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News and Dharma from the Portland Buddhist Priory
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Winter Blooming Pink Viburnum.
Dear Friends,

One of the characteristics of certain varieties of the plum blossom, which, in Zen, can be a symbol of the enlightened mind and the passing on of the practice from one person to another, is that they can often be seen blooming in the snow. Blooming in the snow means that during the dark time of year, the tree has quietly kept faith and persisted.

I like these pink viburnum in the yard since they remind me of those plum blossoms; they remind me to look up even though it is dark and cold.

I and the Priory send you best wishes for a peaceful and bright New Year!
Precepts Ceremony
Sunday February 9th

Taking the Buddhist precepts in a formal way, that is, making a public commitment to working on keeping the precepts in our regular daily lives, can be a helpful step in deepening ones meditation practice. Because it can be difficult to get to Shasta Abbey for the annual Jukai retreat, which is an ideal way to take the precepts, we are presently planning to hold a lay ordination ceremony here at the priory on Sunday, February 9th. This is a community ceremony and you would be welcome to attend even if you do not plan to take the precepts.

If you would like to take the precepts, let me know before the first of February. Even if you have mentioned your interest to me in the past, it would be helpful to have a "yea" or "nay" for this particular date. There is planning and preparation involved and it will be helpful to know who would like to participate in advance.

If you would like to participate in this ceremony and can make it, I would recommend coming to the temple for the half-day retreat scheduled for January 26th. This will give you an opportunity to reflect on the purpose of the commitment and on the intention.

Here is a link to a booklet I put together recently about the precepts; it is a compilation of writings by teachers of our tradition and gives an overview of the precepts from a few different perspectives. 

You can also find here, a series of lectures I gave on the ceremonies of Jukai which talk about different aspects of taking and working with the precepts.

If you would like a printed version of the booklet or recordings of the lectures, let me know.
 
In Memorium

In late December, our Dharma friend, Sue Rhodes, who took the precepts in 1976 at Shasta Abbey and was a lay minister of our Order for many years, passed away. We had a memorial for her here at the Priory on Sunday January 5th.

Although it did not define her, Sue had been training for many years with the effects of Multiple Sclerosis. She spent the last years of her life not being able to move from her bed and, right to the very end, it was clear that she was intent on continuing her practice.

I heard once that in Mongolia, after a new novice is ordained, the senior monks would stand and throw flower petals on the new monk and say "may you meet the end of life still on the path." Sue clearly met the end of her life firmly on the path.


(Thanks to Charles Schwenk for this obituary.)

Susan Lynne Rhodes passed away on the morning of December 22
from complications of multiple sclerosis at the Family First Care Home in East Portland.
 
Susan was born in Salem, Oregon on November the 27 th , 1951, the daughter of Fred and Emmalyn Rhodes, a farming family living near Sheridan, Oregon. She attended Willamina Grade School and High School, graduating in 1970 as Salutatorian of her class. She went on to attend Lewis & Clark College, graduating in 1974. In 1979 she moved to Bloomington, Indiana to be with her future husband Charles Schwenk and obtained a Master’s degree in Public Administration. Susan then moved to Champaign-Urbana Illinois where she obtained a Ph.D. in Political Science. During this time, she and Charles Schwenk married (1983) and she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (1984). She taught for 2 ½ years at the University of Kentucky and then retired on disability. She and her husband then lived in Bloomington, Indiana where he taught at Indiana University, until May of 1996, when he retired and they returned to Portland, Oregon.
 
Susan has published several academic articles as well as essays on political topics in online journals like Open Democracy. She was a lay minister in the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives and was active in the Portland Buddhist Priory during the late 1990s and early 2000s. She also served on the Disability Advisory Committee of the Portland Parks Department.
 
For over 35 years, Susan bore an extremely severe disability with exceptional equanimity and resourcefulness. She credited her Buddhist practice for her ability to do this. She is survived by her husband Charles Schwenk and her sister Sheryl Condron.
Regular Schedule

Working Meditation Morning

Working meditation can be a helpful way to learn to integrate practice into our daily lives as well as help the temple in a practical way. You are welcome to join us Saturday morning January 11th at 9am.


Retreat Morning

We will have a half day retreat on January 26th, click here for the schedule and more information.


Transfer Of Merit Ceremony

When we do a positive action in our lives we create good, or merit, and, having created merit, we have the opportunity to share that merit with the world. The transfer of merit ceremony is an opportunity to both generate merit and to give it back to the world. Our next Transfer of merit Ceremony will be on January 19th.

For other upcoming events and details of the Priory schedule, please go to our calendar page.

Alms Bowl

Your kind offerings of practice, work, money, food and other things keep the Priory open for the benefit of all beings. We are deeply grateful for your support.

Recently, in addition to your kind and essential financial support, we received:

Abundant tea treats, fruit, vegetables, groceries from Costco, chocolate, and work around the temple. Thank You!

For more information on the Priory needs, visit the website: Supporting The Priory.
 

A Bit Of Dharma

Refuge

Refuge is a central principle in the practice of Buddhism and, from earliest times, to become a follower of the Buddha, to become a "Buddhist," has been a matter of taking refuge in the Three Treasures. We take refuge in the Buddha, take refuge in what the Buddha taught, and take refuge in those who understand and practice what the Buddha taught. Although specifically articulated by the Buddha, these Three Treasures have a universal and fundamental aspect to them. One way of articulating the Three Treasures could be "I take refuge in the Fundamental Truth of Existence, I take refuge in the teaching of and practice of that Fundamental Truth, I take refuge in those who know that Fundamental Truth."

