Meditation in New York

Falun Gong brings tranquility to Times Square

Joshua Philipp & Zachary Stieber, Epoch Times: Something unique happened on Times Square on Saturday. From the morning until late afternoon, it became calm. Beneath the flashing billboards and amidst the bustling of tourists, hundreds of people sat in meditation while soft Chinese music played above low voices.

The event was one of several throughout the city marking the 20th year since Falun Gong was introduced to the public in China. Meditation lasted through the easy afternoon, and turned to music and Chinese dance as the day drew on.

And although this was a celebration, people standing on corners with fliers for …

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Monks teach meditation to incarcerated teens

Melissa Russo: Some of New York City’s angriest teens are learning the way to a more peaceful path with a little help from the Buddha.

Inside the Crossroads Juvenile Detention Center in Brownsville, the contrast between the street kids in their orange detention suits and the monks in their brown robes could not be more pronounced.

The group of monastics files into the facility, and they’re unlike anything these kids have seen in their neighborhood: soft-spoken, barefoot and bald.

“It was pretty interesting,” said one 15-year-old. “I didn’t think they were real.”

“When I saw them walk through the door, I was …

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Ice Buddha at the Rubin Museum

The Rubin Museum (New York City) has an exhibition called Grain of Emptiness: Buddhism-Inspired Contemporary Art, on view through April 11.

One of the featured exhibits is Atta Kim’s dramatic 5 ½ feet tall, 1,300 pound ice sculpture of a seated Buddha.

The ice sculpture will remain on view until completely melted — a process that will take several days — with the melt-water collecting in a pool below.

As the work melts, visitors are encouraged to touch the ice and take away non-potable water from the pool on their way out of the museum, using small glass containers that are provided by the museum. The artist intends that the collected water be used to continue the cycle of renewal by watering a plant.

Thanks to our friends at Tricycle Magazine for the heads-up on this.

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Falun Gong and rival group battle for Chinese hearts and minds in Flushing

On the bustling thoroughfare of Chinese immigrants that is Main Street in Flushing, Queens, countless people hand out fliers for massage parlors, calling cards, English classes, money-wiring stores and other services.

But one group of regulars that offers fliers from its daily spot is not commercially minded. Its message is an ideological one: to disparage Falun Gong, the spiritual and meditation movement founded in China. It’s a movement, Falun Gong organizers say, that has found its largest following outside Asia in Flushing.

The group denounces Falun Gong as a cult, and it incorporates this charge into its name: the Chinese Anti-Cult World Alliance. The alliance set up a small folding table in the summer of 2008 on Main Street near Sanford Avenue, not far from the numerous tables staffed by Falun Gong volunteers who hand out literature lambasting the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government, which has banned and persecuted Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa.

For two years, the two factions have staked out their turf on Main Street like rival gangs, and they have waged a bitter ideological battle nearly daily for hearts and minds. They have created a scaled-down version of the tension between Falun Gong and the Chinese government.

Falun Gong members are convinced that this opposition group is an arm of the Chinese government and that its members are working as political operatives to oppress Falun Gong here.

“They are secret agents for the Chinese Communist Party,” said Rong Yi, 45, a Falun Gong organizer in Flushing. “They are puppets for…

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the Chinese government. The Chinese Communist Party is paying them to suppress Falun Gong.”

Ms. Yi’s nemesis on Main Street is Huahong Li, 49, chairwoman of the anti-Falun Gong group, who has become a well-known and polarizing figure in Flushing. Ms. Yi said Ms. Li’s group was trying to keep Falun Gong from publicizing the mistreatment of many of its members in China by the government.

Ms. Li calls the spy accusation laughable and says she is simply motivated by the need to warn the public that Falun Gong is an “evil cult” that has “severely damaged the image and reputation of the Chinese people.”

Ms. Li has gotten into countless confrontations with Falun Gong members. She has been arrested, sued and vilified constantly in The Epoch Times, the free daily newspaper that supports Falun Gong. She keeps scores of clippings from the paper on display at her booth, along with a poster-size collage of snapshots of Falun Gong followers she has argued with. She claims the members have come to her table to harass her, seize her camera and strike her with objects.

