monasteries

More on meditation and Zen Master Thich Thanh Tu (Fort Wayne News Sentinel)

Tim Madigan: My own halting attempts to meditate had begun about six months ago after I stumbled across a meditation manual in, of all places, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reference library. Several days a week I would enter my den in my sweat suit (or whatever clothes I happened to be wearing that morning), shut off the computer and find the comfortable chair in the corner of our den. But on a recent evening at Quang Chieu Zen Monastery, the nuns would have none of that.

In a parlor at the monastery, they giggled when I put on my own gray meditation robe. Their laughter grew louder as they forced me to contort my fat Western legs beneath me in the position known as the half-lotus. Learning to ignore physical pain, they said, was part of the process.

Then I joined them in the temple, where I bowed toward the statue of Buddha and took my meditation position, sitting down on a big pillow and pulling my creaking legs beneath me. A layperson was on the mat to my right, the nun Cinnamon a few feet to my left. I laid my hands in my lap, looked out at oaks in the fading sunlight and began counting my breath, one to 10 then over again.

“If any thought arises, recognize this as not your true nature,” Cinnamon had instructed me earlier. “Drop it right away and return to your breathing. When conscious thinking stops, all that remains is calmness and awareness.”

So as I sat there that night, I thought of work, then returned to the counting. My son’s hockey team, then the counting. My daughter’s new apartment . . . the anniversary of my brother’s death . . . my aching legs, then back to the counting. I eventually switched to Tibetan mantras, then the Catholic rosary. Every so often, there were moments of true calm, a few blessed seconds when the wheels of my life ceased to spin, which, I take it, is the whole point of meditation.

After an hour or so, I began to cheat, looking around at the others, the nuns who had become my friends, plying me with mangoes and Vietnamese cooking at every opportunity, laughing at my Western jokes, trusting me with their ancient ways. They were from Vietnam, London, Denver, California, Washington state. One was a widow who had raised a family before becoming a nun. Another a lawyer. Another worked in banking before answering the spiritual call. To me, their kindness and tranquility were a testament to the efficacy of meditation.

An alarm clocked beeped, and one of the nuns lightly tapped a bell. The nuns rolled their heads and briskly massaged their arms and legs. When the nuns emerged from meditation, they seemed surprised that I was still there.

“Maybe,” a nun named Hue Thanh said, “you were Vietnamese in a past life.”

Opening the door to meditation

Inside the new temple, the floors are covered by lush gray carpet, the walls painted a vivid yellow, but the focal point, of course, is the huge statue of Buddha at the head of the room, surrounded by flowers, fruit offerings and a fluorescent halo (behind the statue’s head).

Each day begins here for the Quang Chieu Zen Monastery nuns, who at 4 a.m. walk from the small buildings where they sleep, moving through the darkness like apparitions in their gray robes. One of them lights incense, another rings the large bell near the altar. The nuns prostrate themselves toward the statue three times, then move to their separate mats, facing outer walls. For the next two hours (and again for 90 minutes in the evening), they sit with their legs crossed beneath them, as still as the Buddha statue itself.

But they are not in trances as they sit, as many Westerners might assume.Meditation is not a form of self-hypnosis, the nuns say, but the practice of emptying the mind while remaining aware. For beginning meditators in the Zen tradition, that typically means sitting quietly and focusing on breathing, while calmly trying to banish any intruding thoughts.

Such is the central practice of one of the world’s oldest religions, one handed down from Siddhartha Gautama, an Indian prince born six centuries before Christ. As a young man, Gautama renounced his wealth to become a wandering ascetic. After years of study and suffering, Gautama is said to have attained enlightenment while meditating beneath a ficus tree, henceforth becoming known to history as the Buddha, or “awakened one.”

Greatly distilled, Buddhist teaching comes to this: Life is an unpleasant cycle of birth, death and rebirth that continues until a person achieves enlightenment. The chief cause of the ubiquitous suffering is the chaotic, ego-driven human mind, which hops maniacally from thought to thought “like a monkey in a tree,” as the Zen nuns say. Meditation is the Buddhist antidote.

“You say to your mind, `I am the boss,’ ” the nun named Cinnamon said one day, smiling.

By calming the mind through meditation, a person’s “Buddha nature” (the Christian equivalent, perhaps, to the Holy Spirit) is allowed to emerge. Enlightenment, the full and permanent understanding of transcendence, is only rarely achieved, Buddhists say. But recent research shows that even a few minutes of meditation a day is beneficial to the meditator’s physical and mental health.

