Volume: VII, Number: 1 Journal of the Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship Winter 2003
Obituary: Dorothy Senghas
Compiled from various sources
Dorothy (Dorrie) Senghas, 72, a resident of Burlington, died at home on Tuesday, December 10, of pancreatic cancer. She was a founding member of the Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship and served in many leadership roles, including as President and Vice-President, and as a contributor to UU Sangha.
Dorrie began Zen practice in 1983. In 1985 she became a non-resident student of John Daido Loori, Sensei, at the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt Tremper, NY, taking jukai vows (five precepts, the ceremony of formal refuge-taking in Zen) the following year. She was a founding member of the Zen Affiliate of Burlington.
Dorrie loved hiking and climbed all the Presidential mountains in New Hampshire. Until her illness intervened she was attempting to complete hiking the Long Trail in Vermont. She was also a gourmet cook and an expert gardener.
She was born on March 7, 1930, in Concord, Massachusetts. In 1952 she graduated from Harvard (Radcliffe). She received a M.A. in History from the University of California at Davis in 1969 and a M.L.S. from Simmons College in 1974.
In September, 1952 she married Rev. Robert Senghas, another founding member of the UUBF and former President. They lived in California and Massachusetts before moving to Burlington in 1979.
Dorrie taught high school for several years in California and worked at the UC Davis library. In Massachusetts she became Director of the Simmons College Library. In Burlington she worked at the University of Vermont’s Bailey-Howe Library and then at the Dana Medical Library until she retired in 1992.
Dorrie is survived by her husband and three sons: Frederick (Fritz) and his children Matthew and Sarah; Edward (Ned) and his wife Maureen Cotter; and Stuart and his children Nathan and Lydia. She is also survived by a sister Rosalie Sargent and her husband Robert Sargent, Massachusetts, a brother-in-law, the Rev. Richard Senghas, and many nieces and nephews.
She was active in her church, the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Burlington, and served it in many positions, including Vice President and co-founder of the church archives. She was also active in her Unitarian Universalist denominational work, including serving as the chair of the UU Fund for Social Responsibility of the UU Funding Program. At the time of her death she was a member of the Board of Trustees of The Mountain Retreat and Learning Centers near Highlands, North Carolina. She also served as President of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont.
A memorial service was held at noon on Saturday, December 21, at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Burlington.
An excerpt from
“The UU Buddhist
Connection in My Life”, UU Sangha, Fall 1998
By Dorrie Senghas
Nothing in my strong and active adherence to UUism is precluded by my Zen practice. However, Zen has brought to me some important aspects of life that Unitarian Universalism does not emphasize. Especially important to me is the hard and good discipline of meditation. The centrality of mindfulness is a strong part of my life. No longer is cooking or cleaning or pulling weeds something to be done, to be rid of, but things to be done with thoughtfulness, concentration, and mindfulness for every moment of every task. The Evening Gatha is of special importance to me:
”Let me respectfully remind you—
Life and death are of supreme importance,
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken, awaken!
Take heed. Do not squander your life.”
As this issue is being compiled in January 2003, it appears virtually certain that the new year will bring the promise of a new war—new bloodshed, new suffering, new enemies. Speaking only for myself, I am unhappy to see a nation with as much potential to do good in the world as the USA working instead only to further its own short-term interests. Quoting authoritative texts always runs the risk of oversimplification of complex issues; but for me, the Buddha’s maxim from the Dhammapada is nonetheless a key insight that informs my attitude toward the standoff over Iraq:
“Hatred is never overcome by hatred, but only by lovingkindness. This is an eternal truth.”
For now, President Bush has not convinced me that aggression in Iraq is justified, urgent, or moral; on the other hand, Iraq itself is hardly a paragon of morality or even rational behavior. It is times of struggle and uncertainty that always test our spiritual convictions and determine whether our practice bears fruit or rots on the vine. Whatever your perspective on the issues of the day, I hope that your connection to UUism and Buddhism is bringing you strength, clarity, and peace—on all sides of the issues, we’ll need these qualities in the days ahead.
This issue brings the sad news of Dorrie Senghas’s passing. It’s fair to say that the Unitarian-Universalist Buddhist Fellowship would not be what it is today without her foundational and continual work, performed even in the face of an ultimately terminal disease. Our hearts and prayers go out to Robert Senghas and the rest of Dorrie’s family and friends. Namu Amida Butsu.
