The Urban Dharma Newsletter... November 12, 2002


In This Issue:

1. The Rosary Renewed ...By Jim Merritt ...November 9, 2002
2. Buddhist Prayer Beads
3. Mala Frequently Asked Questions and Instructions
4. Book Review: Dharma Beads: ...by Joanna Arettam
5. Temple/Center of the Week: Plum Village


1. The Rosary Renewed ...By Jim Merritt ...November 9, 2002

* http://www.newsday.com/features/religion/ny-p2cover2997525nov09.story

In their centuries-old devotional practice, local Catholics now contemplate the new 'mysteries of light'

When Pope John Paul II updated the rosary on Oct. 16 - making the first changes to the popular prayers in five centuries - the decision had a quick impact on the lives of Roman Catholics here.

The very next day, for example, parishioners at St. Bernard's Roman Catholic Church in Levittown began devoting an additional 15 minutes to the pontiff's changes during their regular Thursday prayer group meeting.

"We'd been doing the full 15 decades of the rosary, but for the last two weeks since the pope has added the five new mysteries, we've been doing 20 decades," says Pam Wise, a member of the group.

At Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale on Oct. 29, the 2,300 students in grades six through 12 participated in an updated rosary prayer service organized by the faculty of Marianist brothers and priests, who are known for their devotion to the rosary. "It was very well received," says the Rev. Thomas Cardone, the school chaplain.

Making the rosary a positive experience for young people was one objective of the pope's apostolic letter, "Rosarium Virginis Mariae" ("The Rosary of the Virgin Mary"), signed on the 24th anniversary of his election to the papacy, Cardone says. The pope also used the occasion to start a Year of the Rosary.

His announcement was a watershed for Catholics who regard the practice of the rosary as a bedrock of their faith. Whether said at home or in church, in private or in public, the rosary prayers are a method of meditation, a prayer for peace and a vehicle for asking for God's grace.

According to the Diocese of Rockville Centre, the rosary originated with St. Dominic's devotions to Mary in the 13th century and took its present form in the 16th century. Now, the pope has added five more mysteries, or events from Jesus' life, which he calls "the mysteries of light," to those currently contemplated in the rosary.

Focusing on Jesus' public life, the mysteries of light include his baptism in the Jordan River and the wedding feast at Cana. They are being added to the three other sets of mysteries traditionally commemorated: the joyful mysteries surrounding his birth, the sorrowful mysteries of his crucifixion and the glorious mysteries including his resurrection and the assumption of Mary, Jesus' mother, into heaven.

Chester Gillis, chairman of the theology department at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and author of "Roman Catholicism in America" (Columbia University Press, $19.50), says that in making changes to the rosary, the 82-year-old pope, who has been in increasingly frail health, may be moving to fulfill long-held aspirations "in the twilight years of his papacy."

"It's an attempt to bring the rosary into focus for contemporary Catholic culture since in some quarters the rosary has lost ground. There's a generation now who wouldn't know what the rosary is, wouldn't know the decades, the sequence of events, the mysteries," Gillis says.

"I'm not sure that changing the mysteries will do that, although it's a noble effort," he adds.

In a nationwide survey conducted last year, the university's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found that 39.4 percent of the nation's approximately 60 million Catholics never say the rosary, 33.2 percent do only a few times a year and 27.4 percent do at least once a month. Of all Catholics, only about 8 percent say they recite the rosary more than once a week.

"Basically, it's to renew interest in the rosary, which has declined over the years," Cardone says. "By encouraging the rosary, the Holy Father is trying to wake up the faithful to the contemplative dimension of the Christian mystery."

Manuel Ramos, director of the diocese's Office of Hispanic Ministry, says the diocese has received only positive comments from Spanish-speaking Catholics, who number close to half a million in at least 40 parishes on Long Island. In total, the diocese has 1.5 million Catholics in 134 parishes.

As in the past, Catholics will say the rosary clasping the beads as they repeat such prayers as the Apostles' Creed, the Our Father and the Hail Mary. The strings of beads will continue to be made with five "decades," each decade composed of 10 beads. But from now on, those who say the rosary each day will be asked to focus on the mysteries of light on Thursdays.

