes my choice lost, yet won the popular vote by millions. And today hundreds of thousands of people march in cities for women’s rights. How do I accept my own anger and disbelief? Changes…How do I reconcile my dissonance with those who also live in my community? Changes… I cannot pretend that there are not these moments where my emotions flood my thinking and I suspect my behavior. How can my practice provide a path of action in my daily work life that can brings me back to my practice? Changes….With bows Gayle
Hi All. In connection with recent e-mails from Gayle and Steve, I just find it difficult not to get angry, disheartened and overwhelmed with all the suffering and current disturbing political changes in the world. I try to support various pressure groups who fight against the people causing the suffering, exploitation and injustices. At the same time I am aware that newspapers distort what is really going on and to divide things into black and white is also not helpful. If I didn’t try to have faith in people’s good intentions I would probably become very cynical. If I can just be aware when I am holding on to my own views and opinions too much and rejecting other people’s views, that is good enough I think. I believe a lot of people are doing the best they can to make this world a better place. but we can get too caught up in this. I think we have to first accept the way things are and to accept how we are. ‘Hatred can never be appeased with hatred’ to quote an old Buddhist truth The here and now is all we ever have. And then we can hopefully change things for the better. To offer your meditation period to all beings who are in distress is a good practice I think. May all beings be happy. Neil
In unsettled times when people tend to join (or be pushed into black or white) as Neil says, there seems to be a lack of true listening. When I am among those who don’t share my opinions, I’ve experienced a tendency of others to answer quickly or to interrupt—and I find myself doing that same thing. There was a popular song written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach:
What the world needs now is love, sweet love It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of What the world needs now is love, sweet love No, not just for some but for everyone
I was struck by the last line, “not just for some but for everyone.” Perhaps the best offering we can make is to try to listen and be aware that, as Neil says, a lot of people are doing the best they can—even angry or irrational people. Some years ago, Reverend Helen gave me a poem by Mother Teresa that seems relevant:
People are often unreasonable and self-centered forgive them anyway
Give the world the best you have and it may never be good enough Give your best anyway
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God It was never between you and them anyway.
With Gratitude for this group and our exchanges, Steve Murray
Dear Folks, I’m sorry to have been pretty quiet this month, but I have deeply appreciated reading everyone’s offerings and Rod for being our facilitator. I started a 6 month wellness program with a specialty clinic this month and I’ve been up to my ears with classes, special food regimen, tests, etc. My focus on change has been on health and keeping me busy. As I hear from others in the group, I have also been meditating and chewing on the issue of how to act in the world that is moving so far from my core values. I’ve been trying to be involved with some kind of positive action on a regular basis (noticing opportunities to offer empathy, being quiet or disagreeing (i.e.. if someone says something racist, etc.), without acting in an angry way when I’m around folks who disagree with my views, marching while meditating, attending meetings where folks are trying to find positive paths for resistance, watching less news (a hard one for me), subscribing to journals who are endangered, and sending a little money to organizations I believe are trying to protect the environment, free speech, civil rights,…. Frequently, working on trying to be still in the midst of it all, as thoughts and emotions ebb and flow. I became a monk in 1971, with a group of us who had all come out of the turbulent and very political 60s. I had been very active politically in those years. Rev. Master Jiyu used to speak very strongly about it being wrong to be involved in political action. Instead, we should focus on our own training, and by working on and changing ourselves, we would change the world. I understand that view, and have seen in my own life and those of people I trained with, the power of personal change. When my husband and I were the priors for the temple in Eugene, Oregon and meditation group in Portland, many of our congregation members would get very caught up and obsessed about what what happening in the world, and would have trouble focusing on what was happening on their own zafu. I also remember Rev. Master Jiyu telling us about the life of her teacher, Koho Zenji. He was sent to the monastery when he was 7 to begin his training to become a monk. Because he was so bright, he was sent to university and became a historian. He was responsible for making it a legal requirement that girls be taught to read in Japan. Before that, most women were illiterate. At other times, Rev. Master would mention Buddhist monks in Japan, who had been politicians, or soldiers, or active socially, and spoke about what was important was that they took full responsibility for their actions and did them from a pure heart. I know that the Abbey was filling with new trainees at that time, partly because the events of the 60s threw in question the values, beliefs, and life styles many of us were raised in after WWII – especially having lives pretty devoid of a meaningful spiritual path. The whole question of how does a Buddhist behave when the government is threatening human rights has been something I’ve chewed on for a long time. I think that Rev. Master saw protests on TV and assumed that everyone participating in resistance was in an angry, polarizing state of mind. That was true of many, but, from my experience, not everyone. For myself, I feel, as a lay person, living in the world, instead of a monastery, and as a parent and a grandparent concerned about the world my grandchildren will inherit, that I have a responsibility to find ways to participate in being present with actions that voice my beliefs and best wishes for our country and our planet. As someone who is 70, instead of 20, mostly I feel a sense of deep grief about what I see happening, rather than the anger and fear of my youth, though those emotions can pop up. The need to act, in the public arena, even if it is in very small ways, is something I’ve made peace with what is best for myself. I hope I am taking steps that are in harmony with my Buddhist training and am not causing harm to others. I wish everyone a peaceful and hopeful year ahead, and I look forward to another training month later in the year. With bows, Joanne————-
At the Temple we are now back to our usual routine of weekend activities, including work Saturdays, Saturday Dharma talks and Sunday ceremonies and Dharma talks.
