Massachusetts Thai Buddhist temple topped off

Monks in saffron robes chanted a traditional blessing as the uppermost steel girder was hoisted 100 feet in the air and placed atop what will be the largest Thai Buddhist temple outside of Bangkok and the tallest structure in Raynham. [See previous stories for the background.]

“As a Buddhist, there is great merit in participating in building this beautiful temple, not just for the Thai people but for all mankind,” said architect Been Z. Wang of Architectural Resources Cambridge at the “topping off” ceremony Thursday morning for the NMR Meditation Center at 382 South Street East.

Dignitaries from Thailand, members of the local …

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East meets West: Thai Buddhist temple in Raynham will be biggest outside of Bangkok

Rebecca Hyman: Several years ago, one of the highest-level Buddhist monks in Thailand and an advisor to the king was driving around Boston looking for inspiration for a massive meditation center to be built in Raynham when he laid eyes on the Genzyme building on the Charles River and said, “This is the image of my temple.”

“He wanted East to meet West,” said Architect Been Wang, who designed Genzyme and the meditation center that broke ground on South Street East last week and will be the largest Thai Buddhist temple outside of Bangkok.

The royal temple, Wat Nawamintararachutis, also known as the…

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Not a joke: Barbie’s 2011 dream house has solar panels, meditation room

The American Institute of Architects has announced the winner of its Barbie Dream House competition: a four-story, eco-friendly Malibu manse with signature pink sliding doors.

AIA hosted the contest to promote Mattel’s latest addition to its “I Can Be …” series, Architect Barbie, who can be seen here in full professional garb: chunky glasses, construction hat, and outdated, hot-pink document holder. Competition entries were winnowed down to five finalists before being put to a public vote, with the winning house, by recent Harvard master’s grads Ting Li and Maja Paklar, snagging 8,470 votes. In their submission form, Li and Paklar describe Architect Barbie as upholding…

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Buddhist community opens new meditation centre in Brno, Czech Republic

The local Buddhist community has built a new meditation centre in Brno, the Moravian capital and the Czech Republic’s second largest city with a population of 500,000, Marketa Blazejovska, from the community, has told CTK.

The new building worth 24 million crowns, named the Diamond Path House, has replaced the Buddhist community’s old headquarters, situated elsewhere, that had run out of capacity and could not be extended.

A half of the new building’s costs were financed from a grant, and the rest from an interest-free loan from a private foundation.

The debt has been repaid through donations from the centre members and supporters from the…

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Czech Republic and abroad.The house, with a hall with a capacity of 200 seats, has been built in a modern style.

Its architectonic design “corresponds to the way Buddhism functions in Western countries at present. Modern people are interested in Buddhist ideas and meditation methods, not in the Tibetan culture. That is why we didn’t want to build our meditation centre in an eastern style. On the contrary, we’ve stuck to Brno’s tradition of functionalism,” said Buddhist teacher Veronika Cerna, whose lecture will open the centre to the public on Monday.

She said the number of Brno residents showing interest in Buddhism and meditations has been on increase. People are ceasing to feel they could do with material values only, they want to develop and live a rich internal life. Many of them are university students, but families with children arrive as well, Cerna said.

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New eco-monastery at Buddha’s birthplace

On 4 April 2011, Dr. Trungram Gyaltrul Rinpoche will preside over the opening of the Lumbini Udyana Mahachaitya, World Centre for Peace and Unity, the latest and largest Buddhist temple and meditation hall complex to be built at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in Lumbini, Nepal. (Lumbini is the birthplace of the Buddha in Nepal; Udyana is a Sanskrit word that means garden or orchard; and Mahachaitya is the Sanskrit word for Great Stupa.)

Mahachaitya is the latest addition to a master-planned monastic community that envisions more than 40 Buddhist temples in different national styles to be built near where Prince Siddhartha Guatama, the Buddha, was born in the year 583 before the common era (BCE). As a young man, Siddhartha renounced the comfort of royal riches and adopted an ascetic lifestyle to find a solution to end human suffering, a quest that led to his enlightenment as the Buddha 2500 years ago. His philosophical breakthrough of the “middle-way” and its tenets of non-attachment revolutionised Eastern thought.

While most other Lumbini structures are being built by governments, Rinpoche decided…

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to build a more universal structure that harkened to Buddhism’s educational and ecological roots. The World Center was built mostly by hand because of Nepal’s chronic power outages. At one point, workmen had to form a chain to lift heavy buckets of wet cement to the top of the structure’s dome.