Ms. Yi said, however, that these members were approached by Ms. Li. She also accused Ms. Li of orchestrating the distribution of “hate material” against Falun Gong, instigating attacks on members and routinely gathering up and destroying copies of The Epoch Times in sidewalk boxes. Ms. Yi claims Ms. Li has been seen — videotaped, in fact — entering the Chinese Consulate in Manhattan.

Ms. Yi is president of a group called the Global Service Center for Quitting the Chinese Communist Party, whose mission is to find immigrants who were party members in China and persuade them to swear off their membership. The center’s headquarters are above a Chinese bakery on Main Street, two blocks from where Ms. Li sets up her table, and they double as the main offices for Falun Gong in Flushing.

Ms. Yi said that despite Ms. Li’s efforts to thwart her group, about 80 people a day shed their party affiliations with the group’s help. These people sign a list and agree to have their identities entered into a database on a private page on The Epoch Times Web site, she said.

Ms. Yi said she told immigrants that even if they planned never to return to China, it was crucial to quit the party officially in protest of its oppressive actions. To remain a member is to essentially condone all this, she says, but to quit is to obtain freedom from the bottom of their hearts.

“We tell them that God or Buddha will punish you in this life or the future if you still follow them,” Ms. Yi said. “It will be bad luck for you and your family. We tell them that if they quit, their future will be secured and God will bless them.”

Several blocks away, Ms. Li, urges immigrants to quit the “Quitting” party.

“Departing from cult resuscitates oneself,” one of her signs reads.

The two sides have been feuding since the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province that killed more than 60,000 people. Groups of Flushing residents accused Falun Gong of disrupting fund-raising efforts on Main Street for victims by demonstrating with lively music and attacks on the Chinese government.

Ms. Li calls Falun Gong disingenuous and insulting to Chinese immigrants. Her literature charges that Falun Gong practices “anti-human and anti-society practices” and irresponsibly advises members to eschew conventional medicine for daily exercise and meditation for health.

Her main charge is that Falun Gong paints itself as a peaceful, persecuted group, but behind the scenes it is highly disciplined and ruthless, and burnishes its image with its media outlets, political alliances, ubiquitous demonstrations and lobbying tables.

Ms. Li said she lacked the political, strategic and English-language skills to defend herself against Falun Gong’s attacks on her. She said her anti-Falun Gong group had grown in two years to more than 100 people, though its numbers are dwarfed by the thousands of Falun Gong members in Flushing. Last month, for the first time, her group gained a spot in the annual Chinese New Year parade on Main Street, marching near Falun Gong members.

Ms. Li’s most prominent run-in was with a well-known Falun Gong member named Wenyi Wang. In June 2009, Ms. Wang accused Ms. Li of destroying copies of The Epoch Times and approached her with a camera. Ms. Wang said Ms. Li seized the camera, and Ms. Li was arrested and charged with fourth-degree grand larceny. She is now under an order of protection forbidding her to approach Ms. Wang.

All this was reported extensively in The Epoch Times, where Ms. Wang is a contributor and somewhat of a celebrity among Falun Gong adherents for her actions at the White House in 2006 when she gained admittance with Epoch Times press credentials and shouted against Chinese President Hu Jintao while he spoke. She was quickly escorted away, and President Bush later apologized to Mr. Hu.

Ms. Li and her supporters roll their eyes at the idea that their sidewalk spot is a front for cloak-and-dagger espionage.

“Who knew it was that easy to become a government agent?” said one of her colleagues, Zhu Zhirou.

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Addicts overcome holiday stress with meditation

It’s going to be a difficult holiday season for a man named Demitrius, who didn’t want to use his full name to protect his privacy.

Demitrius, now 28, won’t be able to open gifts or ring in the new year with his family. Instead, he’ll spend the holidays and the next several months serving out a court-mandated sentence at New York’s Phoenix House, a residential and outpatient drug rehabilitation center. After he was arrested for selling drugs this past spring, his punishment was set at 15 months in residential treatment.

He’s coping with his sadness in a way he never dreamed he would growing up in the tough neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn: through meditation.

“I was skeptical. I never thought I would do it. Where I’m from, people don’t do a lot of meditation classes,” said Demitrius.

