Doreen Hamilton, Sensei, RIP

Buddhism in Canada Buddhist community Death Jodo Shinshu Passings Teacher Stories Teachers Toronto

Sorry I missed this last year – Doreen was a dear friend to Toronto’s Buddhist community for many years…

HAMILTON, Helen Doreen (nee Henderson) – Passed away on January 3, 2011 at the age of 72. Doreen had the courage to follow her own unique path and will be greatly missed by friends, colleagues and by her children Brian (Mavis) and Diane (Tania), and by her grandchildren Dillon and Oscar. Doreen dedicated her career to improving the health and wellbeing of children, emphasizing prevention and early intervention. Starting as a public health nurse, Doreen became the Maternal and Child Health Consultant for Toronto’s Department of Public Health and then played a key role in starting up Toronto’s first parent-child drop in centers. As a long-standing board member for the Parent – Child Mother Goose Program, she made new programs possible through tireless fundraising. Doreen travelled extensively and taught overseas with CUSO in Malaysia. Building on degrees in Nursing, Sociology and Education, in 1985 Doreen began her study of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism and went on to become Associate Minister at the Toronto Buddhist Church. Doreen Sensei was the first Canadian-born female member of the Ministerial Association of the Buddhist Churches of Canada. Her work built upon her core belief that good health is built on a foundation of spiritual well-being. Doreen was a supporter of the arts in many forms – ballet, music and visual arts and was a gifted photographer. A proud Wards Island resident for close to 20 years, Doreen was passionately active in her community, most recently serving as President of the Algonquin Island Association. Memorial service to be held on Saturday, January 8, 2011 at the Morley Bedford Funeral Home, 159 Eglinton Ave. W., Toronto (2 lights west of Yonge St.), beginning at 2 p.m. (visitation at 1:30 p.m. and following the service). If you would like to make a donation in Doreen’s memory, please consider the David Suzuki Foundation and the Parent – Child Mother Goose Program.

In Memoriam Doreen Hamilton: 1938-2011

About six months ago Doreen expressed her desire to work on behalf of For Our Grandchildren (FOG). During the fall she participated in the meetings of the steering committee. She was firm minded and fair, with a talent for thinking and speaking clearly.

As a grandparent, her commitment to the mission of FOG was evident. What may not have been as evident was the source of her commitment: Doreen became a Shin Buddhist and in 1988 was ordained as an assistant minister of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. She later served as an assistant minister at a Toronto Buddhist temple, and as a Buddhist Chaplain for the University of Toronto and for Federal Prisons.

Of all the great religions, Buddhism gives the most emphasis to the identification of humans with the natural world. Our self-deification as the controlling species is inconsistent with this teaching. Such deification regards nature as a resource, a means for increased consumption with its attendant over-population and pollution of the environment. Climate change is only one consequence of that attitude. In Buddhist thinking, ecological balance is restored through the philosophy of Sarvodaya (uplift of all), which is based on loving kindness, compassionate action, and altruistic job. (See Jose Kalapura, “Science-Religion Dialogue & Ecology, An Asian Perspective.”)

In Doreen’s words: “As Buddhists we have a deep sense of respect for nature just the way it is. We seek to understand and harmonize with nature rather than conquer or improve it.”

Doreen died on January 3, 2011 – a great loss to us as individuals, and a misfortune for FOG. She would not have considered her death in such negative terms. In the words of two poems she wrote:

Our short life.

Our short life
can’t matter much.
What matters is what we leave
when we die.
Will I leave love?
Will I leave beauty?
Will I leave peace?
Will I leave others stronger
than before I came?
I’ll do my best!

Human Life.

We are briefly here,
like fish
leaping out of the ocean!
“The Ocean of Infinite life”.
In human life
it is our thoughts
that make our life here
heaven or hell!
At human death
we all return
to the blissful emptiness
from which we came.

Memorial Service for the Late Doreen Hamilton Sensei
Date: Saturday February 19, 2011
Time: 11am
Place: Toronto Buddhist Temple

Following the service, please join us in the Social Hall for some light refreshments, as well,
reminisce with others about Doreen Sensei’s many contributions to the TBT and Buddhist community at large.

Some of Doreen Sensei’s various projects, donated by the family, will be on display for viewing.

All are invited to attend.

Thank You

Here is a piece about the value of chanting, written by Doreen, for the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada:


Some people say that they find the chanting part of Buddhism boring and meaningless. Others say that they feel much better after chanting, and ask why that happens. Chanting is very good for the health, and also leads us eventually to “peace of mind”.

To explain the importance of chanting for spiritual growth, let’s first look at the human brain. There are two different sides to our brain. The left side controls the rational, calculating mind – this is the part of the brain that allows us to think mathematically, scientifically and logically. It breaks down ideas into a step-by-step process. Our whole modern society is based mainly on the achievements and point of view of rational thinking.

