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.

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.”

Original article no longer available…

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Future of Heavenly Mountain disputed (Watauga Democrat, North Carolina)

Jason Reagan, Watauga Democrat: The man who, along with his twin brother, owns most of the land at Heavenly Mountain Resort, has disavowed the spiritual movement that helped establish the retreat.

David Kaplan, who owns the largest privately-owned land tract in Watauga County, publicly repudiated the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement and its founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in a letter released Tuesday to Heavenly Mountain residents and the public.

In the letter, Kaplan said he and his brother, Earl, investigated Maharishi and the TM movement closely, and subsequently could “no longer support or be associated with Maharishi, his ideas, his knowledge or any of his organizations in any way whatsoever.”

“I am not involved in the TM movement or in any of Maharishi organizations in any way and have nothing to do with his teaching,” he repeated in the letter.

Heavenly Mountain, located east of Boone overlooking the Triplett community, has been synonymous with Maharishi’s technique of meditation since its establishment in 1996.

The tract, mostly owned by David Kaplan, is divided into two areas. The Heavenly Mountain Resort is a for-profit venture that develops and markets homesites. Currently, about 30 homes are located in the development as well as a community center and meditation hall. A landowner, who asked not to be identified, said most landowners are TM practitioners.

Amid the 7,000-acre tract sits the non-profit Spiritual Center of America.

According to its Web site, the center “was established to bring fulfillment to the spiritual and material aspirations of all Americans through Maharishi Vedic Science and Technology” and is said to be a study of consciousness, based on classical Indian Vedic literature.

Split into two campuses for men and women, the center has provided a place for TM adherents to live and practice the technique. Although the center is not owned by the Kaplans, Earl Kaplan is listed as its board chairman and president. Currently, the center still houses TM adherents and is presumably still teaching TM classes (the center’s Web site actively advocates TM classes and Maharishi’s teachings).

The center’s attempt to garner tax-exempt status as an educational institution failed before the N.C. Supreme Court in May 2003. The center had sought county tax exemption since 1997 on property valued at more than $6 million.

The Kaplan brothers initially bought 1,100 acres of forest and farm land, eventually buying a total of 7,000 acres. Developers later sold some of the land as homesites and several TM practitioners bought lots. Currently, 5,800 acres are undeveloped.

After reading Kaplan’s letter, a group of Heavenly Mountain homeowners issued an e-mail statement emphasizing their continued support and practice of the technique.

“It is important to remember that the benefits of the TM program have been published in hundreds of studies reported in major medical journals all over the world. What has brought people here is the opportunity to practice those programs and to participate in a development which is dedicated to peace, harmony, and personal development.”

“Each family has made a large investment in the community here and feels the promises made to them should be honored, namely, that this would be a permanent home for the TM programs and knowledge. We expect to get what we paid for,” the statement continued. Last fall, dozens of Heavenly Mountain residents sued David Kaplan, claiming the developer breached his fiduciary duty and required potential land buyers to donate to the TM movement “as a condition to building a home in Heavenly Mountain.”

The suit accuses Kaplan of “endangering the tax status of the center and thereby acting contrary to its well-being by causing it to engage in private benefit transactions,” in alleged violation of the federal tax code.

The property owners asked the court to appoint a receiver for the center and require an “accounting of all funds contributed directly or indirectly to the Spiritual Center, including loan guarantees and contributions that the individual defendants caused to be made.”

Superior Judge Ronald K. Payne heard a motion to dismiss the case in March and has taken the motion under advisement with no date set for a hearing.

Kaplan sees the development eventually moving away from its spiritual roots.

“I hope Heavenly Mountain becomes a normal development not a TM development,” Kaplan said in a phone interview Tuesday, adding he plans to develop a Scott Miller-designed championship golf course on his property.

What is TM?

Practitioners of Transcendental Meditation define TM as a technique that aids relaxation, relieves stress and provides physical and mental energy.

Indian mystic Maharishi Mahesh Yogi made headlines in the 1960s after teaching The Beatles meditation techniques.

His association with the group helped popularize TM. By the early 1970s, meditation centers had spread across the globe.

Bob Roth, a spokesman for the movement, said there are an estimated 5 million people who have practiced TM.

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Opposition is building to Buddhist monastery (San Diego Union Tribune)

Patty McCormac, San Diego Union-Tribune: About 200 residents have signed petitions against a Buddhist monastery and meditation center proposed for a hillside above the San Luis Rey Downs Country Club.

Opponents say the Asian-style temple would be architecturally inappropriate for the rural atmosphere embraced by Bonsall residents and would attract more traffic and put a strain on infrastructure.

“It will stick out like a sore thumb,” said Richard Blakley, a neighbor of the existing monastery on the site, a single-family home in the 6300 block of Camino Del Rey that houses several monks.

