Summer Newsletter 2017
We are having a lovely summer in Eugene. I was hoping to see our resident fox from last summer, but she hasn’t been around. We do have a doe who gave birth on the side drive and she and her fawn come through most days, sometimes spending the afternoon lying in the shade on one of our few patches of grass.
I am introducing a new feature to our newsletter—“Expanding Our Understanding,” which you will find at the end of this issue. This new contribution may list books, movies, speeches, Dharma talks, newspaper articles, etc. that I have found helpful and encouraging in my practice. Sometimes I say a bit about the entry, sometimes the title alone is explanation enough. For most of the items listed, I have included a link. I will appreciate your response to this newsletter feature. Any suggestions for a better title for this feature?
The thoughts I share with you in this newsletter are on the question, “Aren’t I entitled to have an opinion?”–challenging question with a lot to mull over.
In gassho, Rev. Oriana, chief priest
Wesak. On April 30th we celebrated the Birth of the Buddha with our yearly Wesak ceremony and potluck meal. We take a photo each year of the community in front of the altar, as you see above.
Rev. Leon Kackman’s Induction Ceremony. The first Sunday in May, Rev. Vivian, who came up from Shasta Abbey, and I went to Portland Priory to take part in Rev. Leon’s formal induction as Prior. It was a lovely day with children and family present, and I had the opportunity to meet and visit with a handful of Rev. Leon’s family. It was also enjoyable to see congregation members that I know from my time at Portland Priory in spring of 2012.
Lay Ordination. On Sunday, July 9th, Mick Wahal was given lay ordination at the Priory. Mick has been a regular participant at the Priory for over 2 years and we are pleased to support his commitment to Buddhist practice. Ernie Rimerman acted as precentor and Nancy Fletcher as chaplain. Following the ceremony, there was a Dharma talk on what it means to undertake Zen practice and many of our long-time sangha offered their thoughts on Buddhism in daily life. It was a lovely day, and we all appreciated the opportunity to renew our vows to live as Buddhists, doing our best to refrain from harm and to show compassion to ourselves and others.
I was pleased to have a handful of monastic visitors from Shasta Abbey this spring. Rev. Master Meiko arrived on April 30th and stayed for 4 nights so that we could get in a good visit and a bit of rest time together. She passed through for the night on her way back to the Abbey a few weeks later. Rev. Vivian was here for the nights before and after Rev. Leon’s induction in early May which gave us the opportunity to “walk and talk.”
Rev. Master Haryo visited on May 11th for 4 nights. Conversation and relaxed time together were much appreciated, as well as all the “maintenance work” Rev. Haryo accomplished while he was here. He pretty much worked through the Priory’s “A list” and much of our “B list,” as well as repairing various additional things he noted while he was here that hadn’t yet made it to any list! Particularly helpful was his look at our phone system and setting up the Priory’s voice mail, and the troubleshooting he did on our outside lighting.
Laura Dowsing English and her husband, Tygh, are moving to Kauai, Hawaii this July. They were both feeling a need for a change in their work and environment; Laura has a job in Kauai working with special needs children and Tygh is ready for a possible change in his profession. Laura was given lay ordination by Rev. Master Oswin Hollenbeck in 2012, and I performed their marriage ceremony two summers ago. We wish them both a peaceful and rewarding transition to their life in Hawaii.
Marilyn Kratt, a long-time lay Buddhist and active in Shasta Abbey retreats for decades, is now residing at Sheldon Park in Eugene. At 92 years of age, Marilyn was weakened by a fall in May and the following surgery, and requires the care of an assisted living facility. She has been a valued congregation member at the Priory for 5 years and will appreciate the thoughts and support of the sangha at this challenging time in her life.
The Priory community would like to thank the following sangha members who have offered work and services to the Priory:
- Martha Welches for taking on our sacristy cleaning. She has been keeping the meditation hall altars clean and the candle and water offerings fresh.
- Colette Hestbeck continues to come by one Wednesday morning each month to do whatever work is helpful at the time. She has pruned trees, transplanted in the garden, cleaned bathrooms, and various other tasks that contribute to the life of the Priory.
- Mick Wahal is here again this spring and summer regularly offering his services on Wednesday mornings. He has kept the stupa and surrounding area clean, used a power washer on buildings, walkways, and statues, done “weed wacking” numerous times and experimented with burning weeds along walks with a propane torch (pretty successful).
- Talbot Bielefeldt, who spent a morning giving the carpet in our common room a thorough clean—much needed with our old cat, Raja, in residence.
In June, the Priory received the donation of a Buddha statue from Laura and Tygh English. The statue had belonged to Laura’s mother, who introduced her to Buddhism and to the Priory. They also donated a wooden, outdoor bench and another lovely wooden bench made by Tygh, and numerous household and food items.