Near the end of December, our fearless dog Jasper, trying to chase off a group of four or five coyotes, got himself pretty seriously chewed up in a fight. Luckily Rev. Seikai was nearby to run the coyotes off, but Jasper had multiple puncture wounds and we took him to a vet in Ojai, as our usual vet in Taft was not working that day. The vet shaved off a lot of fur, treated wounds and sent Jasper back home, but in the end we made three trips, and Jasper spent two overnights at the vet when it appeared for a while that we was giving it up and ready to die. Modern veterinary medicine saved the day; Jasper was given I.V. medications and later an appetite stimulant, he started eating and drinking again and soon there was noticeable improvement. The vets were amazingly kind and generous, writing off one whole day’s vet bill of ultrasound and other treatment. We hope one day Jasper might begin to learn that discretion is the better part of valor where coyotes are concerned, but meanwhile he is back to being his old self.
As Rev. Phoebe’s birthday (March 11) approached we invited our members and friends to come and join us for the day to celebrate. Sixteen people joined us that Saturday for a morning of temple cleaning, working in the garden and doing trail maintenance, followed by a lavish potluck feast which included two birthday cakes. Since we hadn’t had a largish gathering of people in the temple for a while, it was a chance for everyone who came to meet new people and get caught up with old friends. It was a warm spring day and very enjoyable. Our longtime congregation members Asha and Teresa, who have relocated from Arcata to Sacramento, came for a visit of several days which spanned that weekend. The four of us took the opportunity of being together to go on a whale-watching boat trip in the Channel Islands. As luck would have it, we encountered both humpback and grey whales. Humpback whales are large, impressive creatures, and the ones we saw were surfacing to breathe while following a pod of dolphins, but the grey whales put on an impressive show, actually breaching up into the air near our boat. It seemed clear they knew we were there to watch them, and they obliged with a bit of whale breaching.
The political upheaval which is going on in America is something we cannot simply ignore, pretending that it has nothing to do with us or our Buddhist practice. We are all affected by what is going on to varying degrees; some people are very sensitive to political matters and others less so, but none of us live in a vacuum. The monks have been looking for ways to talk about this turn of events from the perspective of Buddhist practice and training, as opposed to the perspective of political action. We have nothing against political action, but it is just not our realm of expertise or involvement. And we also believe that for political action to be truly effective, it has to come from a deeper place spiritually than what we typically witness in the world at large. Just taking sides, based on your particular belief system, and jumping into the fray falls short of what it means to practice enlightened action in Buddhism. Trying to bridge the communication gap, which seems to grow wider all the time, learning to listen to diverse and opposing views without dismissing them straight off, are not easy things to do but they are what will actually help the situation. It’s possible that things have gotten so far out of whack that nothing really can be done at this point, but that possibility should not prevent us from doing the best we can to turn it in the right direction. In light of all this, Rev. Seikai put together a ceremony, “Prayer Vigil for the Spiritual Well-being of America” as a way for people to reground themselves, and reconnect with what the Buddha taught about these things. We held the ceremony for the first time on March 12, and the six of us who participated all felt like it touched something deep within ourselves, giving us all a positive focus for our efforts on a spiritual level. We hope that as time goes on we will be able to introduce more people to the ceremony and its message of loving kindness and understanding.
We included The Prayer of Saint Francis in the prayer vigil ceremony:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.