Now, he can’t imagine making it…

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through rehab — and the stress of the holiday season — without it.

“I can cope better with the fact that I’ll be away from my family,” he said. “I kind of use the exercises, like the simple breathing exercises, and it relaxes me and makes me more peaceful, and things don’t bother me as much.”

Triggers Are Stress-Related

Mental health experts say meditation is a great tool for helping people overcome their addictions, and there’s a growing body of research that backs up that assertion. It’s quickly becoming another treatment tool clinicians can use to help people like Demitrius win their personal wars against addiction.

“Many of the triggers of addiction are somewhat stress-related, so in that sense, anything that’s going to reduce stress is going to improve the behavior associated with addiction,” said Dr. Vatsal Thakkar, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.

The relaxed state brought on by meditation lowers the levels of stress hormones in the body.

“You learn to relax and learn to concentrate, which puts the brain in a state where it instinctively perceives the world as being less threatening,” said Dr. Charles Raison, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behaviorial Science at Emory University School of Medicine at Atlanta. “When the brain is in that state, it signals the body that it doesn’t have to release all those stress hormones.”

Meditation A Valuable Clinical Tool

“There’s more and more research being done on exercise, meditation and yoga as primary treatments for addiction,” said Thakkar. “That’s important, because the track record is bleak in terms of successful, universal treatments that work across the board.”

“The use of meditation in clinical studies is moving ahead,” said Raison. “It’s much more mainstream and very common now.”

Phoenix House holds meditation classes every Wednesday, and Demitrius has been in attendance for the past eight weeks. The experience has been life-changing, and he’s learned he doesn’t need to depend on marijuana, his drug of choice.

“It’s a natural way to balance yourself and go mentally without using the drug,” he said. “It helps me relax my nerves and feel at ease.”

Donna D’Cruz teaches the classes at Phoenix House. She’s a music producer and deejay who works with some of the world’s biggest stars, but volunteers Wednesdays to teach Demitrius and his fellow residents.

“I was asked to deejay at the Phoenix House charity event in the summer,” said D’Cruz. “Two clients got up and spoke, and I was astonished by their stories and the situations they were in.”

D’Cruz has been meditating since her teenage years, and it’s helped her deal with the pressures of the music business and constant travel. She offered to teach the residents at Phoenix House, and since she started, she said she believes it’s really been working.

Anger Management

“I know it’s working, because more people are coming and telling each other. They ask more and more detailed questions,” said D’Cruz. “A young man came to me and said he’s very angry, and wanted to learn how to meditate just for his anger.”

She said meditation is a wonderful tool whenever a person is feeling stressed, but it’s especially helpful this time of year.

“Holidays are very difficult. Some clients can’t leave and some have no family to go home to,” she said. “They have another tool they can use to deal with that.”

“Meditation teaches you not to take your thoughts so seriously,” said Raison. “If you’re thinking, ‘Oh, I can’t be with my family’, you’ll learn that’s just a thought. See it, recognize it, and let it go.”

Thanks to meditation, Demitrius can do that. He’s going to help other residents and staff put on a holiday show and make the best of things. He’s looking forward to the summer when he can be back with his family.

He plans to make meditation a lasting part of his life.

“When I get out of here, it will definitely be helpful to continue on. I’ll be dealing with a lot of stress and trying to keep myself in line. Meditation will help keep me calm so I can make better decisions.”

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A place for pondering (Newsday)

Pat Burson, Newsday: Mona Bector, a New York City employee who lives in Fresh Meadows, says meditation has given her a deeper peace, even in troubled times.

“You’d be amazed at how many people at work are always asking me how I can be so calm when things are going crazy,” says Bector, 33, a budget officer for the city’s Department of Education. “The more you meditate, the stronger your faith is. It helps me, and it helps other people to appreciate the path that I’m on.”

Bector, raised a Hindu, belongs to the Science of Spirituality, a worldwide nonprofit organization that teaches that meditation is at the core of all religions.

Last week, the first Science of Spirituality center in the Northeast opened in Amityville. The organization’s worldwide headquarters is in Delhi, India; its U.S. headquarters is in Naperville, Ill.