At the Quang Chieu Zen Monastery, the nuns say they can sit for hours, with thoughts only occasionally flitting by like wispy clouds in an otherwise blue sky. But in Zen, they say, meditation is about more than sitting. It also is an admonition to living in the moment. As such, the nuns say they meditate while walking, while eating, while watering the flowers.

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The nuns’ life: enlightenment without TV (Star-Telegram, Texas)

Tim Madigan, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas: Inside the new temple, the floors are covered by lush gray carpet, the walls painted a vivid yellow, but the focal point, of course, is the huge statue of Buddha at the head of the room, surrounded by flowers, fruit offerings and a fluorescent halo (behind the statue’s head).

Each day begins here for the Quang Chieu Zen Monastery nuns, who at 4 a.m. walk from the small buildings where they sleep, moving through the darkness like apparitions in their gray robes. One of them lights incense, another rings the large bell near the altar. The nuns prostrate themselves toward the statue three times, then move to their separate mats, facing outer walls. For the next two hours (and again for 90 minutes in the evening), they sit with their legs crossed beneath them, as still as the Buddha statue itself.

But they are not in trances as they sit, as many Westerners might assume. Meditation is not a form of self-hypnosis, the nuns say, but the practice of emptying the mind while remaining aware. For beginning meditators in the Zen tradition, that typically means sitting quietly and focusing on breathing, while calmly trying to banish any intruding thoughts.

Such is the central practice of one of the world’s oldest religions, one handed down from Siddhartha Gautama, an Indian prince born six centuries before Christ. As a young man, Gautama renounced his wealth to become a wandering ascetic. After years of study and suffering, Gautama is said to have attained enlightenment while meditating beneath a ficus tree, henceforth becoming known to history as the Buddha, or “awakened one.”

Greatly distilled, Buddhist teaching comes to this: Life is an unpleasant cycle of birth, death and rebirth that continues until a person achieves enlightenment. The chief cause of the ubiquitous suffering is the chaotic, ego-driven human mind, which hops maniacally from thought to thought “like a monkey in a tree,” as the Zen nuns say. Meditation is the Buddhist antidote.

“You say to your mind, ‘I am the boss,’ ” the nun named Cinnamon said one day, smiling.

By calming the mind through meditation, a person’s “Buddha nature” (the Christian equivalent, perhaps, to the Holy Spirit) is allowed to emerge. Enlightenment, the full and permanent understanding of transcendence, is only rarely achieved, Buddhists say. But recent research shows that even a few minutes of meditation a day is beneficial to the meditator’s physical and mental health.

At the Quang Chieu Zen Monastery, the nuns say they can sit for hours, with thoughts only occasionally flitting by like wispy clouds in an otherwise blue sky. But in Zen, they say, meditation is about more than sitting. It also is about living in the moment. As such, the nuns say they meditate while walking, while eating, while watering the flowers.

“You think of only water and flowers,” the abbess, Princess Snow, explained one day, waving her hands across her face. “Nothing else.”

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A day in the life: A monk on Fearless Mountain (Ukiah Daily Journal, CA)

Tony Anthony, The Ukiah Daily Journal: Ajahn Pasanno appears out of the woods, walks up a few steps and plunks himself down in a comfortable wicker chair on the front porch of Abhayagiri “Fearless Mountain” Monastery in Redwood Valley.

The day is coming to a close and the peace and the quiet of the place is what is noticeable. The only noise is the distant sound of a lawnmower, which almost seems to come from some other world, a world different from this one. Ajahn, means teacher and is used in place of a first name for the abbot of the monastery. Pasanno means “one having faith and joy,” the name his teacher bestowed on him when he was still a novice.

It is difficult to imagine Ajahn as a young man in a secular sense, now that he is of middle age, with a shaved head and clothed in a simple mustard-colored robe. It seems he was always this person he is now. But Ajahn’s journey began in the 1970s as a young man when he left his home in Manitoba, Canada after finishing his university studies to travel the far reaches of the world. He rambled through Europe, Afghanistan and India, not seeking to become a Buddhist monk but visiting various holy places along the way.

It wasn’t until he arrived in the north of Thailand that he began to feel a sense of belonging. In order to learn more about Buddhism, he attended some classes at a monastery called Wat Nong Bah north of Chiang Mai. “I was just passing through, but the Thai society seemed to have a whole different value system. I felt at home,” he said.

After a month-long stay, the Abbot of the monastery suggested the young man consider ordination with an initial goal of remaining three or four months. Although he was not yet sure what he was getting into, he was willing to give it a try. He took on the robes of a forest dwelling monk thinking it would be only for a short time that was the beginning of the life he still lives now, more than 30 years later.

“You are not required to make a life-long commitment,” Ajahn says, “It just happened.”

The monk says he didn’t have any intuition that he would lead a monastic life.