The 4515-square-metre (48,600-square-foot) structure is the first modern Buddhist temple to be built as an eco-monastery, one that incorporates a green design that builds in extra insulation while relying on large-area solar panels to generate all of the building’s lighting needs. It will be the most environmentally friendly of all the buildings in the monastic zone of Lumbini. In addition, the complex also features an anti-earthquake system that can help the building resist temblors as strong as 7.7 on the Richter scale.

The central meditation hall and surrounding walkways are filled with more than 1000 custom-made copper statues depicting Buddha, his close disciples and various Buddhist deities in the style of the 7th to 13th centuries, considered the height of Buddhist classical art. By reviving the unadorned, balanced figures, the hope is to create an atmosphere of serenity and simplicity conducive to reflection and meditation.

“This is an effort to save the ancient arts and wisdom, to highlight the importance of our gentleness to the earth and to promote a sense of peace and unity for all,” said Rinpoche.

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Buddhist monks meditate on the 37th floor in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Photo credit: Nacho Doce / Reuters

Buddhist monks from the Busshinji temple, meditate on the helipad of the Copan building in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil, Feb. 18, 2011. Buddhist monks from the Busshinji temple in Sao Paulo meditate once a month on top of the 37-story high building, one of the tallest in city. Monks want to take meditation from the temple to the streets, and they consider the Copan building a Zen Buddhist mountain in the middle of the city.


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A rolling cube adds living and meditation space to a loft

There was a time when Liu Ming, a teacher of Chinese traditional medicine and feng shui in Oakland, Calif., did a few hundred prostrations a day as part of his practice of Tibetan Buddhism — full prostrations, that is, in which you begin standing and end with your head on the floor. That wouldn’t work these days, as Liu’s meditation area is on top of an 8-foot cube in his loft. Were he to stand up, Liu would hit his head on the ceiling.

To move about the meditation area, which also serves as a tearoom, Liu has to slouch or crawl. That’s fine with him: In a traditional Japanese tearoom, the ceilings are so low you have to crawl in, he says; you were meant to feel humble. Also, says Liu, who routinely goes into teaching mode, the doors of a Japanese tearoom were designed to be small, to prevent samurai warriors from entering with their swords, or at least to prevent them from drawing their swords.

All very interesting, but in a large, open loft, why would anyone want to build a cube that contains a sleeping area and a study as well as a meditation room?

“Having lived in a loft for five or six years,” Liu says, “I absolutely love it.”

When he visits friends who live in large apartments, he says, or “I get back pain, I think, ‘Why do you have such low ceilings?’ ”

But roomier spaces have one drawback…

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, he continues: “There is no cozy.”

Since when is “cozy” a feng shui concept?

“In feng shui, we talk about the harmony in the place that you live in,” Liu says. “The cube evolved out of wanting cozy with the option of keeping a big, open space at the same time. And we added wheels for feng shui purposes. Now that it is portable, I can spin it on an axis, I can point my head and point my desk in different compass directions for different projects. If I am writing something and feel blocked, I can get up and move the room.”

Now he’s got the writer’s attention. Does it help?

“Yeah, it does,” Liu says. “And it’s playful.”

Do not underestimate the importance of playful when talking to Liu, who is not of the deadly earnest school of Eastern teacher.

Can you really make a living by teaching Chinese medicine and feng shui? he is asked.

“Yeah,” he says, “Of course, you have to live in Berkeley.”

Liu is 63 and has studied Tibetan Buddhism and other Eastern religions since he was an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (which he dropped out of, in keeping with the spirit of the ’60s).

When you see him, it is immediately evident that, despite his name, he is not Chinese. His given name is Charles Belyea, and he was born in Boston, of French-Canadian parents. His father was a businessman, and his parents spent so much time competing as ballroom dancers that Liu tells people he was raised by Fred and Ginger. The name Liu Ming was given to him by a Daoist teacher who “adopted” him when he was 31. (In keeping with the Chinese custom, his last name, Liu, comes first.)

But back to the cube: Liu and his architect, Toshi Kasai, have come to regard it as a living thing and, indeed, it has an umbilical cord: a broad, red cable connecting it to an electrical source.

“The extension is the cube’s lifeline,” Kasai says. “We wanted that cable to look like a little tail. We wanted to make sure the cube looked alive, charged by something.”

Liu first became interested in the idea of using a cube to organize his living space a number of years ago, when he saw an article about a couple in Europe who had bought a barn because they needed space for a workshop, but who wanted a separate area for themselves and their children.

“They’d built a plywood cube,” he said. “There were touch doors you could open up, and a kitchen and a staircase that went to a second level, where the kids had their space. I thought it was brilliant, and it was so flexible, I tore it out and stuck it in a notebook.”

Liu moved into his apartment, an 1,100-square-foot loft in a former factory, for which he pays around $1,650 a month, about seven years ago.