The new rosary has been a hot topic at Walsh Conley Religious Goods and Church Supplies in Hempstead, where pamphlets and booklets instructing how to say the rosary sell for as little as 25 cents.

"We've had a lot of inquiries" about the new rosary, says store manager Arnold Goodman, 49, who adds he noticed an uptick in interest even before the pope's announcement. "Since 9/11, there seems to be a resurgence in the devotion to the rosary and to Mary," he says.

A convert from Judaism to Catholicism who attends Mass at the Church of St. Mary of the Isle in Long Beach, Goodman recites the rosary even while driving his car.

"When you have a quiet moment, it's almost like a mantra. You find it relaxing and very calming," he says.

"When you start praying the rosary, you see changes in your life," says Wise, 51, who regularly prays the rosary at home with her three children. The rosary has become especially important, she says, in the wake of sex abuse scandals in the church and the prospect of war with Iraq.

"I love that new rosary," says Nancy Kosofsky, 57, of Baldwin, a parishioner and parish secretary at Our Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church in Freeport. "Each time that I do it, I feel myself getting closer to Mary."

Kosofsky says she is spreading the word to the second-grade religious education class she teaches at Our Holy Redeemer.

But Bonnie Navarro, 72, of Freeport, was less sure, even as she prepared to make the change. "We have to learn things over again," Navarro said, as she waited on a recent Sunday for the 1 p.m. Spanish-language Mass at Our Holy Redeemer. Navarro, who began praying with her mother as a girl in Puerto Rico, finds herself wondering "why it has to change after so many years."

Among the Eastern-rite churches, at least one also will be following the pope's lead. The Rev. Maxim Kobasuk, pastor of the Ukranian Catholic Church of St. Vladimir in Hempstead, says that once they have received guidance from their bishop, church members will make the change in private devotions said before and after Mass and at funerals.

"We'll probably print up fliers with the mysteries of the light, mention it at Mass and put it in the bulletin," Kobasuk says.

The Mysteries Of the Rosary

Catholics who recite the rosary are asked to contemplate mysteries, or events, in the Life of Christ. The following are the days and mysteries suggested for meditation:

Monday and Saturday: The joyful mysteries: The annunciation, when the angel told Mary she would be the mother of God's son; Mary's visitation to the mother of John the Baptist; the nativity; the presentation of Jesus at the temple and the finding of Jesus in the temple.

Tuesday and Friday: The sorrowful mysteries: Jesus' agony in the garden; his scourging; crowning with thorns; carrying of the cross, and crucifixion.

Wednesday and Sunday: The glorious mysteries: his resurrection; his ascension into heaven; the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; the assumption of Mary into heaven, and the coronation of Mary.

Thursday: The mysteries of light: Jesus' baptism; the miracle at the wedding at Cana; his proclamation of the kingdom of God; the transfiguration, and institution of the Eucharist.

-Jim Merritt Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.

2. Buddhist Prayer Beads

* http://www.uwec.edu/greider/BMRB/culture/student.work/serfleel/

Although many people may recognize a variation of these prayer beads among today’s newest fashion accessories, they carry a far deeper significance in the Buddhist culture.  For this group of individuals, prayer beads, or mala beads as they are called in the Buddhist religion, represent a meditative tool.  Their specific purpose may vary for different individuals, but commonly the beads are used to enhance ‘goodness’ and diminish ‘toxins’.  The overarching purpose of these beads from a true Buddhist perspective is to drive away evil and fill you and all beings with peace and bliss.  In accordance with the active nature of practice in Buddhism, this material object is used as an accomplice for gaining merit on the path to enlightenment. 

The origin of mala beads is rooted in the Hindu religion.  Individuals who converted from the Hindu faith to Buddhism during its birth, transferred this devotional practice with them and it soon became a part of the Buddhist faith.  The story of the beads' origin is as follows:

“Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, paid a visit to king Vaidunya…Sakya directed him to thread 108 seeds of the Bodhi tree on a string, and while passing them between his fingers to repeat… ‘Hail to the Buddha, the law, and the congregation’… (2,000) times a day (Dubin).”