“When I began it was to learn how to meditate.” But, he says, “at one point, it didn’t seem possible to go back.”

Thus the young monk began a practice where monks wear plain robes and shave their heads in an effort to let go of their own personal preferences.

“Doing this, is about simplification,” Ajahn says. “We renounce the world because of the peace that comes from it. The quality of peace we can access and dwell in is deeply satisfying.

“I encourage people that peace and well-being are a possibility for your life – to explore that for your life. I encourage people to use the tools of a virtuous life.”

An Abhayagiri pamphlet lists the “The Eight Precepts” for leading such a life: 1. Harmlessness: not intentionally taking the life of any living creature. 2. Trustworthiness: not taking anything which is not given. 3. Celibacy: refraining from any sexual activity. 4. Right Speech: avoiding false, abusive or malicious speech. 5. Sobriety: not taking any intoxicating drink or drugs. 6. Renunciation: not eating after mid-day. 7. Restraint: Not seeking entertainment, playing radios or musical instruments. Dressing in a modest, unadorned way that does not attract attention. 8. Alertness: refraining from over-indulgence in sleep.

Choosing to live amidst the beauty that surrounds Fearless Mountain may not seem to be renouncing the world at all, but Ajahn Pasanno says, “we even try to renounce the beauty. Most people try to get more of everything. Then when they get more they feel a loss when they lose it and don’t have it anymore. Then they lament the separation.

“A monk gets to the place of stillness. It is not rejecting anything – it’s another aspect of life that most people don’t pay attention to.”

A gift of land

There are eight monks who live at Abhayagiri, plus one novice and one postulate in training, all living on 250 acres of almost untouched forest land, originally a gift from the late abbot of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah – Master Hsuan Hua. Master Hua dreamed of bringing the Northern and Southern Traditions of Buddhism together again where they could relate in an atmosphere of mutual respect and harmony.

The monastery was founded by two teachers, Ajahn Sumedho, and Ajahn Amaro after they developed a devoted following in Northern California in the1980s. The original Abhayagiri was in ancient Sri Lanka at Anuradhapura and although it follows the Theravada branch of Buddhism, the monastery was known for accepting both teachers and practitioners from many different Buddhist traditions.

“The monastery currently has more people who want to come here and be monks than the facility can handle,” Ajahn says.

A monk named Sudanto, meaning “one who trains himself well” calls Abhayagiri, “a zone of peace people can use as a community resource.” He explains the monastery’s connection with the community as, “an interrelationship that keeps us (the monks) relevant, as a peaceful presence – people with deep knowledge and experience of the Buddhist teachings of peace and wholeness.”

A day in the life of a monk

The day on Fearless Mountain begins at 4 a.m. Then from 5-6 a.m. they begin their spiritual practice with meditation and chanting. These reflections set a tone of the mind during the day. 6:30-7 a.m. there are some general chores, cleaning up and a light breakfast. At 7:30 a.m. the monks meet to delegate chores – maintenance, cooking, office tasks and the job of maintaining the miles of trails which circle through the forests. After chores, the monks have their main meal from 10:30-11 a.m.

When it comes to food, the forest dwelling monks are alms mendicants. Not allowed to plant or pick their own food, they rely on gifts. The monks can be seen on Fridays walking through the center of town collecting gifts of food.

“This creates interdependence with the lay community. We don’t want to be completely cut off,”Ajahn said.

He explains this synergistic relationship. “People from the community come to the monastery to gain more simplicity, more well being. We give the opportunity for people to have the way of living, which is more peaceful, more fulfilling. Sharing our life is sort of the by-product. If one’s goal is to teach, it can be distorted. Refocus on the quality of our lives and that becomes an example to others.”

Ajahn is suddenly explaining some of the core elements of a monastic life. “The more the I’ can get out of the way, the more peaceful things become. The monks spend the remainder of the daylight hours in their cabins where they do various forms of meditation – both traditional sitting, and walking. Ajahn explains: “Outside each cabin is a level 50-foot path where the monks develop sustaining attention on the walking – recognition of words and mental states. ”

At 5:30 in the afternoon the community gathers once again for tea. This is the time for guidance by the teacher. Help also comes from the community at large – mental support from other monks. Even monks learn from each other’s foibles. Asked if monks maintain personality traits like senses of humor, Ajahn says that even ascetic monks remain individuals and some are known for their enlightened sense of humor.

At 6:30 p.m. there is a reading where monks can ask questions, then from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., evening chanting and meditation.

