Expand Your Mind ’99

Lama Pema Wangdak at Change Your Mind Day, New York.
Lama Pema Wangdak at Change Your Mind Day, New York.

The concept for CHANGE YOUR MIND Day, a Tricycle sponsored event of public, free, and outdoor meditation in New York’s Central Park, initially came before the board of directors in 1993. Tricycle is published by The Buddhist Ray, a not-for-profit educational organization established to disseminate Buddhist dharma and whose prime vehicle continues to be Tricycle magazine. So understandably, the idea generated concern about adding money to a daunting fund raising budget for an event that promised zero financial gain, could be canceled by rain with no reimbursements, and might not interest more than two people. At that point board member Philip Glass said that if we spent $100,000 and the event introduced two people to the dharma and if one got enlightened, it would be a bargain. With the late Lex Hixon heartily in agreement, that idealism has prevailed. This year, in response to requests from other cities, and with the organizational help of another mystical pragmatist board member, Rande Brown, Tricycle’s 6th annual CYM day on June 5th expanded to San Francisco and Williamsport, Pa. CYM day in Anchorage, Alaska was held on July 10th.

 

 

Susan O'Connell in San Francisco.
Susan O’Connell in San Francisco.

 

In California, Pamela Krasney and Jean Elgar of the Shambhala Bay Area Centers worked closely with Cal Zecca Ferris of Spirit Rock and with Susan O’Connell of San Francisco Zen Center to put on CYM in Golden Gate Park. Despite adverse weather (it was the coldest June on record) and an Irish concert down the road featuring Van Morrison, (now that’s competition), the event went off without a hitch; and with 500 people in attendance throughout the day, there’s reason to maintain a holy optimism about long term, ineffable effects. Blanche Hartman, co-abbot of San Francisco Zen Center, began with a demonstration of zazen posture. Jack Kornfield opened his talk by commenting on how lucky we were to be able to sit with such wonderful (fairly soft) strains of Irish bands wafting to our field and, in one gentle stroke, removed any idea that this venue wasn’t perfect exactly the way it was.

 

Michele LaPorte in New York.
Michele LaPorte in New York.

Jack also translated for the very expressive and delightful Thai monk, Ajahn Jumnien. Cynthia Kneem led a guided meditation which unfolded like an accordion to become ever more expansive; Wes “Scoop” Nisker, a Spirit Rock teacher and editor of Inquiring Mind choose to discourse with his guitar, singing while Nancy Beckman played the Shakuhachi. Jane Hirshfield opened her poetry reading toward late afternoon by thanking the foul-weather friends who by then were bundled up in sweaters and blankets.

Meanwhile, Central Park’s skies were clear over the Great Hill where New York’s CYM stage was set up under a grove of trees. Various colored zafus from different traditions covered the stage as well as the first few rows made for practitioners on the grass. As many as 1800 people came throughout the day, and many stayed until after the last gong was sounded in late afternoon.

 

Rev. Dai-En Bennage in Williamsport.
Rev. Dai-En Bennage in Williamsport.

 

Pat Enkyo O’Hara of the Village Zendo in New York City hosted New York’s sixth annual day featuring various teachers and performing artists. After opening the day’s events with a twenty-minute meditation, O’Hara discussed the meaning of prostrations. Sharon Salzberg offered personal stories about her experiences with teachers and the meaning of practice. Bhante Gunaratana of Sri Lanka and New York’s Lama Pema and Peter Doobinin talked on the importance of one’s mental awareness, and Gelugpa monk Ven. Nicholas Vreeland of New York’s Tibet Center discussed what changing one’s mind requires of practitioners. Michele LaPorte struck the opening and closing gongs.

At different intervals throughout the afternoon, poet Anne Waldman read from her works, bringing to life her stories of nuns and deities. Philip Glass and clarinetist Jon Gibson performed several of Glass’s works as listeners drifted into their own meditations. Near the end of the day, Tai Chi artist Maggie Newman turned the Great Hill into a wave of human bodies stretching to the setting sun and Gibson performed solo. In Pennsylvania, Bruce Conforth, director of The Williamsport Area Buddhist Association (WABA), reported that more than 200 people gathered in Indian Park in the Susquehanna Valley for WABA’s first CYM. A bright sun and daylong breeze cooled the gathering and kept lines of prayer flags continuously blowing.