Since the loft is used for living and teaching, he put up a shoji screen to separate his bedroom and private meditation space from his teaching area. But visitors, he says, were always poking their heads in, and he wanted something that would give him more privacy. Also, when classes were large, there was no way to increase the floor space.

“And there was that thing about being flexible,” says Liu, who also does translation work. “I couldn’t move the meditation tearoom. I wanted to design the work space so that it could also turn — turn it toward the light on a sunny day or in a different mood, turn it to the wall and meet a deadline.”

So Liu hired Kasai, who is 38 and owns SPACEFLAVOR (, an architecture and design firm, with his wife, Annette Jannotta. Kasai also happens to be one of Liu’s feng shui students.

Liu originally wanted to have shoji screens on the exterior walls of the cube, but Kasai told him that it would add nearly $10,000 to his $20,000 budget, and considerable bulk to the cube. Instead, he persuaded Liu to use simple roller shades, which cost only about $630. The open-wall design required a steel frame, which was the costliest element in the cube, at $12,000; the plywood and Plexiglas for the walls. and the woodwork, including the hidden cabinetry, cost $6,600, and the electrical work was $1,400.

For his design work, Kasai charged Liu only a token fee. “Ming is my feng shui teacher, and he retaught me how to design our physical environment,” he said. “And we loved the concept of the cube. How often does an architect get to design something so outrageous?”

Lighting was important in the little cube. Kasai and Liu wanted a design that would allow light to shine through, so that the cube would not appear too opaque or solid. In addition to the roller shades, a small shoji screen was added in the wall between the sleeping area and the office.

“It’s like a little eye,” Kasai says. “Basically it’s the heart of the cube.”

There are electrical outlets for lamps in the sleeping compartment, an overhead light in the study area, and outlets for plugging in an electric teakettle in the meditation space and tearoom on top of the cube. When Liu ascends the staircase, he can stash his shoes in a hidden compartment in the stairs.

One aspect of the design that the pair consider particularly important is its portability: If Liu moves, the cube can be taken apart and reassembled. And when it is broken down, no part of the cube is wider than 3 feet, so it can fit through a standard door.

For now, however, Liu seems most taken with the cube’s ability to turn in response to his moods, as well as the way it creates opportunities to appreciate beauty.

Before he had the cube, he says, he couldn’t see anything but downtown Oakland from his loft windows. Now, sitting on top, he can see the hills and the sunrise. And at night, when the lights in the cube are on and the shades are drawn, it becomes a lantern.

“I had a dinner party where it was glowing at the other end of the room,” Liu says. “Everybody was mesmerized.”

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Buddhist temple project may begin in spring

A plan to build a Thai Buddhist temple in Columbus, Ohio, is far from dead. In fact, construction on the temple could begin in the spring.

Representatives of the Columbus Buddhism Center have submitted paperwork to the city requesting a lot split for property on Blacks Road.

They also have submitted new paperwork outlining possible plans for the temple.

John Tai, a representative from the Columbus Buddhism Center, could not be reached for comment on the temple project because he is out of the country, but Pataskala Planning Director Diane Harris said she has spoken to Tai and the project is moving forward.

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Spiritual materialism

The Winnipeg Free Press has a article on creating personal spaces in your home — often at great expense — for “hobbies” such as Star Wars, bowling, and meditation. Yup, meditation is now apparently a “hobby” akin to rolling a ball down a polished surface in order to knock down some pieces of wood. As descriptions of meditation go, this one is something of a gutter ball.

Time was when someone might create a place to meditate with some floor cushions, a CD player and fragrant candles.

Lori Dennis, a Los Angeles interior designer, said she frequently gets asked to design something quite different: chic, very expensive meditation rooms. Ones with “expensive luxuries like $200 per yard fabric, custom meditation benches, custom wall murals in gold-leaf paint, cashmere hand-knit throws and accessory art in the $10,000s.”

She has designed a shower with a view of the Pacific Ocean, exotic veneers and a Venetian glass vessel bowl.

“This is because meditation and chanting is a big deal in Hollywood,” Dennis says. “The most sought-after chant and meditation leaders, like Deepak (Chopra), are invited to head up small parties of important people in these spaces. It’s a new way to hold an exclusive power meeting.”

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Of course there’s nothing wrong with having a nice space in which to meditate, but it strikes me that simplicity — which generally isn’t terribly expensive — is more appropriate. And the whole idea of spending vast amounts of money in order to impress guests is totally alien to what meditation’s about. It turns meditation into a way to gain status and to boost the ego. Meditation is supposed to be a way to let go of clinging — including clinging to status.

The Associated Press journalist who put this piece together seems totally oblivious to the ironies involved in promoting this rather gross form of spiritual materialism.

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