Many questions, of course, will arise even in those experiencing blissful states of mind. Ajahn explains, “of course there is a longing to repeat that experience. We don’t want to be dependent on anything. The enlightened are not dependent on anything for their happiness. Although,”he is quick to add, “there is a quality of compassion. But we strive for separation from attachments that create entanglements. We are conditioned to think we need certain things for our well-being.”

Too much eating or sleeping creates complications in life. Ajahn laughs as he mentions just how much of everything people seem to need to be happy. And then, he asks, are they ever really happy?

As the sun is ready to drop behind the mountains to the west, Ajahn Pasanno is eager to show a “walking meditation.” High up on the mountainside at the end of a path curving between the manzanita trees, is a small cabin where the monk spends most of his time in meditation. Beside the cabin is a 50-foot dirt path where he thoughtfully, mindfully walks with his eyes sometimes closed, sometimes open.

A gift from Thailand

During one evening recently, the Abhayagiri Monastery held a ceremony for the installation of a statue of the Buddha, a gift from a Thai donor. After the sun had set and the moon had risen, a delegation of monks – both resident and visiting but of the same forest tradition – sat on a wooden platform amongst the trees, chanting at the base of the statue. The scene was magical, with a hundred or more devotees from all parts of the country in attendance.

As the mountaintop had grown colder as the night grew later, the visiting abbot Ajahn Liam spoke in his native Pali, translated by Ajahn Pasanno for the western guests in attendance. “We might feel it is a bit cold – but nature is just being natural, natural to the climate and the season. It is just liking it or not liking it.” He went on to say, “Nobody wants to suffer, to experience discomfort.”

The moon was half full, sitting in the sky above the mountaintop, giving a golden glow to the resplendent life-size statue of a sitting Buddha. The breeze rushed through the trees making a sound much like ocean waves breaking on a shore. The monk’s point was that nature is always in the business of just being nature and it is up to humans not to be disturbed by the world around them. Then, only then, when we accept the world for what it truly is, are we able to see ourselves as we truly are – perfect, divine, awakened individuals – happy to be who we are.

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In the Buddha’s path: Temple dedication a sign of blossoming Eugene Buddhist community (Register-Guard, Oregon)

Jeff Wright The Register-Guard, Eugene Oregon: Twenty-two adults, legs crossed as they sit in chairs or on floor pillows, recite the words in unison: “Think of not thinking. Not thinking – what kind of thinking is that? Nonthinking. This is the essential art of zazen.”

Zazen means meditation, and the 22 Buddhist practitioners now turn to face the nearest wall, close their eyes and say nothing for the next 20 minutes. Aside from the occasional passing car, it’s so quiet that even the participants’ breathing is too hushed to hear.

Welcome to Eugene Zendo, a Buddhist community that got its start five years ago as a meditation “sitting group.” The community took root two years ago in a west Eugene home – after efforts to establish a sanctuary in a rural neighborhood just south of Spencer Butte fizzled in the face of adjacent landowner opposition.

This week, the community’s benefactor, a 76-year-old monk from Japan, arrives to dedicate the meeting place as a fully recognized temple of the Soto Zen branch of Buddhism.

The ceremony showcases a long-standing – and apparently growing – interest in Buddhism among Eugene’s ranks.

The temple’s resident priest, Patrick Ejo McMullen, said he came to Eugene in part because of its reputation as a Buddhist refuge. “I knew there was a lot of meditation and interest here, but very little in terms of (Buddhist) institutions,” he said.

A Salem native, McMullen studied under Joshin Keiri Roshi, the Japanese monk, for three years. With Roshi’s blessing, Eugene Zendo this week will become a subtemple of the monk’s Shurin Temple in Sendai, Japan. The Eugene temple – the first ever established by Roshi outside his city – is home to more than 30 adherents.

Interest in Buddhist ways isn’t new here: The Eugene Buddhist Priory, a monastery run by a priest or teacher, was founded in 1973, for example. But the curiosity has bloomed in recent years, at least if the sale of such things as Buddhist peace flags and books is any indication.

Kyizom Wangmo and her husband opened Potala Gate, a downtown Eugene store that sells Buddhist gift items, in October 2001. Business is good and growing, she said, even though she estimates that 75 percent of her customers don’t consider themselves Buddhists.

“They like the idea of Buddhism, but don’t know what the beliefs are,” she said. “People are very curious.”

A few blocks away at the Book Mark book store, owner Larry West has a separate floor-to-ceiling shelf devoted to Buddhism – more space than what’s provided any other religion. “There’s always been a big market here with all the counterculture in Eugene,” he said.

11 Buddhist groups in Eugene

Heightened interest in Buddhism and other Eastern religions may be more regional than local. In the mid-1990s, the Seattle-based Northwest Dharma Association knew of about 100 Buddhist groups in Oregon and Washington. That number has since increased to about 300, including 11 in Eugene, said association president George Draffan.