 

Diane Van Parijs in Anchorage.
Diane Van Parijs in Anchorage.

As in New York and San Francisco, activities began with the sounding of 108 gongs as a way of summoning attention into presence. Teachers included Ginny Mazzei, an Integrative Yoga Therapist; Steve Gallick, a teacher in the Yang Luchan style of T’ai Chi; Yeshe Dorge Rob Slothus; and director Conforth. Principal speaker Rev. Dai-En Bennage, senior Zen priest of Mt. Equity Zendo, gave an inspirational talk on mindfulness and purpose and the overriding similarites of the many Buddhist traditions. Contemporary and traditional Buddhist poetry was read by Penny Austin and Kathleen Fury and there was music from Ben Kaplan, Tim Breon, Charlie Holmes, and Bill Matlack, Jr.

A particularly moving lesson in patience came when Rev.Bennage invited one of her students – Daikan Jesse McKinney – to the stage to address the crowd. Daikan, who has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, had spent the previous day typing a brief presentation on patience and freedom on his “Liberator”(a computer mounted to his wheelchair which allows him to “speak” as McKinney uses a metal wand attached to his hat to type out each letter). McKinney, who is studying to become a Zen priest, was one of the day’s highlight’s. When the day closed to 108 gongs WABA had received several requests to bring CYM day to other places in Pennsylvania.

 

Daikan Jesse McKinney in Williamsport.
Daikan Jesse McKinney in Williamsport.

A few weeks later in Anchorage, Alaska, Eric Burkett, co-organizer of CYM Day there, described the day’s events. Some 200 people partcipated in Anchorage’s first observance of CYM Day. Buddhists from seven different sects gathered on the Delaney Park Strip—an airstrip turned urban park—and spent the day sharing in the dharma and learning about each other in the process. Saffron-robed monks, a Tibetan lama dressed in scarlet, and brown-robed Soto Zen priests chanted and offered dharma talks. Lay members discussed their practice, recited poetry, and lectured on the contributions of the people of Tibet to the world and their plight under Chinese occupation. For organizers, the event marked the culmination of six months of planning and much nail biting. For people who attended, it was a rare opportunity to realize that Buddhism is alive and well and thriving in the Far North. One of them—an airline pilot who was on a 24-hour layover in Anchorage—had read in The New York Times that CYM would be happening in Anchorage. He also came to the converted airstrip.

 

Pawn-Chen Lama

in the news 16 fall 1999

On May 14,1995, the Dalai Lama proclaimed Gedhun Choekyi Nyima to be the Eleventh Panchen Lama. Shortly afterward, Beijing produced its own Panchen Lama, Gyaincain Norbu. The Dalai Lama’s choice is now ten years old. Beijing’s choice is nine.

The Panchen Lama is the second-holiest figure in Tibet. One of his most important duties is identifying the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet, which ups the ante significantly in the succession debate. Gyaincain Norbu returned to Tibet from China for the first time in June 1999 under heavy police guard. Though his picture appears in Tibetan temples and monasteries by Chinese order, one monk told Reuters, “He doesn’t have any support…He’s being used as a pawn.” Since 1995 Chinese authorities have held Gedhun Choekyi Nyima together with his family in an unknown location.

Image: China’s choice: the 11th Panchen Lama. Photo courtesy of AP/Wide World Photos.

Buddha Business: A report from  Bangkok

The wat Dhammakaya temple in Bangkok has taken evangelical Buddhism to new heights. Led by a charismatic leader who claims speacial powers, it continues to attract followers despite attacks on two fronts. First, some of Thailand’s most prominent leaders have accused the temple of distorting Buddhism by teaching that nirvana is a permanent heaven and disregarding the doctrine established by the Tipitaka, the defining texts for Theravada Buddhism.

Second, the temple’s aggressive marketing has provoked opposition and ultimately may topple its abbot, Phra Dhammachayo. Followers are encouraged to give large donations for spiritual rewards. In the temple’s “millionaire forever” program, 1,000 baht a month guarantees the donor wealth in the next life, 30,000 baht gains a Buddha image inside the giant pagoda, which is under construction. An estimated $43 million (US) has been spent on the pagoda with another $100 million needed to finish it, all of which is being raised from followers seeking to attain merit. Ultimately, temple leaders appear to want to make it the world center of Buddhism, a sort of Buddhist Vatican with Phra Dhammachayo as pope. On Wesak (Buddha’s birthday celebration) 1998, an estimated 100,000 followers attended services.