The dictionary says the word refuge means some variation on 1: shelter or protection from danger or distress; 2: a place that provides shelter or protection; 3: something to which one has recourse in difficulty. As I think we all know, the world has many dangerous, confusing and treacherous aspects and it is often hard to determine what actually produces lasting positive outcomes. Sometimes it seems a bit improbable to me, but, generations of people have found that practicing what the the Buddha taught has been a literal – a sort of dictionary definition of – taking refuge. (And this applies to those who, without necessarily thinking of it in Buddhist terms, take refuge in one way or another, in that which is Fundamental.)

In our precepts ceremony, the Three Refuges are considered to be the first three precepts and in all forms of Buddhism, the ceremonial for becoming a Buddhist involves, primarily, taking refuge in the Three Treasures, The Triple Gem or the Three Refuges (all names for the same thing).

Taking refuge in the Three Treasures has the potential to go well beyond being a mere ceremonial formula for joining an organization. This "going well beyond" starts with and depends on, our intention. Of course, we can set our intention in a powerful way by participating wholeheartedly in the ceremonial forms. Promising, in a public ceremony, to take refuge in the Three Treasures or to keep the precepts, can be a life changing event. But there are also a myriad opportunities to take refuge in smaller or larger ways throughout our days. My teacher said once that each time we take refuge in the Three Treasures it is like planting a tree; we plant our intention and something quite wonderful will grow from it, especially if we tend and care for that intention by following through with it.

For myself, I have taken refuge in the Three Treasures many times in my life: at formal precepts taking ceremonies; the recitation of the kesa verse each morning when I put on my kesa*; and informally throughout the day when I get distracted or face difficulty and I want to call myself back to where my basic refuge is. Each time, I try to incorporate the intention to allow that taking refuge to help me to connect and give expression to the deepest part of myself, to connect that which is Fundamental as it appears in me.

The idea of taking refuge, you know, gaining shelter or protection from danger or distress, sounds pretty good but when we dig into it, it can be difficult. Sometimes our intention to take refuge in the Three Treasures can confront us with some treasured habit that, according to the Dharma (and maybe even our own experience, if we will admit it), is actually causing us distress or danger. In other words, we are actually – and maybe unwittingly – taking refuge in something that is actually harming us or the world or beings around us.

Some of the obvious things we might take refuge in that seem to help, at least initially, but really don't help in the long run, are taking recreational drugs and alcohol; the pursuit of and the possession of material wealth including money; social status in its various forms including fame; and the pursuit of and holding onto powerful positions. And there is an almost endless list of subtler things we can take refuge in that do not help us, or the beings and world around us. Some of my personal "favorites" are the arguing mind; the pleasure of external affirmation; the sensual pleasure of food; the stance of being inadequate; the stance of being right. You will notice that at least one of the things on my list is not pleasant, but it can be true that we can take refuge in a negative when we are afraid of the consequence of indulging in the things opposite to the negative. (Somewhere along the stream of my life the decision was made that it is better to err on the side of believing I am inadequate rather than believing I am somehow a superior being.)

Some of the things we try to take refuge in that turn out to be unsatisfactory don't work as a refuge, not because they are unhealthy or somehow bad, but because they are simply impermanent. We might take refuge in our good health or a youthful appearance; these things are not bad, they just don't last. Or, from my list, it is useful to pay attention to those around me and what they think of what I am doing, but if I anchor my sense of well-being in what others think of me, then, when I need to do something that is unpopular, it will have added difficulty.

Something happened the other day that had the implication that someone important to me might undermine a project I am working on and a mild sense of upset and disorientation arose in me. As I looked at it, sat with it, felt it, I  recited the Three Refuges. This helped restore my sense of steady balance. Really, the person involved is a free agent and my well-being is not dependent on him – it would be an undue and unfair burden to him for me to be dependent on him. Of course, if the thing I was worried about comes to pass, I will have to take steps to deal with it (and it would be unpleasant for all the usual human reasons) but placing my sense of refuge in the Three Treasures relieves the existential worry and fear.

It is these fears and worries and upsets that arise in the course of my day to day life that can be a clue to when I am inadvertently taking refuge in a way that is unhelpful.

It has been my experience that taking refuge in the Three Treasures just makes me feel more regular and normal: I don't like being right or eating food that I like any less, I just get fooled less by the feeling that they will somehow solve my basic angst and worry. And I still need to take care of money matters in a responsible way and guard my reputation and all that.

Practice is a path; it is a path that starts right where we are, right now. We may be able to imagine what a future position on the path might look like, but, in order to get to that position, we have to be willing to be right where we are right now. We have to be willing deal with what is right in front of us right hear and now. And, this is good news. The tiny step we take today, letting go of some small thing, taking refuge in the Three Treasures, in the fundamental thing in a small way, is helping to prepare us for that big thing down the road that we might be worried about or don't even see yet.

* A kesa is the robe of Buddhist monastic worn usually over the left shoulder and covering the other robes. The kesa symbolizes the commitment to the precepts and to the practice. The small kesa, or rakhusu and the wagesa are abbreviated forms of the kesa worn around the neck and can be worn by lay people who have taken the precepts formally.   

 
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