There are multiple lineages or traditions of Buddhism, all premised on the Buddha’s teaching that correct thinking and self-denial can enable a person to reach Nirvana, a divine state of release and enlightenment.

About 31 percent of the Northwest’s groups follow Tibetan Buddhism – the tradition espoused by the Dalai Lama – and 18 percent are Zen groups known for their focus on meditation.

The Pacific Northwest, along with New York and San Francisco, is recognized as a major center of Buddhism in this country, Draffan said. Exact numbers are hard to come by, however, because Buddhist temples and groups aren’t centralized into denominations like Christian churches, he said.

Also, many people practice Buddhist meditation without considering themselves Buddhist or belonging to a Buddhist group. As a result, estimates of the number of Buddhists nationally vary widely, from less than a million to several million.

In a 2000 North American Religion Atlas project, 151,475 people in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington and Alaska) were identified as adherents to Eastern religions – Buddhists but also Bahai’s, Hindus and Sikhs, for example. That represents 4.5 percent of all religion adherents in the Northwest, compared to 1.5 percent nationally.

But those numbers are probably low, said Mark Shibley, a professor of religion and sociology at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. The Northwest is ripe for Buddhism and similar traditions, he said, because no one particular faith – such as Catholicism or Mormonism – dominates here as in other parts of the country.

Religion no longer Asian only

Another explanation is geography. When Buddhist teachers from Asia started arriving in this country in the 1970s, they set up retreats and temples up and down the West Coast. Also, while often viewed as largely white, the Northwest is home to proportionately more Asian-Americans than much of the country, Shibley said.

But Buddhism is no longer an Asian-only faith. Draffan, for example, estimates that roughly two-thirds of the Northwest’s Buddhist groups are white rather than Asian in ethnic background.

That certainly describes Eugene Zendo where, during the recent evening meditation, only one of the 22 people in attendance appeared to be Asian – and where virtually no one, according to McMullen, grew up in a Buddhist household.

That includes Debra Savelle, a Symantec manager who grew up Presbyterian in Alabama and used to attend the Unitarian Universalist Church in Eugene. Savelle said that when a friend invited her to a daylong meditation in 1996, “I thought it was the dumbest thing I’d ever done.”

But she was surprised to have felt drawn to the incense and the quiet, and soon became a serious student. “I tend to be an anxious person, and I like being able to find that stillness and create it for myself,” said Savelle, who now meditates in her office chair at work 20 minutes every day.

The Rev. Oswin Hollenbeck, resident prior at the Eugene Buddhist Priory, said he believes what draws people to Buddhism is its emphasis on compassion and reliance “on experience and knowledge rather than blind belief.”

There’s also the fact that it includes a practice. “You meditate or you chant – there’s an actual way to learn what the teachings are pointing to and express it for yourself,” he said.

At Eugene Zendo, McMullen said a strong interfaith tradition in Eugene may also explain the interest in Buddhism.

“There’s a maturity here that’s a little difficult to find in other places,” he said. “While all traditions may sprout from the same fundamental truths, it’s still important to walk a particular path. I hear people here say that a lot.”

DEDICATION CEREMONIES

Inmyakue: “Tying Our Lives to the Buddha Way,” ceremonies, chanting, lectures, question-and-answer periods, Friday afternoon and evening, all day Saturday, Sunday morning

Kaitanshiki: “The Opening of the Tan,” dedication of wooden benches upon which Buddhist monks sit in meditation, 3 p.m. Sunday

Presiding: Joshin Keira Roshi, abbot of Shurin Temple, Sendai, Japan

Address: 2190 Garfield St.

Information: 302-4576, www.eugenezendo.org

CAPTION(S):

In the measured steps of walking meditation, Yoko Mine slips through the light and shadow of early evening at the Eugene Buddhist Zendo. This weekend, the former Eugene home will be dedicated as a fully recognized temple of the Soto Zen branch of Buddhism.

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Prayer for a solution (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Hawaii)

Mary Adamski, Honolulu Star-Bulletin: A Honolulu church believes it’s found the perfect site for a meditation center, a wooded mountaintop retreat with an ocean view.

But there’s no peace and quiet to be found in the reception from the neighbors.

More than 70 Pacific Heights residents turned out at the Tuesday Nuuanu/Punchbowl Neighborhood Board meeting to protest the planned $8 million center at the top of the hillside neighborhood. It was their fourth round before the board with concerns that it will bring traffic, noise and parking problems and introduce visitor lodging in a residential area. They intend to continue their fight at City Hall where an application for a conditional use permit was filed with the Department of Planning and Permitting.