 

in the news 17 fall 1999

No official action seems forthcoming regarding Wat Dhammakaya’s unorthodox interpretation of Theravada Buddhism, but claims of financial impropriety have led the Supreme Patriarch of Thai Buddhism, the Sangharaja, to call for the abbot’s ouster. Auditors have been sent to the temple, and it has been established that some of the land donated by followers has been held as the abbot’s personal property.

Phra Dhammachayo offered to turn the land over to the religious commission, but many are not satisfied and feel that he should be disrobed immediately. A ceremony to defrock him in absentia was attended by 5,000 monks in May. The next day the Supreme Sangha Council refused to defrock the abbot until those he had allegedly wronged had filed complaints, prompting a chaotic demonstration. As of now things are quiet on the public front while the power plays take place behind closed doors.

—Chris Walker, Editor of Seeds of Peace

Image: Wat Dhammakaya. Photo courtesy of AP/Wide World Photos.

Chogye Update: A Report from Korea

Conditions at the headquarters of the Chogye Order (Korea’s largest Buddhist sect) in Seoul have settled considerably since the televised rumbles at the head temple in the past year. New faces have filled posts vacated by the “purification” reform faction. The new administrative head, Yen. Kosan, seems to be making sincere efforts to restore credibility to the order, but the deep embarrassment and international dishonor of the last Chogye “disorder” will not be quickly forgotten. Many laypeople have vowed to disassociate themselves completely from the monks, whom they hold responsible for the crass display of greed and selfishness in the past riots. Well-educated and influential laypeople have organized a lay solidarity movement to try to oversee temple management by demanding transparency in accounting and expenditures from temple abbots. Monks who have had a closed monopoly on temple finances for generations are not happy about this move. There is also dissension because a deposed politician associated with a former military dictator may be attempting a come-back by offering to bail out the financially troubled Buddhist cable station. Despite challenges, a new and more congenial face of the Chogye tradition is being created by younger, more progressive clergy and laypeople, whose efforts include socially engaged activities like the Buddhist Life Sharing (organ transplantation) movement and North Korean famine relief.

Contrary to doomsayers’ predictions, this year’s Buddha’s birthday festivities in Seoul were huge and joyous. Unlike past celebrations, there were no reports of Christian fanatics damning or trying to dissuade Buddhists from visiting temples to ritually bathe images of the triumphant baby Buddha standing in a lotus and to make large annual donations. Large parades of thousands of Buddhist clergy and laypeople were well received by the general public. A few signs of sincere goodwill between the religions should be noted. The Samsohoe interfaith choir of Chogye Order bhikshunis, Catholic nuns, and Won Buddhist sisters (kyomu) sang before a large crowd, on a platform erected in front of Chogyesa Temple at the finale of the parade. The students of Presbyterian Hanshin Graduate School of Theology hung a banner of congratulations for Buddha’s birth across the road in front of their school entrance; the road also happens to lead to Hwagyesa Temple, which was attacked three times in 1996. Last year the banner was torn down by local believers. One of the temple’s staff, the highly respected senior theologian Dr. Kyong Kim, received harassing telephone calls in the middle of the night as a warning not to praise the Buddha.

Ven. Kosan and the head of the KNCC (Korean Nation Council of Churches) have exchanged visits. It was a historic first for a leading Buddhist to visit the Protestant organization since its founding in 1924. Until their power waned somewhat this year, rigid conservatives opposed recognition of Buddhists. Ven. Kosan is scheduled to visit the World Council of Churches in Geneva and the Vatican in October. At the grassroots level in Korea, however, local Buddhists continue to remain on guard to ward off acts of desecration of their holy places by simple believers of other faiths who haven’t yet gotten the new liberal message.

—Frank M. Tedsco, Ph.D. in Buddhist studies

Kicking into Cannes

A surprise hit at the Cannes Film Festival confirmed that soccer truly is the world’s most popular sport, even in the most remote regions. The Cup, with which Tibetan lama Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche makes his directorial debut, portrays the comedic struggle of a group of monks trying to find a way to watch the final match of the World Cup on television. The film earned high praise during the Director’s Fortnight portion of the 1999 festival.

in the news 19 fall 1999

Born in Bhutan in 1961, Khyentse Norbu (Norbu is the director’s family name, which he has used for this project) was recognized at age seven as the current incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, the venerable 19th-century lama who worked vigorously for the preservation of all Tibetan Buddhist traditions. Norbu, who is the son of Thinley Norbu Rinpoche and grandson of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, the late Nyingma lineage head, is the throne holder of the Dzongsar Monastery in eastern Tibet as well as spiritual leader of several meditation centers and philosophical colleges.