Another interpretation of this prayer is ‘om mani padme hum.’  During recitation, this phrase is repeated over and over again according to how many beads are on a person’s strand of mala beads.

Traditionally, there are 108 beads on a strand of mala prayer beads.  This number is significant because it represents the number of mental conditions or sinful desires that one must overcome to reach enlightenment or nirvana.  Monks usually have mala beads with 108 beads, where as a lay person may have a strand numbering in 30 or 40 beads.  This difference in length may possibly be explained by understanding each person’s distance traveled on the path to enlightenment.  Commercial sellers of mala beads have also suggested that individuals just beginning this prayer ritual begin with a shorter strand of beads.

Just as variety exists for the number of beads, variety exists for the style, color, and material composition. Differences in the popularity and use of mala beads also exist cross-culturally.  Typically, monks’ mala beads are made of wood from the Bodhi tree.  In Tibet, mala strands often contain parts of semi-precious stones.  In this culture, the most valued strands are made of bones of holy men or lamas.  Typically there are 108 beads divided by 3 large beads.  The end pieces on these strands are “djore” (a thunderbolt) and “drilbu” (the bell).  These end pieces represent the Three Jewels, or Buddha, the doctrine, and the community.  In Japan, mala prayer beads are popular at social events such as funerals, weddings, and other ceremonies.  Mala beads in Japan typically are 112 in number and made of wood.  Additionally, the most coveted strands have been blessed by a monk.  In Korea, the use of mala beads has been extensive.  Their popularity diminished, however, during the period when Buddhism was banned from the country (1392-1910).  In addition to the traditional 108 beads, Korean mala strands usually include 2 large beads, which are used during special prayers.  In China, the use of mala beads was never really popular.  They were used, but more commonly, they were used by the ruling hierarchy as a status symbol.

Although the structure of mala beads may vary among individuals or groups of Buddhists, the overall purpose of all mala beads is to create a sense of tranquility and inner-peace for not only the individual, but for the community as a whole.  In reciting the prayer, ‘toxins’ will leave and a sense of peace will enter making an individual that much closer to reaching nirvana.

3. Mala Frequently Asked Questions and Instructions ...by Kathleen and Jim

* http://www.magpage.com/~mcguffin/instruct.htm

Dedication of Merit: May the merit and virtues accrued from this work adorn the Buddha's Pure Land, repaying the four kinds of kindness above, and relieving the sufferings of those in the Three Paths below. May those who see and hear of this, all bring forth the heart of Understanding, and live the Teachings for the rest of this life, then be born together in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Namo Amitabha Buddha!

The purpose of a mala is to recite a mantra or affirmation. Mala beads are similar to a rosary or "worry beads", and can be carried in the pocket or worn on the body, to be used whenever you need to center yourself and focus on spirituality.

They also serve as a portable "sacred space"; after several months of use, you begin to relax as soon as you pick them up This is especially helpful in our stressful careers and personal lives.

Here are some frequently asked questions about using a mala:

(1) Does my religious tradition allow me to use a mala? Most religions have a tradition of using prayer beads. Here are some examples:

Hindus and Buddhists use a 108-bead mala (or a fraction thereof, such as 27, 36, or 54 beads). They traditionally use this mala to recite a mantra given to them by their spiritual teacher, or to recite the "Sahasranam" prayers, which give 108 names of God.

Christians (especially members of the Orthodox Church) use a 33-bead strand to recite the Jesus Prayer: "Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner". There are also a number of Roman Catholic/Anglican chaplets which are 33 beads, including the Act of Spiritual Communion and the Chaplet of The Little Flower.

Muslims use a 99-bead strand (or a fractional strand of 33 beads) to recite the Names of God, or other prayers and affirmations.

12-Step Members sometimes use smaller pocket-sized strands (33 or 36 beads, or whatever feels right) to recite slogans and affirmations.

Almost anyone can benefit from using prayer beads to recite a prayer or affirmation!