At the center of the storm is the Institute for Research in Human Happiness, a group unknown to the neighbors before it bought the 3.2-acre site, former home of Hawaiian author John Dominis Holt and his wife, Frances Damon Holt, both deceased.

It’s a new experience for the church, which has 12 meditation centers in Japan. But it’s not the first church to meet a hostile reception, even though residential zoning allows for places of worship.

The Rev. Sean Matsumoto said the congregation is “confused and sad” about neighborhood response.

“We want to be good neighbors. We’re very quiet, no loud chanting, no gongs.”

About 30 people at a time would attend three-day directed meditation seminars at the center, he said. Attendees would spend two nights in housing described as a monastery. The meditation is a basic facet of the faith and only members would attend the center, he said.

One of the new religions that have arisen in Japan in recent years, the IRH literature describes its teachings as “based on the spirit of Buddhism.” Studying the writings of founder and leader Ryuho Okawa and self-reflective meditation are the core spiritual practices.

DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Rev. Sean Matsumoto, director of the Hawaii branch of the Institute for Research in Human Happiness, said his congregation is “confused and sad” about the response to the church’s plans.

Okawa, 47, turned away from his financial business career to found Kofuku-no-Kagaku — “science of happiness” — in 1986. It was brought in 1994 to the United States, where there are centers in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, and in 1995 to Hawaii .

Okawa’s books are sold in major American bookstores. One was the basis of a 2003 animated movie, “Golden Laws,” that played in Hawaii theaters.

Kofuku-no-Kagaku has “an appeal similar to New Age religions, with a cosmology about a new, better world and the focus on the individual,” said University of Hawaii religion professor George Tanabe. “It’s not family-based as traditional Buddhism is. It’s about how an individual person can gain a wisdom, a higher level of consciousness. … That kind of appeal is fairly popular in Japan.”

“We focus on everyday practice and self-reflection,” said Matsumoto, director of the Hawaii branch, which has 300 members.

Okawa’s writing “is based on Buddha’s teaching and translated into contemporary life,” he said. Members are expected to practice four principles:

» Love that gives.

» Study wisdom.

» Self-reflection.

» Progress in spiritual life.

“Members are encouraged to study other teachings, such as the good ideas from Christianity,” Matsumoto said.

The Rev. Akira Fujii, a director from Japan, said: “With wisdom, you move to be open to new ideas. The idea of progress and change is to be open and flexible, to listen and learn from everyone.”

They spoke in an interview at the church’s meeting rooms at 1259 S. Beretania St., where an altar containing a gold dharma wheel, a symbol of Buddhist teaching, and a large hanging video screen are the focal points.

They didn’t have the opportunity to share their spiritual ideas at the neighborhood board meeting four hours later. The crowd didn’t come to listen anyway.

“This use is inappropriate,” said Pacific Heights resident Michael Lilly, former state attorney general. “We do not need another commercial operation on this road.”

Gayle Chestnut said: “This is a lodging facility first and a meditation center second. Lodging isn’t a legal use.”

Chestnut told the Nuuanu board there are a total of 240 signatures on a petition against the meditation center.

“There are as many reasons for opposing it as there are residents,” Chestnut said later.

Nearly everyone in the crowd signed up to speak, but board Chairman Joe Magaldi called for one spokesman from each side, saying the board has heard all the arguments at three earlier meetings. He and other board members were heckled by the noisy crowd, especially when the six votes for a resolution backing the neighbors was two short of a sufficient majority to pass it.

An artist sketched this rendition of what the proposed Institute for Research in Human Happiness meditation center would look like.

The other five board members present abstained from voting, citing the fear of lawsuit, a threat that has dogged neighborhood boards since Manoa board members were sued for their stand in a landlord-tenant dispute. The city paid $20,000 in settlement, and two members also had to pay.

Matsumoto said the church intends to honor the history of the old home, built in 1927, which was once occupied by Princess Kahunu, the widow of Prince Kuhio.

The church paid previous owner Bishop Museum $3.6 million for property. The home and adjoining buildings, unoccupied for more than three years, are so deteriorated and moldy that church members and consultants wear masks when they enter, he said.

Matsumoto said: “We know we have provided mitigation to meet neighbors’ concerns. The design of the new building is similar to the old profile.” Parking for 30 vehicles will be below the road and out of sight.

“We had a traffic survey that showed impact would be minimal.”

Magaldi said the board will forward the petitions and neighborhood concerns to Eric Crispin, director of the Department of Planning and Permitting. The law does not require a public hearing before he makes a decision on a conditional use permit.