“I’ve heard it will eventually be 20,000 square feet, and they want it to be the largest Vietnamese Temple in Southern California,” Blakley said.

Blakley said he fears a tourist attraction that would draw thousands of people. Monastery representatives, he said, gave few details about their plans when they floated the idea to neighbors at a Jan. 17 party at the site.

“They said it would draw a larger crowd when the master visited once or twice a year, but now there are upward of 100 people there every week,” said Blakley, 65, a machine shop owner.

“We don’t want any church there or any business,” said Jim Jamieson, 57, a certified public accountant. “I don’t want a cathedral there, and I’m Catholic.”

On March 2, a group of residents appeared before the Bonsall Community Sponsor Group with complaints they wanted investigated, said Margarette Morgan, chairman of the panel, which advises the county on land-use issues.

“They (the monks) had invited some of the neighbors over and were using an area formerly used as a stable to serve food. The neighbors also observed that there were several monks living in the single-family home,” Morgan said.

She said the complaints included that the property has become a meeting place for a large number of religious practitioners; that many vehicles are regularly parked on the property; that they regularly serve food; and the number of people on the site must be overtaxing the septic system of the home.

The plans for the monastery have yet to be submitted to the county, Morgan said, but the property owners have told county officials they plan an 11,000-square-foot building, which would require a major-use permit, Morgan said.

“We haven’t submitted anything to the county, so what the neighbors think is just that. They haven’t seen a conceptual plan,” said Chris Brown, a consultant hired by the monastery to help them navigate the county planning process.

“We are planning to submit a major-use permit, which is required, within the next month. At that time, we will go out into the community and we will show them and discuss our plans with them. I will seek their input on the project.”

He said the site eventually would have three buildings, which would include a place for about 30 monks to live, a meditation hall and support buildings for bathrooms and a kitchen.

“The last thing these people want to do is build a monstrosity with parking lots,” Brown said. “The whole idea behind this is ‘quiet.’ ”

A rendering of the proposed project has circulated among residents of the area. The Dai Dang Monastery was founded in Bonsall in 2001 by the Vietnamese Buddhist Meditation Congregation, followers of the Mayahana school of Zen Buddhism practiced in Vietnam.

Myhanh Phan, a co-founder of the monastery, said a temple is not part of its plans.

“We want to do the meditation center, not a temple, just a meditation center so people can come during the weekend for meditation,” she said. “We still have to apply and get permission.”

As for traffic, she said, since visitors to the monastery come only on weekends, the traffic generated would be much less than commuter traffic.

Upon hearing that some neighbors were not enthusiastic about the construction plans, she was philosophical.

“This is American country, and everyone has the freedom to speak as they do,” she said. “They can think anything they want; everyone has different thinking. If they mind, I don’t know how to prevent them.

“I think Bonsall is a nice place for meditation. It is quiet and peaceful.”

But Blakley, Jamieson and other neighbors contend that if the construction is approved, their rural lifestyle will be threatened. As it is, state Route 76 and Camino Del Rey are crowded with trucks and automobile traffic all week, they said.

Those who travel Camino Del Rey said the monastery’s driveway is on a blind curve and several residents have already had close calls with vehicles exiting and entering the property, Blakley said.

A spokesman from the office of County Supervisor Bill Horn, said it would be premature for Horn to comment because he has yet to see any formal plans for the monastery. Until he sees something concrete, he must remain impartial, the spokesman said.

Patty McCormac is a free-lance writer who lives in Vista.

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Buddhist’s battle to meditate

BBC: A Buddhist from Essex was forced to apply for planning permission to meditate in his own patch of woodland.

Edward James, 51, from Westcliff-on-Sea, wanted to use North Wood near Hockley to practice his religion with friends.

As a Buddhist, Mr James hoped to use the site, which overlooks a river, as his path to enlightenment, but found his route was blocked by local planners.

A complaint from a nearby landowner alerted Rochford District Council to his meditation and the planning department stepped in.

Searched for years

Mr James was told his meditation would require the authority’s consent as it was a change of use for the land.

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“It all got ridiculously out of hand,” he said.

“I searched for a suitable piece of land for years before finding this one.”

The council has now agreed to the change of use, but the whole episode has left Mr James saddened.

“If I had known how difficult it was going to be, all the paperwork that it involved and the battles that I have had to fight, I would be tempted to say I would not have bothered.

Test of commitment

“But I think in the end I would have moved heaven and high water to reach my goal.

“It has certainly been a test of my commitment.”

Shaun Scrutton, the council’s head of planning, said there was no “mystery” about the situation, just an application of the rules.

“Planning is about the use of land and on this occasion the proposals were for an organised permanent use and that required planning consent from the authority,” he said.

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