Thank you Martha, Colette, Mick, Talbot, Laura, and Tygh for the contributions you make to our community.
“Aren’t I entitled to have an opinion?”
A few weeks ago, I was questioning something a relative said to me and she responded, “Aren’t I entitled to have an opinion?” Being raised in my family—opinions are how we relate to one another (the one who states their opinion the loudest and most consistently “wins”)—and being American—the land of “free speech”—my initial response was, “of course.” Doesn’t freedom mean I can express myself in any way I please and you can’t stop me, thank you very much? Okay, but something in me was uncomfortable with that and I carried the question, “Aren’t I entitled to have an opinion?” around for several weeks. And what came up for me was, “No, actually, you are not entitled to have an opinion.” What a surprise!
Part of the issue for me is the word entitled. It is our right to go around having opinions all over the place without any information, understanding, curiosity? Without any consideration of the effect our opinions might have on others, basically wrecking havoc and causing division, taking sides with our opinions. Why so? Because our opinions are who we are? For myself, and I believe for most of us, our opinions are frequently just a spewing out of habitual and conditioned responses without much thought, without listening, and without looking at the particular situation or person in front of us right now. And we are entitled to do this?
Things are not helped in this regard with the internet’s culture of review and comment, encouraging us to have something to say about everything. And we lap it up, and (frequently) out of ignorance and delusion suddenly we are authorities. Why do we believe that what we have to say is so important, or that it will be helpful in any way? For my part, I desist. Well, once I did break my resolve and commented on how absolutely fantastic a mushroom-chard enchilada recipe is on one of my favorite vegetarian blogs. Not much harm done there. But, it does give me that addictive feeling of my opinion matters, the world cares what I think, and the belief that I have something to say. And, yes, it can be addictive.
As part of my Buddhist practice I encourage myself to have fewer opinions, not to take them too seriously, and to understand that they are only opinions, not “truth.” When I look at my life, and some of the opinions—most likely born of ignorance—I have expressed with great conviction and certainty, I am deeply embarrassed. Am I the only one? I see insecurity, fear, stubbornness, delusion. I don’t see a fountain of knowledge and wisdom. Let’s look at this squarely: opinions are just as likely (I want to say more likely) to be a prison that holds us in than an expression of liberation or freedom.
Okay, we are human beings with thinking minds, we are going to have opinions. What do we do with all these “if I ran the zoo” opinions?
One, let’s hold our opinions lightly, not taking them so seriously as if our very life depends upon them, and upon others’ agreement with them. Opinions can be the beginning of a much-needed and helpful dialogue, if we are able to drop our belief that our opinions are truth, and if we can listen.
Two, let’s acknowledge that we do not run the zoo and that we can save a lot of energy and grief by just dropping our opinions. We don’t need to make everyone/everything be the way we want them to be—in fact, we can’t.
Three, when we have an opinion, do we need to express it? Let’s look at the Buddha’s five questions to ask before we speak: “Do I speak at the right time? Do I speak the truth? Do I speak gently? Do I speak helpful words? Do I speak with a kind heart?” This will shut a lot of us up a lot of the time. I assure you, you will not die if you keep your mouth shut. I know, sometimes it feels like it.
Four, when we have an opinion—particularly a strong, ingrained, habitual opinion—does it hold up to the Precepts? By this I mean, is the opinion itself harmful? Does it flow from compassion or from the desire to be right? Is it born from ignorance, fear, desire? If it comes from the “I want what I want when I want it” perspective (some people call that freedom) then the potential for harm is great. Does it adhere to right thought, right speech, right action? We might also ask ourselves, “Is this an informed opinion or am I just spouting off?”
Yes, you can come back to me with, “Well, everything you say here is opinion.” True, and I can be fairly insistent about it. (When I become aware of my tendency to insist, I do my best to step back.) I trust that there is teaching here for your life. It is not my teaching; it is Buddhist practice, arising from a wish to live by the Precepts. Look at your own life. Try it for yourself.
I don’t wish to get too carried away here so let me bring this to an end with a reality check. Every day we make choices, decisions, discriminate between this and that, and this is an integral and essential part of our lives. It is so automatic that generally we aren’t even aware that we are making choices. Let’s base these choices and decisions on an understanding of the Precepts, on what it is good to do, on an ability to look at the big picture. We don’t need to base our choices on fly-by-night opinions that arise from our karmic tendencies or from our ingrained, habitual responses that do more to confine us than to free us. Let’s be aware of our opinions and the consequences—to us and to others—of our opinions. In particular, let’s ask, “Do they cause harm? Are they helpful?” That’s all. Lightly, lightly, lightly.