Chestnut said: “In my opinion, this is not a conditional use permit, this is a variance from permitted use. If they were going to meet on Sundays and Wednesdays, I’d say OK. But I’m opposed to transient lodging in a residential area. That’s a commercial use.”

Matsumoto said the center would be only for members and only for religious training.

“We are absolutely different from a hotel or a bed and breakfast,” he said. “Someone said we would be strangers coming in. “We are members of the community. We only want a chance to practice our religion.”

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Buddhist monk’s big Inland plans (Press Enterprise, California)

Henri Brickey, Press Enterprise, California: Nguyen Dat wants Warner Springs meditation center to become one of the largest monasteries in California.

Just finding the Lieu Quan Meditation Center is an exercise in patience. The 10-acre retreat, where one monk has erected some of the largest Buddhist statues in the country, is on a dead-end road about 30 miles southeast of Temecula.

“Some people get overly curious when they find this place and start walking around … looking into windows,” said Arnold Bowman, who has lived on the property behind the temple for the past four years.

Ornately carved statues – three weighing more than 100 tons each – are visible from the front of the temple. Roughly a dozen smaller statues are scattered throughout the center.

Toward the back of the meditation center sits an unadorned brick house. Inside, Master Nguyen Dat, who came to the Chihuahua Valley more than 20 years ago from Los Angeles, spends many of his days at the center meditating.

Meditation, Dat says, is the key to cleansing and opening the mind.

“If your mind’s clean, everything’s OK,” Dat said.

Richard Cary, a tow truck driver who lives about 45 minutes south of the temple in Julian, found the Lieu Quan temple five years ago and is one of about 25 people who visit the meditation center regularly. Cary says meditation is a way of escaping from the “constant bombardment of stimulus” so common in American culture.

Dat said he hopes more Americans like Cary will come to the meditation center, which Dat said is open to anyone wanting to learn meditation. A few times each year, a large group of Buddhists from the Los Angeles area travels to the temple for holiday festivals. Other than those times, the center is nearly empty. But Dat wants to change that and is hoping to turn the center into one of the state’s largest Buddhist monasteries within the next decade.

On a recent winter afternoon, Dat, 62, talked about his hopes for the meditation center, where the monk spends much of his time when not teaching at a Buddhist temple in Gardena.

Humble beginnings

Dat arrived in the United States by way of Japan in 1978 with the clothes on his back and $1,000.

After living as a monk at a Buddhist temple in Los Angeles for a few years, Dat wanted to find a place where he could meditate in peace.

“I needed quiet. I needed to leave the city,” said Dat, who studies a sect of Buddhism that stresses quiet meditation.

In 1981, Dat bought five acres in the Chihuahua Valley with money he borrowed from friends along with some savings from money he earned as a landscaper. When he bought the property, the meditation center was home to nothing but dirt and trees.

“Sometimes I stayed here a weekend, five days, one week, one month. I looked like a country man.”

At first, Dat slept on the ground and cooked his food over a campfire. Eventually, he bought an adjacent lot with a small home and started inviting other monks and Buddhist students to the center for meditation retreats.

Dat says he hopes to turn the Lieu Quan Meditation Center into one of the largest live-in Buddhist monasteries in the state, allowing up to 40 students to study at the temple full-time.

In Vietnam, Dat says, there are numerous temples dedicated to Lieu Quan — the monk who lived in the 1700s and founded the branch of Vietnamese Buddhism that Dat studies. Lieu Quan belongs to the Mahayana sect of Buddhism and is a school of Zen, which focuses heavily on meditation.

As a senior monk in the Lieu Quan sect of Buddhism, which only has one other temple in the United States in San Jose, Dat is solely responsible for every aspect of the Warner Springs temple.

“The plan is actually to build a large meditation hall, library and dormitory for monks to live in,” said Cary, who helps Dat with much of the center’s upkeep and maintenance.

Once complete, Dat says, the center will be able to accommodate about 40 full-time practitioners.

The plan for Lieu Quan is ambitious and expensive – somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million, according to Dat, who said he plans to pay for the center’s construction with donations from members of his congregation. The largest Buddhist monastery in the state is in the Los Angeles suburb of Hacienda Heights, where the 15-acre Hsi Lai Temple was built 15 years ago at a cost of $30 million.

While it’s nothing like Hsi Lai, Dat is making progress at the Warner Springs temple. Since 1998, Dat has been adorning the Lieu Quan Meditation Center with large Buddhist statues, which are delivered from Vietnam in pieces and then assembled by Dat and a small crew of helpers.

Impressive sight

At 45 feet long, the reclining Buddha statue at the rear of the temple is one of the largest reclining statues in United States, according to Dat. While other temples have larger statues, such as the 102-foot-tall Stupa of Dharmakaya at the Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center in Colorado, the statues in Warner Springs still inspire awe.