On a less downbeat note, we’re pleased to include several interesting items of poetry, liturgy, and quotations. We also present Rev. Tom Owen-Towles’s take on the bond between the ancient wisdom of Buddhism and the post-modern virtues of UUism.
The next issue of UU Sangha will be published in April 2003. Submissions are open: if you have an essay, poem, story, artwork, or other appropriate material to share with us, please feel free to submit or query to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for the Spring issue will be April 13.
By Jay Alagia
What is it that stirred in me the bubbly feelings-
the toast and coffee, sitting by your side
on this September morn?
Was it the food? Was it the Sun? Was it your smile?
It did not last.
Too much toast, too much coffee,
sun too hot, unkindly word from you,
- nothing was the same.
Or everything was the same
Seems as if I have run this race before
a million times. Hairs turned gray,
the veins in feet now swollen hurt.
Last night you woke me crying in my sleep.
Worst of it, I wasn’t even dreaming.
Seductive call of happiness keeps pushing my legs
at bottom of the moving round rat cage.
The objects of desire, too many to count-
you and others, house and cars, bank accounts
so lovely and so slick, all are
tied with rainbow ropes to my sore skin.
They crowd on sides of cage.
There is a child size door
smaller than my inflated head
but big enough for real me.
Is there a way
to shrink my head, cut the cords,
jump and shoot right out
to everlasting happiness?
Jay is a retired structural Engineer who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is a member of UU Congregation of Phoenix. He is a Hindu-Buddhist-UU from India. He teaches Eastern Religions and meditation.
Becoming Fully Present
In the last two issues of UU Sangha we called for an examination of Buddhist elements in UU services. Rev. Mike Young has contributed this reading which is used frequently as a liturgical element in the Sunday Morning service of his UU church in Honolulu:
Every time we try to grab and hang on
We tear something loose.
So long as we continue to crave,
To grasp and hoard,
Just so long shall suffering continue
And healing elude us.
Every time we try to pull away
And withhold ourselves from one another,
We break our own connectedness to life.
So long as we submit to fear
And volunteer for anger,
Just so log shall violence continue
And peace be absent from our hearth.
Whenever our mind strays from the moment,
Leaking into a past of if-only,
Of resentment and guilt and nostalgia;
Into a future of striving and pretense,
Of anticipation and anxiety;
Into re-run and preview;
We come unplugged from who we are
And cut ourselves off from life.
Every time we start to grab
And each time we withhold,
We will notice, let go, and return
To be centered again in the awakened now.
Every time we start to grab
And each time we withhold, we will let go,
Opening the folded fist of striving,
And return once more to the moment.
Fully present to this moment,
Permitting it to flow through us
And slip away; here,
Possessing nothing at all,
All is ours.
By Jeanne Desy
On this retreat, Grandmother has collected
a leathery brown leaf, one corner green,
and a black leaf bitten to lace –
without intending to, she invents a koan:
When is a leaf no longer a leaf?
She tells the teacher in dokusan, He asks,
What is the leaf’s original face before it was born?
Grandmother spirals down branch and bark,
seed and blossom, and recalls the bouquet
in a juice glass on her windowsill –
a wild morning glory, still furled;
Chicory flowers, where did their blue go?
honeysuckle turning from white to yellow.
The crabgrass in the lawn forms green stars . . .
Everything’s perfect here, event he weather.
So what am I seeking? Grandmother wonders,
And thinks, That should be a koan.
Grandmother sits at the window in her room
watching soundless lightning on the horizon.
The breeze freshens. A weatherman
could probably tell you when a breeze
becomes a wind. Some scientist
or other would know when a leaf is not a leaf,
Not that it really matters.
Back in the zendo at dawn, Grandmother sits
on a sore pelvis, she is made of meat
with heat lightning playing in the hips . . .
her grandson was so pale when he was born,
she called him “luminous baby.” Secretly,
she thinks him a saint. She remembers
holding his hand in the park, teaching him
how to walk on stones to cross the creek.
Being a baby, he tried to walk on water.
Return to the breath.