Expanding Our Understanding
As I am enthused about this new feature in the Priory’s newsletter, I am including quite a bit this first time. What recommends the items below is that they teach us about spiritual practice in the world. They also elicited a “Wow, that’s beautiful,” or “Here’s something to think about,” or “What a wonderful way to express this teaching” or “I hadn’t quite looked at it this way before,” from me. I hope that they will also contribute to expanding your world and your daily practice. The recommendations I include here reflect my particular slant on things; please don’t assume that they represent the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives.
Movie: “Taking Chance” with Kevin Bacon (available on Amazon Prime). This movie shows the formal steps taken by the American military to bring the bodies of those who have died in war back to their families. This was a real education for me. Guiding a body home takes the support of many beings and reflects humility, generosity, and service.
Documentary: “White Helmets” (available on Netflix). Best short documentary at 2017 Academy Awards. The White Helmets is a non-partisan, humanitarian organization of “first responders” in the ongoing war in Syria who are dedicated to saving as many lives as possible after bombings. What is a bodhisattva? Watch this for clear and moving examples from people who are asking, “What is it good to do?”
Three Dharma Talks from Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey and Shasta Abbey
“Great Master Dogen and Buddha Nature,” Rev. Master Daishin Morgan
“Intuition,” Rev. Master Leandra Robertshaw
“Internal Disarmament,” Rev. Margaret Clyde
Pope Francis, “Why the Only Future Worth Building Includes Everyone.”
“What Makes a Good Life?” Robert Waldinger discusses a 75-year-study at Harvard Medical School. Waldinger is the current researcher of 4 generations of scientists to guide this study. He is also a Zen Buddhist. What makes a good life? In a nutshell: connection, cooperation, compassion.
From The New York Times
Mitch Landrieu’s Speech on the Removal of Confederate Monuments in New Orleans.
An excellent example of right speech, right action and skillful means from the mayor of New Orleans. What is impressive here is that Landrieu excludes no one, showing empathy and understanding for all viewpoints. I highly recommend reading or watching the full address (link within article).
Winter Newsletter 2017
On December 12th we celebrated the Buddha’s Enlightenment at our Enlightenment Day Festival. Earlier in the week we sang invocations and did recitations as an offering to Shakyamuni Buddha and to show gratitude for His teaching. The festival was followed with a potluck meal and lively discussion.
On New Year’s Eve we celebrated with a traditional Buddhist ceremony and a social tea to see in the New Year. There was a drop-in open house on New Year’s Day in the afternoon to offer congregation members the opportunity to do bows in our meditation hall—a traditional practice in the Buddhist world—and to share an informal tea.
The priory closed on January 2nd for three weeks in order to give me a period of rest and reflection at the beginning of the year.
In mid-January, Rev. Leon, prior at Portland Buddhist Priory, and Rev. Allard of Shasta Abbey stopped by on their way down to Shasta. It was enjoyable to see them both, and we engaged in a lively discussion about what we as priests can offer and how to take part in bridging the widening political divide in the United States.
The Priory Grounds
I had imagined that there would be no entry on the Priory grounds in this newsletter, as my intention was to take a break from my focus on the property and to spend more quiet time inside this winter. Instead, we had a severe ice storm on December 16th—expectation trips me up again—that did significant damage to our grounds with the loss of uncountable trees. Except for minor damage to several structures, the buildings were spared.
I decided not to begin cleanup until we reopened in late January so that I could have a retreat period. We are now in the throes of cleaning up the storm damage and, at the same time, looking at fire danger and other concerns. There was a section of property with a significant number of dead Douglas fir and with the storm damage on top of that, it became pretty much a tangle of ground cover (mostly poison oak and black berry bushes), fallen branches and dead trees. With the advice of a forester who walked through the Priory property with me, the decision was made to remove all the trees and dead plants from the area (pretty much “clear cut”) and to replant it in the fall with cedar and Ponderosa pine, as well as some native deciduous trees. It is rather a shock, and disheartening, to see the bare land and to imagine the animals who once lived there. Yet when I revisit the decision, I still end with “this needed doing.”
Service to the Eugene Community
At our last community meeting in 2016, we decided to explore making an offering of service to the Eugene community. This decision came partly from a wish to take part in a positive activity of support in light of the negativity and “name-calling” from both sides during the presidential election. A group of those interested met in early February and discussed in more detail possible directions for contributing to the community. The following three opportunities for service were highlighted:
- Food for Lane County, volunteering at their central office, in “The Dining Room” which serves meals at no charge, or working in the garden that provides fresh vegetables and fruits for their meals.
- Community Supported Shelters, offers temporary housing for up to 85 homeless people and aims to find training, employment and/or more permanent housing for residents. There are many different types of volunteer work—from office work to counseling to cleanup–through this organization.