The right half of the brain controls our intuitive mind. This gives us the human ability to appreciate art, music, poetry, and religion. The intuitive mind perceives things holistically – we appreciate a piece of music or a beautiful sunset, we have a flash of insight, we aspire to become a Buddha, or we feel spiritually inspired. These feelings come from our intuitive mind, in contrast to our rational mind.

It is interesting to notice that the two halves of our brain are the same size; suggesting that human beings are made to use both sides of their mind – equally. However, since the Industrial Revolution, and our modern reliance on science and technology, the intuitive mind has been mainly ignored in Western society. But, one of the activities that exercises and brings forward our intuitive mind is chanting the sutras. And, it is this intuitive or spiritual mind that Shakyamuni Buddha encouraged us to develop.

Chanting is also good for our health, for a number of reasons:

1. The very sound of chanting helps to heal our bodies and minds. Parents have been singing lullabies to their children through the centuries. We all know that when we feel tired, it helps to listen to some soothing music. Scientists have taken this a step further through the study of plants. If you take a greenhouse full of plants, and play the music of Bach or Handel, which is very regular and rhythmical classical music, the plants flourish. But if you play discordant, disorganized, erratic music or sounds, the plants respond – by failing to grow. Plants fail to thrive in an atmosphere of disorganized sound. Discordant sound makes us nervous, and harmonious sound, such as chanting, heals us. Chanting is one of the most healing sounds in the world.

2. When we chant, it also acts to regulate our breathing. In to-day’s world of”fast lane lifestyles” whatever we can do to slow down and regulate our breathing helps us. The automatic thing to do when we become frightened or uptight is to breathe in a shallow way, and that makes us feel more tense. Do you notice, when chanting, that your breathing rate goes down? And if your breathing rate goes down, then your heart rate goes down. And if your heart rate goes down, then your blood pressure also goes down. Chanting brings a general “cooling-down” of your whole body. Some people become so stressed-out that they go to Stress Management Clinics or Relaxation Therapy. What is the first thing those relaxation therapists say? “You’ve got to learn deep abdominal breathing.” Deep abdominal breathing can be promoted through chanting.

3. Chanting is also good for the health because, if done wholeheartedly, it acts to release negative emotions. As you know, holding on to the emotions of anger and frustration over time makes us sick. We can clear out stress and irritation in several ways: by vigorous exercise, by singing, by shouting, and by chanting. Chanting is a physical exercise for the body that empties the lungs and muscles of toxins created by frustration and stress.

4. Another health benefit of regular chanting is that it brings us to a steady rhythm. The movement of the sun, the movement of the plants, the changes of season, our heartbeat, the movement of the tides – all these are done in rhythm. Balanced and healthy people are people who have balanced rhythm. The regular beat of the sutras, chanted in unison, acts on us in the same way as a parent rocking and singing to their upset child – bringing the child into healing harmonious rhythm.

5. Chanting also acts to clean our mind. The nerve pathways of the brain are like a road map in a densely populated region. Some pathways, the ones we use all the time, are like major highways; others are like countryside unpaved roads. The action of pronouncing the ancient Chinese/Japanese syllables of the sutras gives healthy variety to our brain activity, using different pathways and mixing up the brain signals for a while. This gives a rest to the regularly used pathways of the brain, and promotes cleaning of the mind.

6. Chanting also focuses our thoughts. Group chanting is really group meditation. When we put all of our attention and all of our emotion on one word at a time as we are chanting, we are learning how to focus our mind. Focusing the mind on “Dharma” or “Truth” in this way, opens us to receive the “Other Power” of Amida Buddha that is tirelessly working to transform us into Enlightened Beings. When we chant with a sincere heart, we are touched by Amida. Chanting the sutras also serves to remind us of the monks and nuns in ancient times. We know that Buddhism is 2500 years old. That means that an inconceivable number of human beings have chanted before us, and passed the Teaching down to us. It is truly amazing that the Buddhist sutras have reached us. There have been many dark periods in human history. When we think of the countless wars and famines in China and Japan, it is absolutely amazing that there were enough people who continued Buddhist chanting so that we may receive it now. By remembering our Buddhist ancestors in this way, their devotion to the Teaching is also passed down to us.

Chanting exercises our intuitive mind; it soothes our nervous tension; it regulates our breathing. It focuses our mind, and teaches our body steady rhythm. All this is being done without considering the actual words of the sutras and what they mean. “Shoshinge,” for example, describes Shinran Shonin’s conviction that he can take refuge in the Eternal Light of Amida. All over the cosmos, unhindered, omnipotent light is shining on all sentient beings. No one is excluded. We are all learning, through our life experiences, how to let go of our “ego” and become a Buddha. We have been given the Sacred Name, “Namo Amida Butsu” as a tangible gift. It is something we can touch that comes from the inconceivable, formless realm of the Pure Land, over to our uncertain lives in samsara. Chanting the sutras helps us feel the smallness of our ego cravings, compared to the unhindered All-Compassionate Wisdom of Amida. We surrender our small self. We feel refreshed after chanting, and we feel grateful.

Doreen Hamilton
Sensei, Toronto Shin Buddhist Dojo

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