Grandmother’s right leg is sound asleep,
she can’t get up for walking meditation.
In Zen they tell you to sit with every pain,
then turn around and lecture on compassion.
Orange! A glowing sun is rising from the hills.
The teacher draws the shade. Grandmother
sits with irritation. All at once she fills
with longing for her big old house,
her own kitchen, anything soup on the stove,
the cat watching from the table,
an old cat who knows better but won’t listen,
husband whistling the way he does.
This is the moment she loves best of all,
The quiet space about to fill with family.
Grandmother feels like neon, love hums
so in her bones she is tipping over.
She rights herself
Zen is a container, the teacher has said,
but Grandmother spills over, drifts away
like an empty boat. Must remember
to make lemonade when I get home, they use
the powdered stuff here, return to my koan.
She is getting nowhere at all.
When is a leaf no longer a leaf?
With sudden profound longing she imagines
smoothing fabric, she loves to fold laundry.
Here, you hold your hands still no matter what.
Return to the breath. One good breath
with full attention, that’s all you ever manage.
They tell you to surrender to the moment,
but what is left of this old woman to give up?
Grandmother peeks at the teacher, motionless
In his saffron robe. He has studied a thousand
koans, they say, and she is stuck on one!
When will I no longer be a leaf
and what trace will be left of me then?
The bell. Can’t help but notice, getting up
from the floor is harder this year for everyone.
Even holy men get Uncle Arthur in their bones.
Walking barefoot around the hall,
the teacher seems to float.
Grandmother’s heart is washed with love
blue as Niagara starch. He is so thin.
She’d love to take him home and fatten him up.
Jeanne Desy has received numerous awards for our fiction and poetry, which has appeared in many publications, such as Ghost and Cat! The Animal that Hides in Your Heart. She founded and facilitates a Buddhist meditation group and is a folksinger. She received her Ph.D. from Ohio State.
The Bond Between
Buddhism and UUism
By Rev. Tom Owen-Towle
AsUnitarian Universalists we are never beholden to the pristine version of any faith be it Paganism or Taoism, Judaism or Buddhism. If honorably and compassionately done, we feel free to learn from and practice the lessons of any tradition. We are devoted to conversation with (not conversion by) Lao-Tzu or Jesus, Gandhi or Mother Teresa, Moses or Confucius. They are our teachers not our gurus. We would agree with the Buddha who said upon his death-bed: “Put no head above your own—not even mine!”
On the one hand Buddha was a person of deep human sympathy and good will. On the other hand, he was a thinker whose intellect cut through the miseries of life and shaped clear, compelling solutions. As J. B. Pratt put it: “The most striking thing about Gotama was his combination of a cool head and a warm heart, a blend that shielded him from sentimentality on the one hand and indifference on the other.” Buddha always said he was just a human teacher not a savior or guru. By naming no successor save his teachings, Buddha never even set himself up as the head of a religious order.
Buddha preached a religion devoid of speculation. He wasn’t enamored of discussions but deeds, not cogitation but compassion. Questions such as whether the world is eternal or not, whether life exists after death or not, whether there is a god or not...simply did not occupy his soul. Gotama boldly declared that fourteen such questions “tended not to edification.” Hence, the Buddha simply offered no answer to the riddles of creation, deity, or death. Frankly, much of his appeal to millions around the world for 2500 years, and certainly to practical Unitarian Universalists theologians, has come from his common sense refusal to try to answer unanswerable questions. He maintained a noble silence.
Buddha was not focused, as so many are today, upon altered states of consciousness but upon altered states of character. He considered rituals and theology to be interesting, but ultimately inconsequential, sideshows. The only thing that really counted was the good life. And what constituted the good life? In his famous first sermon to a few disciples Buddha taught one thing: suffering and the end of suffering. His central message—simply stated yet enduringly profound—consisted of Four Noble Truths: 1) Existence is unhappiness. 2) Our unhappiness is aggravated by selfish desire, the craving of our egos for our own satisfaction at the expense of all other forms of life. 3) Release from unhappiness comes through our recognition that as living entities we are all here together for a brief time. 4) Such liberation arrives by following the physical, moral, and spiritual training known as the Noble Eightfold path whose steps are right view, resolve, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration.