- Ann’s Heart Women’s Shelter, a new transitional housing unit for homeless women jointly supported by Ebbert Memorial United Methodist Church and St. Vincent de Paul.
Various members of the sangha offered to gather further information on each of the above and the community service “team” will meet again in the near future.
If you have interest in working with the Priory on service to Eugene–or have an interest in remaining in the loop about our service–and your name is not yet on our email list, please let Talbot Bielefeldt at firstname.lastname@example.org know and he will add you to the list.
A Thank You
I wish to thank those who were of help to me during the storm and following 5 days without electricity or water, in particular: Nancy Fletcher who—even though her house had significant damage from fallen trees—came to check on me the day following the storm when she couldn’t get through by phone; Dixie Feiner who offered the use of her shower and bought me a warm lunch at a nearby restaurant; Ernie Rimerman who brought food and water to the priory; Wendy Schwall who left four, 5-gallon bright red (cheered me up immensely) buckets filled with water on our porch when I was out so that I could flush the toilet and also other helpful LED lights to be used when the electricity is out.
I would also like to thank Mick Wahal, who found the services of a logger and covered the cost; and to Ernie Rimerman, Myron Cook and Al LePage for their very generous financial donations in response to the expense of cleanup and other work on the grounds. My deep gratitude to you and to everyone who made offerings of help during this time.
Further donations toward the cleanup and care of our 4-plus acres will be received with gratitude.
A Bit More About “Welcome”
You may recall that in our last newsletter I talked about welcoming what comes to us each day. Finding openness in our hearts to our difficulties and empathy for the difficulties of others, are we able to say “this is what is here now” without complaint or judgment? Yes, we have preferences. Can we lay our preferences aside and do what needs to be done?
This has been on my mind the last few months because of the ice storm that occurred in Eugene in mid-December—on-the-ground training in “welcome.” Due to several drought years, trees competing for limited light and then an ice storm that put great strain and weight on trees and branches that were already growing “sideways,” we lost many, many trees in the storm. This requires a major cleanup—figuring out what needs doing and in what order, hiring people, looking at the financial side.
So the question I asked myself was, “Am I able to welcome this demand, coming in from left field, on my time and energy and on the priory’s finances?” Too, there is a grief at losing so many fine trees and the wild life they helped to support. This has been difficult for me to do. I will gain and then lose equilibrium, gain and lose perspective—I want to say, gain and lose control, but I never had control.
And yet, and yet, as I watch the process in me and am aware of how I respond as each thing comes up, I have learned that welcoming comes more easily in bits. Not can I welcome the whole mess, but how about what is happening today: can I welcome the insurance adjuster, the estimate for stump grinding, the various and often conflicting suggestions on how to proceed? So I am doing my best to welcome in bits—moment to moment—and some days I do better than others. And that’s okay. If I am feeling overwhelmed, I try to back up and take smaller bites (or bits).
I can put a great deal of effort into trying to make things happen now, when they just are not going to happen now. The sense of always pushing, chasing after and not accomplishing a lot—that is what wears me out. Can I drop all that? What is it good to do today, or even right now? Maybe it is good to make lots of arrangements, and maybe it is good to take a day off from the mess, step away.
What tires me, what is stressful is not trusting that everything is okay, and everything will be okay. Learning that “even when I’m not okay, I’m okay.” Yes, I can see that. There is something below the whole process that hums along, that is okay. Be quiet enough to recognize that place, act from that place.
A congregation member recently remarked that it is difficult enough to accept some things, particularly difficulties, let alone to actually welcome them. Yet what a load off if we can just open the door every day and say welcome, regardless of what is knocking. That can certainly lead to an end of suffering. At the same time, it doesn’t work to use welcome as an exercise or strategy because we think then life will be easier. (A begrudging, “Hey, I don’t like you, but welcome, since welcome will help to reduce the stress.”)
My teacher, Rev. Master Daishin Morgan, recently said to me that acceptance is much deeper than resignation or accommodation. This keeps floating through my mind. I can almost reach it. I tend to look at things in a practical way, acceptance as a way to “manage my life,” to convince myself that everything is fine. I understand this is not what is meant. A deep acceptance or welcome arises from a ground of sufficiency, a trust that we already have what we seek. It is not as if we need to “find” welcome; it is always with us, we are just asked to open the door.
So perhaps at this moment I cannot welcome, and I just want to stay in bed and listen to the rain and comfort myself. Good. See that desire and bow to it. I don’t need to follow. And perhaps tomorrow, bit-by-bit I can welcome with a lightness. Hello, what’s up today? Good. See that and be thankful for the teaching. I have learned more about suffering and the cessation of suffering by watching the consequences of being batted back and forth by circumstances like a ping pong ball. It’s the “mess” in our lives that teaches us, when we are ready to listen.
— In gassho, Rev. Oriana