The Cup, the first-ever Tibetan language feature film, was produced on a minuscule budget of approxi- mately $675,000 and shot at Chokling Monastery in the Himalayan foothills. The film was inspired by real events, and its stars are mostly monks playing themselves, including young Jamyang Lodro, a 14-year-old soccer fanatic.

Norbu’s interest in cinema began at an early age as he developed a taste for the works of Asian filmmakers Satyajit Ray and Yasujiro Ozu. He gained industry experience as a consultant on Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1994 film Little Buddha, starring Keanu Reeves. (A Tricycle interview with Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche on the Bertolucci set can be found at www.tricycle.com).

The Cup was a strong contender for the prestigious Golden Camera award as best festival entry by a new director. Although it did not win, its unforeseen critical acclaim sent American and British studios clamoring for the movie’s distribution rights.

“I had no political intention in making this film,” Norbu told Agence France Presse, “but if it raises people’s consciousness about the situation of Tibetan exiles, then I guess I’ll take that as a bonus.”

Image: Soccer fanatic Jamyang Lodro. 

Little Trouble in Big China

in the news 20 fall 1999

More than 10,000 members of Buddhis Law, a school of Qigong, gathered in late April outside the Beijing compound where China’s leaders live and work. The protest, organized to force government recognition of the group, was the largest since the Tiananmen Square democracy movement ten years earlier. The group’s silent and orderly behavior, and the proximity of their protest to the Tiananmen anniversary, unnerved Chinese leaders.

Buddhist Law is a Taoist- and Buddhist-flavored variant of Qigong, a popular discipline focusing on meditation and exercise. The group is led by Li Hongzhi, currently a New York resident, whose teachings focus on good health and longevity but also promise eventual enlightenment. Membership is estimated at 70-100 million in China alone. China’s Communist Party claims only 55 million members.

Image: The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya at Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center. Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center.

Rocky Mountain Highs

This year the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, celebrates its 25th anniversary. Founded in 1974 by the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Naropa is the only accredited North American college whose educational philosophy is based on the Buddhist contemplative tradition. This summer’s celebration included an Alumni Benefit Golf Tournament; an anniversary weekend with talks by Kyabje Gelek Rinpoche and a concert by Philip Glass; and an ongoing series of lectures and panel discussions concerning the life and works of Trungpa Rinpoche. N

ot far away at the Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center near Red Feather Lakes, the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, created in tribute to Trungpa Rinpoche, is gradually nearing completion. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Trungpa’s son, has requested that the stupa be ready for consecration by the summer of 2001.

Although hundreds of thousands of stupas have been erected over centuries in Buddhist countries like Bhutan, Thailand, Vietnam, India, and Nepal, in the West they remain rare. Upon completion, this stupa will be the largest in North America, rising 108 feet and made of a sophisticated form of concrete designed to survive for 1,000 years.

The $2-million undertaking began shortly after Trungpa Rinpoche’s death in 1987. Built by mostly volunteer labor, the Great Stupa will house significant relics and much of Trungpa Rinpoche’s cremated remains.

In Memoriam

Arespected Zen master, the Ven. Gesshin Myoko Prabhasa Dharma, born Gisela Midwer, died on May 24, 1999, in Marina del Rey, California. Born in 1931 in Frankfurt, Germany, Gesshin Roshi moved to the U.S. in the 1950s and entered Zen training in Los Angeles in 1967 under Japanese Zen master Joshu Sasaki Roshi. Ordained a nun in 1968, she later received ordination as a Zen priest and teacher (osho). She has been director and vice abbot of the Mt. Baldy and Cimarron Zen Centers in California.

Gesshin Roshi studied with the Zen master Seiko Hirata Roshi from 1973 to 1974 and later became the 45th generational heir in a lineage of Vietnamese Rinzai Zen. In 1983 she founded the International Zen Institute of America with branches in Florida, the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain, and in 1996 she founded a training center for both lay and ordained students in the Netherlands. A community of students, the Moon Heart Sangha, will continue her lineage.

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