(2) How do I hold the mala? Traditionally, it is held in the right hand, and the beads are passed between the thumb and middle finger or index finger. In my opinion, using the left hand is acceptable if you prefer. (I used to recite my mantra in traffic jams, holding the beads in my left hand while keeping the right hand free for shifting gears.)

(3) What is the big bead at the end? This is the focal bead or guru bead. It is where you start reciting mantras (beginning with the bead just to the right of the focal bead, and ending at the bead just to the left). In Hindu and Buddhist tradition, one does not "cross the guru" by continuing past the bead when starting a new round of mantras; instead, one should turn the mala over and continue in the opposite direction. Again, if this is inconvenient or uncomfortable, I see no reason to follow tradition blindly. The whole point of using a mala is to improve your life, not to cause additional stress!

(4) What mantra should I use? This is totally up to you, though it is traditional that each mala should be used for only one mantra, so that the "shakti" or spiritual energy will be well-focused. (Practically speaking, it also helps the user to achieve a relaxed state, because after a short period of use, the mantra will start repeating itself automatically in your mind when you pick up the mala. This is part of the process of creating a portable sacred space, and can be helpful in difficult situations.) If you already have a mantra or favorite affirmation, you should use it.

(5) How many times should I repeat my mantra daily? The Hindu and Buddhist traditions suggest 16 rounds of 108 repetitions each. This is unmanageable for most people, and even one round of repetitions can be an enormous blessing. Most spiritual teachers suggest brief meditations twice daily, and this is a good time to use one's mala regularly, as well as using it in stressful circumstances. A wise man once said to learn your spiritual practices when everything is going well, and to get into the habit of using them daily. Then, when hard times happen, you are able to automatically reach out to your spiritual practices for strength and support.

(6) What type of meditation practice do you recommend? Basically, the simplest is best...whatever you feel comfortable doing, because the point is to find something that is soothing and relaxing, and that you will enjoy doing regularly. Some guidelines for meditation: it is good to meditate at the same time every day, so that it will become a habit. Yoga tradition suggests that early mornings are best; I personally prefer bedtime, as long as I am not so tired that I fall asleep while meditating! It is recommended that you sit in a cross-legged posture, but if you have a back problem like many people do (myself included), lying on one's back is a good alternative. The idea is to have a straight spinal column, whether horizontal or vertical! You may wish to add certain rituals to your meditation time, such as wearing a meditation shawl, lighting a candle, using incense, or playing a spiritual CD. These activities traditionally help to build "shakti", but can also simply serve to trigger relaxation and a meditative state with regular use. That's why churches have stained glass windows, pipe organs, incense and candles...so that worshipers will be subconsciously led into a reverent state of mind when they enter the sanctuary.

There are two kinds of meditation: mind-quieting meditation, which encourages stillness and non-thought (which can be really worth cultivating if you are one of those people, like me, whose minds are always spinning and rushing around, as the Buddhists say, "grasshopper mind"), and contemplation, or meditating upon an image, phrase, or concept. Either one is wonderful, and you should choose whichever (or a combination of both) is best for you.

4. Dharma Beads: Making and Using Your Own Buddhist Malas ...by Joanna Arettam


Editorial Reviews...

Natural Living Today... "If you want to attain a state of peace and serenity while making some trendy jewelry, then check out the Dharma Bead Kit."

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel... "For the difficult to buy for Buddhist on your gift list consider Dharma Beads: Making and Using Your Own Buddhist Malas."

New Age... “Inspiration to start meditating.”

Book Description... The practice of meditating with Buddhist malas has been a tradition for thousands of years. With so many people searching for spiritual expression and Buddhism being so popular, its no wonder that a rosary from a 2500 year-old religion has become the hottest trend in contemporary culture.

Dharma Beads looks beyond just the hip aspect of wearing Buddhist malas and presents a thoughtful presentation of authentic Tibetan mala traditions and customs. Whatever your spiritual tradition, you can use malas to help you create and maintain a state of quiet reflection-a cloister of the mind.

In addition to all the materials you need to create three Dharma Bead bracelets, author Joanne Arettam has written a wonderfully accessible introduction to the meanings of various types of beads as well as their spiritual meanings and benefits. She writes, "Used meditatively, these beads offer a scenic rest stop on the harried eight-lane highway of life."

