Chelsea McDougall, Northwest Herald, Il.: Monk Bhante Sujatha’s face drops when he’s in concentrated meditation. He sits cross legged on the floor on a firm pillow. He’s wrapped in a loose robe. His feet are shoeless. A Buddha statue in a similar pose sits directly behind him.
His muscles relax and it’s as if all the day’s problems have melted away.
The Blue Lotus Temple recently bought the former Unitarian Universalist Congregation near downtown Woodstock and Sujatha’s life just got a little more hectic.
The temple bought the building at 221 Dean St. for $125,000, and now is adjusting to mortgage payments and a slew of bills as the temple renovates the former church’s interior.
But Sujatha can deal with it. He’s studied the Buddhist teachings for more than 30 years. He teaches others self awareness and spiritual guidance, and he knows how to cope with struggles.
“Being a monk I don’t say my life is 100 percent peaceful,” he said. “No, I get distracted.”
Back from his mediation, Sujatha is lighthearted. One might even call him jovial. He often tells jokes and flashes a bright, white smile as he laughs along at his own quips.
“People think we are monks, we are so serious,” he said through a thick accent. English is a second language to the Sri Lanka native. “We are funny, always cracking jokes.”
It’s believable. Sujatha calls his smartphone an iMonk. Another young monk – the temple has four and one monastic nun – giggled at a silly YouTube video. Several monks on Friday had just gotten back from a snowy walk to Starbucks. Sujatha has a story for everything.
Having a place to call their own is a big change for Blue Lotus Temple. Until December the temple hosted meditations in the basement of the Unitarian Church.
“Now that we own the building, people feel like home,” Sujatha said.
When Sujatha first started leading meditations, protesters gathered outside the church. But 10 years later the community is more accepting, he said.
“People accept me as more than a religious leader, but as a peace maker,” Sujatha said. “They understand we are doing something wonderful for the community. Not harmful.”
The temple officially will open in May after a dedication at its annual Buddha Day celebration. Monks from all over the world have been invited to the temple’s dedication.
Until then, the temple is planning a large-scale renovation of the building’s interior, all while maintaining the building’s historical integrity. An archway and stained-glass windows with Christian religious icons will stay. The temple will continue hosting a PADS shelter site.
Blue Lotus Temple’s weekly meditations will continue through the renovations. Meditations are open to everyone, regardless of religious background. Meditations are held from 10 to 11 a.m. on Saturdays, and from 7 to 8 p.m. on Mondays. There is monastic practice open to the public from 6 to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.