Change Your Mind
On May 14, Tricycle offered “Change Your Mind,” an all-day public program of meditation instruction held on a sloping meadow in New York’s Central Park. Tibetan rinpoches, Theravadin masters from Sri Lanka and Cambodia, Zen masters from Korea and China, and American-born teachers from the three main Buddhist traditions gave short talks and led silent meditations. The day opened with 108 soundings of a gong, followed by Ch’an Master Sheng-Yen, head of the Ch’an Meditation Center in Queens, who explained, “Through the inhalation and the exhalation, our bodies are kept as ever fresh, fresh, and fresh. Breathing is the most precious thing in our lives.” He called attention to the sounds of nature, wind, water, and birds to help settle the minds of the several hundred participants who had gathered on the park’s grassy slope. Pat O’Hara, who heads the Village Zendo in downtown Manhattan, asked the crowd to open to the “ten thousand things sitting around us, the bird chirping in the background, the runners down the hill, to allow them to enlighten us; to soften that edge between the inside and the outside.”
Thai master Thratom Thenjjento of the Watt Samakkidhamiram Buddhist Temple in Brooklyn emphasized a different approach, explaining the necessity of closing the five senses, “the five holes of the body, to achieve concentration in the mind. To clean the mind you must practice meditation. Clean your mind and create compassion in your heart.” Khenchen Palden Rinpoche of the Padma Sambhava Buddhist Center in Manhattan discussed relative and absolute truth and the importance of the balance between them.
Later in the day, Columbia University Professor Robert Thurman offered a meditation on wisdom and selflessness, and led the participants in chanting the Tibetan mantra “Om mani padme hum.”
Following a talk by Judith Lief of the New York Dharmadhatu, Allen Ginsberg sang “Meditation Rock” (“I fought the dharma and the dharma won”) and recited poems about generosity, scandals, and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s cremation. The closing talk was by Bhante Suhita Dharma, widely respected for his work with AIDS patients and street people. He said, “The real test of changing your mind will happen when it comes time to leave the park.”
“I thought it was stupid to teach meditation in the middle of Central Park with all the roller bladers and ghetto blasters,” said one participant, who nevertheless made the trek from Staten Island, “but pretty soon I realized it was my mind that was noisy, not the park.”
Peace Walk in Cambodia
On April 30, Khmer Rouge guerrillas killed a Buddhist monk, two nuns, and an elderly man and injured several other monks when they attacked a peace march led by the Nobel Peace Prize nominee Maha Ghosananda in northwest Cambodia.
The guerrillas opened fire with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades as the marchers were being escorted by government troops in northwest Battambang’s Bavel district. Up to ten foreigners walking with the monks were briefly detained by the guerrillas and then released unharmed.
In a call for peace in Cambodia, Maha Ghosananda, who has been labeled the “Gandhi of Cambodia,” organized more than 750 Buddhist monks, nuns, and civilians on a 250-mile walk from Battambang on April 24. The march, the third of its kind since 1991, is known as the Dhammayietra Walk for Peace. Their route was to take them to the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin, and then on to the heavily mined and strife-torn regions of northwestern Cambodia before ending at the temples of Angkor Wat. Though the incident forced the marchers to change their course, they pressed on to Angkor Wat, eventually reaching the temple a month later on May 24.
King Nary, a spokesperson for the march, expressed her outrage over the attack. “How can the Khmer Rouge dare attack Buddhist monks like that? When will our country ever have peace? When they attack the Dhammayietra, it’s just like they attack our nation.” The Khmer Rouge guerrillas later apologized, expressing their desire for peace. They pleaded for neutrality and non-partisanship on the part of the foreigners working in Cambodia.
No Garden of Eden
When the Garden Grove, California, city council filed criminal charges in 1991 against a Vietnamese Buddhist abbot for housing two homeless people in the garage of his residence/temple and forced him to plead guilty to avoid a jail sentence, it was but one of many misfortunes for the Vietnamese Buddhists of this Orange County community. Ever since the abbot, the Venerable Thich Chon Thana, responded to these charges in December 1991, the Vietnamese Buddhist community has been experiencing numerous incidents of religious discrimination. More recently, on April 18, the city council sued Venerable Thich Nguyen Tri, Abbot of the Bat Nha Temple on West Street in Garden Grove, for violation of a city zoning ordinance which requires that churches be situated on lots that are at least one acre in size. Bat Nha Temple is on a small lot and operates without a permit. It appears that the ordinance was passed in 1991 to inhibit the growth of small residential temples used by the Vietnamese community. If this is the case, a federal court would consider the ordinance exclusionary in its intention and a violation of U.S. constitutional law guaranteeing the right to religious freedom.
The fact that Venerable Thich Nguyen Tri did not address the council’s suit in a timely manner enraged the mayor of Garden Grove, Frank Keffler. In a recent televised council meeting he said, “The Buddhist temples in Garden Grove have not been good neighbors…we are going to crack down heavily on illegal Buddhist temples.”