Almost 1,000 people from different backgrounds, cultures and religious traditions from New York City, Long Island and New England, and parts of South America, Europe and Africa, flocked to the weekend- long opening ceremonies at the County Line Road center. Many participants from the area, such as Bector, had been meeting for years in local churches, synagogues and homes….

Wherever they have met, they say the organization’s teachings have put them on the path to peace and tranquillity in their lives and in the world.

The spiritual leader of the Science of Spirituality is Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj, a Sikh who travels around the world to teach people of all beliefs and walks of life how daily meditation and ethical living can improve their lives, their connection with God and their relationships with others.

Singh, former president of the World Fellowship of Religions, has written more than a dozen books, including “Inner and Outer Peace Through Meditation,” which includes a foreword by the Dalai Lama.

‘All walks of life’

Last month at a tour of the center, Singh said, “In our organization here, we have people from all walks of life and all faiths of life. It is not about propagating any one religion as such…. We focus on the meditative aspects of each one of our teachings.”

The Amityville center, in a renovated synagogue, was purchased in late February. The main sanctuary will be used for weekly meetings, meditation workshops and large interfaith gatherings. A library contains books on mysticism and the world’s leading religions. The building has a high-speed Internet connection to allow participants to watch Singh’s monthly live broadcasts.

For now, members meet at noon on Sundays to meditate and read from religious teachings. Another meeting is offered in Hindi on Wednesdays, and organizers say they want to expand to other languages.

“We celebrate what we have in common through meditation, and appreciate differences in our religious and cultural backgrounds,” says Stephanie Goldreyer of Merrick, who has been a member of Science of Spirituality since 1971 and now works as the communications coordinator at the meditation center.

“That gives us a deeper understanding of our religious traditions.”

The tenets of Science of Spirituality include the belief in one God. “We feel there is one God, whether we call God by the name of the creator or we call God Jehovah or we call God Allah or by any other name,” Singh says. “There is one creator and all creation came into being from that creator. We feel there are many paths to God, and each could be going in whatever way makes sense to them, but the goal is the same. So we consider ourselves to be members of one big family of God, and we try to experience that oneness with God.”

Singh says participants don’t have to give up their religion to become a participant in the Science of Spirituality. The organization is funded with voluntary donations from its members.

The heart of the Science of Spirituality is Sant Mat, a method of meditation that was born centuries ago in India. Goldreyer says, “It becomes a universal appreciation of people and whatever tradition they practice because we realize the universality of humankind through meditation. Meditation is a very tangible way to connect with that.”

The purpose of meditation is to go beyond the physical to a deeper spiritual place, Singh says. “Right now we’re living at the level of our senses. We want to go within because we feel that God is not up in the sky but God is within each and every one of us… and we are able to experience God in our lives and that is what gives us joy and peace and tranquillity.”

Singh’s background Born in 1946 in New Delhi, Singh completed his undergraduate work in engineering at Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, followed by graduate school at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He worked 20 years in engineering and communications.

He studied with two of India’s greatest spiritual luminaries, Sant Kirpal Singh Ji Maharaj and his successor, Sant Darshan Singh Ji Maharaj. Sant Kirpal Singh was the first Sant Mat teacher to come to the West.

Singh, who says he receives no money from participants, teaches that meditation helps individuals to know themselves and God. Healthy rewards of an hour or two of meditation each day also include improved concentration, reduced stress and better efficiency, he says.

Science of Spirituality also promotes a vegetarian diet, chastity and sobriety.

Such teachings appeal to Michael Mott, raised Catholic, who says he got involved with Science of Spirituality 16 years ago when he was at a crossroads.

“I went through a change in life, and I was looking for an answer,” says Mott, 54, who holds Science of Spirituality meetings on alternate Wednesdays at his East Hampton home. “It’s you and it’s me, and if I can be a peaceful person, I will affect other people, and I will affect myself. … It’s a beautiful message.” His wife, Tina Saposhnik, 57, who was raised Jewish, says she loves the multicultural atmosphere within the organization and at the new meditation center. “It’s so international that you really start understanding other people,” she says.

“Nobody’s ever excluded.”

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