The cultivation of ethics and meditative awareness reconditions our delusory ideas and addictive drives. It moves us ever toward greater freedom from our unhappiness. Clearly, Buddha’s path is a course of treatment for our unhappiness. It’s not treatment by pills or cult or grace. It’s treatment by training, deep discipline, constant attentiveness.
Remember Buddhism isn’t a belief system, it’s a practice. As with Unitarian Universalism: deeds not creeds. Buddha has teachings to be sure, but he always said not to believe them on his say-so. He simply said to try them out yourself and see if they prove to be true.
Many have called these eight challenges of “right relations” the Middle Path, because there are two extremes to be avoided throughout. Gotama discovered that extremes bring unhappiness. Over-indulgence has the same effect on a person as has the release of all tension on the strings of a violin. Conversely, extreme self-denial has the effect of tightening the strings on a violin until they are at the breaking point. In neither case is there right attunement. It is this lack of attunement that aggravates our suffering. The Eightfold Path assists us in finding harmony within ourselves and with the universe.
Following the Middle Path produces understanding that leads to peace, insight, to Nirvana, which is the highest destiny of the human spirit. Nirvana literally means extinction, that is, the extinction of all craving, resentment, arrogance, and covetousness. Buddha called Nirvana “incomprehensible and unutterable.” When pressed he would venture only one affirmative description: “Bliss, yes bliss, my friends is Nirvana,” and it can be won here and now.
In short, Buddha says that unhappiness or suffering comes from overweening desires and uncontrollable passions. When we are greedy we come to grief! Therefore, some Westerners have felt that the devoted Buddhist must unequivocally let go of every desire. But that’s clearly foolish, because to let go of every desire would be to die, and to die is not to solve the problems of living. That’s not what Buddha meant at all.
There are clearly some desires that he deliberately advocated—for example, the desire for liberation and the desire for the welfare of other beings. His philosophy of the Middle Way strongly encourages us to enjoy life and its many pleasures and possibilities while not growing overly dependent upon or attached to any of them. When we repeatedly and possessively proclaim: “My house, my job, my church, my partner, my reputation, my needs, my future...” the Buddha would remind us that most of the suffering we experience in life is the result of our clinging too ferociously to precisely such things, however precious...all of which are transitory and fleeting.
Buddha teaches us that possession can become obsession. We yearn for permanence, but we cannot get it. Permanence is not attainable. The heart of Buddha’s wisdom says:
Desire for what will not be attained ends in frustration, therefore to avoid frustration, avoid desiring what will not be attained.
Life is characterized by constant becoming. Therefore, let things, people, experiences, relationships, life be. Learn the art of both sensitive engagement and healthy detachment. Gentle holding and timely letting go. Desperately attaching ourselves to certain parts of existence, we grow alienated from the whole of life. We are summoned by Buddha to travel through life with a caring yet light touch.
There’s a fundamental paradox here. The less we’re attached to life, the more alive we can become. The less we have fixed preferences and obsessions, the more deeply we can experience the flow of life.
Of all the religions of the world Buddhism alone makes suffering central and explains the cause of it – neither some supernatural god nor fate nor the devil but the grasping greed of human beings ourselves. Buddhism demands no blind faith from us, pushes no dogmatic creeds, demands no rites or rituals, sacraments or secrets. The Middle Way is available and open to every person.
In a time when the multitudes were passively relying on the Brahmins to tell them what to do, Buddha radically challenged each individual to do his or her own religious seeking. Buddha eschewed fatalism and advocated self-reliance. Each person has inherent worth, and needs to be encouraged on a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. On this score, the kinship between Buddha and Unitarian Universalism is unmistakable.
Related is Buddha’s insistence that wisdom can not be taught. It’s only arrived at through experience. Never has a religion set out its case with so complete an appeal to empirical judgment. On every question, direct, personal experience was the final test for truth. A true Buddhist disciple must “know” for him and herself.
In his later years, when India had become electric with his message, people came to Buddha even as they were to come to Jesus asking what he was. When people carried their puzzlement to the Buddha, the answer he gave provided a handle for his entire message. “Are you a god?” they asked. “No.” “An angel?” “No.” “A saint?” “No.” “Then what are you?” Buddha answered, “I am awake.”