Another massive statue at Lieu Quan measures more than 20 feet in height. An even bigger one came from Vietnam five months ago and is 30 feet tall.

The statues, which are carved from stone, cost more than $100,000 each and are paid for through donations made by members of Dat’s congregation, Dat said.

Until the monastery can be built, the larger-than-life sculptures will continue to spend most of their time alone at the center with Master Dat.

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Student finds transformation in monastery stay (Buddhist News Network)

Knoe College News: Knox College student Sean Dowdy (photo) credits “feeling more focused” this term to the way he spent the last term: meditating with monks in a Buddhist monastery.

Dowdy, a junior from Morrisonville, Ill., recently returned from Bodh Gaya, India, where he spent three months in the Buddhist Studies program.

“I feel more focused since I’ve returned,” he said. “I think this experience has helped me overcome bad mental and emotional habits. It was an intense education.”

For the first three weeks of the program, Dowdy and a group of other American college students lived in a Buddhist monastery.

“We lived our days as if we were monks,” he said. “We got up at 4:30 a.m. and meditated for one hour, and then we’d have a silent breakfast.”

For Dowdy, this was a stark contrast from his life at Knox.

“The earliest I get up is six a.m., and that’s only when I have homework to do,” he said. “Otherwise I sleep in until right before class. And I never take time to eat breakfast.”

Students were expected to follow the monastery’s social and moral laws, which included “preserving all life, being celibate, avoiding intoxicants, and refraining from stealing,” he said.

“Vowing to preserve all life meant more than just being vegetarian,” Dowdy said. “It even included not swatting the mosquitoes that were bothering you constantly.”

A junior Anthropology-Sociology major, Dowdy enrolled in the program to study the cultural and historical aspects of Buddhism, which he first became interested in as a high school student.

“It’s one of the most peacefully-spread religions in the world,” he said. “I come from a background of staunch Irish Catholics, and my mother is a lay nun. But she encouraged me because she is interested in world religion. This program was a great way for me to study in another culture, but it was also a personal pilgrimage to see what I believed in.”

In India, Dowdy learned different types of meditation from a Japanese monk, as well as Nepalese and Burmese masters.

“In meditation, you’re striving toward mental and spiritual development,” he said. “Buddhism teaches you to seek true, unselfish compassion for others through meditation.”

Dowdy also took classes focusing on philosophical concepts related to meditation, as well as language instruction in Tibetan and Hindi. He also studied Buddhist philosophy and the history of Indian Buddhism.

“There are multiple variations of Buddhisms, like Zen Buddhism in Japan or Theravada Buddhism in Thailand, and each one is interpreted differently by different cultures,” he said. “It’s a very diverse and international religion. But there are basic similarities, such as a focus on compassion, and belief that all life is suffering.”

Nancy Eberhardt, Professor of Anthropology/Sociology at Knox, said Dowdy benefited from learning about Buddhism outside a classroom setting.

“Sean is an exceptional student, and already knew a great deal about Buddhism before he went,” she said. “But I know this experience has broadened his knowledge and deepened his commitment to studying the role of Buddhism in people’s every day lives. It introduced Sean to Buddhism as it is actually lived, with many opportunities to talk with practicing Buddhists from all walks of life. That’s an indispensable part of learning about any religion.”

Dowdy also traveled extensively while in India, visiting Dehli and Calcutta, among other places. In Darjeeling, in West Bengal, he saw the Dalai Lama—the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism—giving a religious talk to a large crowd.

“We received a blessing from him,” Dowdy said. “We shook his hand and he presented us with a white scarf.”

After leaving the monastery, Dowdy conducted anthropological and sociological field research in Lachung, a northern village near the Tibetan border.

“It’s small and isolated, and there are no phones there,” Dowdy said. “It’s spread out in a valley in the heart of the Himalayas, and when you look up, you see these awesome snow-capped precipices. It’s beautiful.”

For his research project, Dowdy interviewed heads of the village and spent time with its residents in order to study its unique form of government. “It’s a communitarian Buddhist government, where all decisions have to be made by each household,” he said.

Dowdy lived with a Tibetan family and with a translator in the village.

“Everyone was wonderful to me there,” he said. “I’d love to go back.”

After graduating from Knox, Dowdy hopes to return to India and work for a non-governmental organization in humanitarian aid.

“I see myself as more of a ‘world citizen’ now,” he said. “It was the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “It was a widening of my lenses. And I feel like I know so much more about the Indian students at Knox and their culture now. It’s given me a much more open way of looking at the world.”

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