The city attorney’s proposed settlement of the civil suit—which the Abbot has refused—required the following: that the four-foot-high statue of the Buddha in the front yard of his home be removed, that he refrain from any form of religious meditation or prayer services, that he celebrate no Buddhist holidays, and that he offer no educational programs inside his home. Having refused this proposal, the Abbot has been criminally charged with willful violation of zoning laws.
Mr. Yehan Numata, a successful industrialist, Japanese-American scholar, and ordained priest of the Jodo Shinshu denomination, died on May 5, 1994 in Tokyo, at the age of ninety-seven. Originally from Japan, Mr. Numata paid for his education at the University of California at Berkeley by working in the vineyards of central California. Eventually, after returning to Japan and establishing a manufacturing business, Mr. Numata helped set up the Society for the Advancement of the Buddha-Dharma, an organization which “promotes the creation of understanding among all peoples for world peace” by distributing the book The Teaching of the Buddha to hotels and other institutions throughout the world, and supporting research, translation, and other Buddhist projects. He also endowed a “Numata Chair of Buddhist Studies” at Harvard, the University of Chicago, the University of California, the University of Hawaii, and the University of Toronto, among others. In addition, Mr. Numata organized and endowed the Buddhist Translation Project, the goal of which is to translate the entire Chinese-language Buddhist canon into English.
A Roar on Pornography
The Tiger Team Buddhist Information Network, one of the many general-interest bulletin-board systems (BBS) found on the Internet, recently posted a full-page ad objecting to the use of Asian models by other bulletin-board systems. The ad featured a headline that read, “Take a Look at the Pair in This Ad,” a reference to the chesty Asian models used in many adult bulletin-board advertisements. Below the headline were two Buddha statues seated on modems (Tiger Team’s logo), and the subheading, “There’s more to Asian culture than impoverished women with their clothes off.”
“We’re tired of seeing these women exploited to fulfill some strange Oriental fantasy,” says Gary Ray, information manager of Tiger Team. “Initially, new technology seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and we just want people to know that there’s more to on-line culture than exploited women in skimpy clothing.”
Adult Internet bulletin boards often use Asian pornography to avoid U.S. copyright laws, since, in the past,Playboy and other U.S.-based magazines have sued bulletin boards for copyright infringement.
“Daigu means fool, one who can’t tell the difference between himself and others.” These were actor and songwriter Michael Daigu Angyo O’Keefe’s first words after being ordained by Bernard Tetsugen Glassman Sensei, Abbot of the Zen Community of New York. O’Keefe is the first of the Peacemaker Priests, whose stated vocation is to help heal the wounds of society. According to O’Keefe, a Peacemaker:
folds into each instant of every situation and reflects life back on life. Remembering always that peace begins in the self flowing from there into the home, family, community, state, and universe.
Meanwhile, O’Keefe, with his head shaved, returned to filming Roseanne, the TV series in which he plays Roseanne’s brother-in-law. So far the sit-com has not called for a Zen priest, and O’Keefe is letting his hair grow.
Naropa at Twenty
In July of 1974, 2,000 people gathered in Boulder, Colorado, to attend the first Naropa summer program and to hear talks by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Ram Dass, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Bateson, and John Cage. This summer, twenty years later, Naropa, the first Buddhist-inspired, non-sectarian liberal arts college in the U.S., celebrated its anniversary with a four-day weekend of special events and festivities.
Most notable was the opening of the new Allen Ginsberg Library Building, which houses an audio-and videotape archive of 7,000 items, including lectures by the Institute’s founder, Trungpa Rinpoche, as well as one of the largest collections of modern poetry readings in the United States. “The library and the Naropa Institute are an example of Buddhism’s wonderful willingness to tolerate apparent contradictions,” said poet Gary Snyder during the dedication ceremony. He reminded the crowd that despite the perception that Zen Buddhism is removed from the written word, Buddhism has an incredible history of literature and has always encouraged scholarship. In a surprise appearance, the Drepung Loseling monks, who are currently touring the U.S., gave a performance of Tibetan Buddhist chanting. Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Ed Sanders, John Cobb (the president of the institute), and Ken Kesey (whose Magic Bus broke down on its way from Oregon) also attended the festivities.
The weekend was also the occasion of a conference entitled “Beats and Other Rebel Angels: A Tribute to Allen Ginsberg.” Ginsberg is the co-founder, along with Anne Waldman, of Naropa’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Poets, writers, artists, dancers, and musicians—from Meredith Monk to Lawrence Ferlinghetti—gathered in Boulder for the week-long tribute to Ginsberg’s life and work. “It was the first time as a poet that I had been asked back to do an encore,” said Gregory Corso, one of the many Beat poets gathered at Naropa for readings and panel discussions. Fittingly, the mayor of Boulder, Leslie Durgin, officially declared Sunday, July 3, to be “Allen Ginsberg Day” in the city of Boulder.
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