That’s what the name Buddha means—”an awakened one.” Buddhism begins with a person who shook off the daze of ordinary awareness and convention and status quoism. It tells the story of a person who dared to wake up and wake others up in return. Indeed, the radical reality is that we can each become buddhas; so the quest is not to become a Buddhist but a buddha in your own fashion. Wow, that’s some religious invitation!
That’s the challenge of our Unitarian Universalist faith as well: to be awake, stay awake—awake to sorrow and to joy, new truth and ancient wisdom, to self-fulfillment and universal compassion, to be awake, awake, awake, to be Buddha-like during our earthly journey.
Reverend Tom Owen-Towles is Minister Emeritus of First UU Church of San Diego.
Quotes From the Buddhist Spectrum
When we wish to teach and enlighten all things by ourselves we are deluded. When all things teach and enlighten us we are enlightened.
When the True Law is not totally attained, both physically and mentally, there is a tendency to think that we posses the complete Law and our work is finished. If the Dharma is completely present, there is a realization of one’s insufficiencies.
To study the way is to study oneself. To study oneself is to forget oneself. To forget oneself is to be awakened by all things. To be awakened by all things is to let body and mind of self and others fall away. Even the traces of awakening come to an end, and this traceless awakening is continued endlessly.
Because of consideration for others on the part of the Buddhas and Ancestors, we are enabled to see the Buddha even now and hear his Teachings: had the Buddhas and Ancestors not transmitted the Truth it could never have been heard at this particular time: even so much as a short phrase or section of teaching should be greatly appreciated. What alternative have we to be utterly grateful for the great compassion exhibited in this highest of all teachings which is the ye and treasury of the Truth?—Shushogi, Dogen
Do not sit with a mind fixed on emptiness. If you do, you will fall into a neutral kind of emptiness. Emptiness includes the sun, moon, stars, and planets, the great earth, mountains and rivers, all trees and grasses, bad men and good men, bad things and good things, heaven and hell; they are all in the midst of emptiness. —The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, Hui-Neng
Life is no different from nirvana,
Nirvana is no different from life.
Life’s horizons are nirvana’s:
The two are exactly the same.
It is all at ease,
Unfixatable by fixations,
Is the nature of this world.
Buddhanature has no nature,
Nor does this world.
Everything contingent Is naturally at ease.
Suffering gives rise to faith, faith gives rise to delight, delight gives rise to rapture, rapture gives rise to calm, calm gives rise to bliss, bliss gives rise to concentration, concentration gives rise to knowing and seeing phenomena as they are, knowing and seeing phenomena as they are gives rise to disenchantment, disenchantment gives rise to the fading of passion, and the fading of passion gives rise to liberation.
—Nidana-vagga, Gautama Buddha
Great love and great compassion are called Buddha-nature. Why? Because great love and great compassion always accompany the bodhisattva, just as shadows accompany things. All sentient beings will without fail ultimately realize great love and great compassion. Therefore it is taught, “All sentient beings are possessed of Buddha-nature.” Great love and great compassion are Buddha-nature.
—Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha
It is regrettable indeed that sentient beings doubt what should not be doubted;
The Pure Land is right before us and never out of harmony with us.
Do not ponder whether Amida will take you in or not;
The question is whether or not you wholeheartedly turn about at heart.
—Commentary of the Contemplation Sutra, Shan-tao
This mind attains Buddhahood. This mind is itself Buddha. There is no Buddha apart from this mind.
—Commentary of the Contemplation Sutra, Shan-tao
Of all sentient beings there is not a single one who has not been your own father or mother. So as a way of repaying the kindness of all sentient beings, set out to work for their well-being.
Cultivate loving-kindness and compassion for all sentient beings. Constantly train yourself in bodhicitta. Train yourself to benefit sentient beings through all your actions. Train yourself in cherishing others as more important than yourself.
—Dakini Teachings, Padmasambhava
Think on the Buddha’s virtue! The Buddha’s regard for each sentient being with eyes of compassion is equal, as though each were the Buddha’s only child; hence, I take refuge in and worship the unsurpassed mother of great compassion.
How joyous I am, my heart and mind being rooted in the Buddha-ground of the universal Vow, and my thoughts and feelings flowing deeply within the Dharma-ocean, which is beyond comprehension!