About the Author... Joanna Arettam is a painter and writer who writes widely on lifestyle, self-help, and spirituality matters. She was formerly the lifestyles editor of Glamour magazine.

Excerpted from Dharma Beads : Making and Using Your Own Buddhist Malas by Joanna Arettam. Copyright © 2000. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved

Dharma Beads contains all the materials and instructions you need to make three beautiful 27-bead wrist malas, one each of fragrant sandalwood, earthy red carnelian, and glistening tiger’s eye.

Whether you use malas to relax, meditate, affirm your personal power, or to attract luck, prosperity, or well-being, we’ll help you make them a part of your life.

Buddha bracelet. Yogic rosary. Mala beads. All describe the prayer-bead strands that have been used in meditation by Buddhists and Hindus for centuries. Usually they come in 27- 54- or 108-bead lengths. As so-called power beads, usually around 20 beads and so not exactly traditional, they have crossed over into popular culture—part fad, part good-luck charm. These bracelets grace the wrists of celebrities as well as hip students and smart young professionals around the country. But power beads are more than just a fashion statement. Used meditatively, they offer a scenic rest stop on the eight-lane highway of life—the scenery being that inner landscape of self-reflection.

In Hindu tradition, Dharma means duty to your class and stage of life. In Buddhism, it means accepting the truth of karma and reincarnation as taught by Buddha. But a more secular meaning of Dharma is simply to conduct your life in an ethical way. Just be a good person. See? Mom was right.

5. Plum Village

* http://www.plumvillage.org/

The Most Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay, our spiritual teacher, founded the Unified Buddhist Church (Eglise Bouddhique Unifie) in France  in 1969, during the Vietnam war. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, a poet, a scholar, and a peace activist. His life long efforts to generate peace and reconciliation moved Martin Luther King, Jr. to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. He founded the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon and the School for Youths of Social Services in Vietnam. When not travelling the world to teach "The Art of Mindful Living", he teaches, writes, and gardens in Plum Village, France, a Buddhist monastery for monks and nuns and a mindfulness practice center for lay people.

The Unified Buddhist Church established Sweet Potatoes Community in 1975, Plum Village in 1982, the Dharma Cloud Temple and the Dharma Nectar Temple in 1988,  and the Adornment of Loving Kindness Temple in 1995.  Thich Nhat Hanh?s sangha (community of practice) in France is usually referred to as the Plum Village Sangha. During the course of the year, Plum Village welcomes thousands of retreatants from all over the world. Due to its rapid expansion in recent years, the community now comprises seven  hamlets: Upper Hamlet, Middle Hamlet, West Hamlet and Lower Hamlet, New Hamlet, Gatehouse  New Hamlet and Hillside New Hamlet. The Unified Buddhist Church also has a mindfulness practice center called Intersein in Bavaria, Germany. A sangha of about 100 monks, nuns and resident lay-practitioners live permanently in Plum Village. 

Since 1994, we have been exploring opportunities to establish our presence in the United States of America. In 1997, a generous donor offered us a 120-acre property in Woodstock, Vermont. This enabled us to set up the Maple Forest Monastery. In 1998, with the help of the same donor, we were able to acquire a 120-acre property in Hartland-Four-Corners,Vermont to set up the Green Mountain Dharma Center nunnery. We also set up  the Mindfulness Practice Center (MPC) of Queechee, Vermont, the first center of its kind in the United States. A sangha of monks and nuns lives and practices in our monastery and nunnery and a team of lay practitioners practice in and take care of our MPC in Vermont. In May 2000, we established Deer Park Monastery, our West Coast Center, in Escondido, San  Diego County, California. You are welcome to visit us in France as well as in Vermont and California. . 

The Unified  Buddhist Church Inc. (UBC), a non-profit corporation, was founded in 1998 to officially represent Thich Nhat Hanh and his Sangha in the United States of America. It is a sister organization of Unified Buddhist Church (EgliseBouddhique Unifie) founded in France. The UBC in America is represented by Sr. Annabel, Abbess of the Green Mountain Dharma Center. The Green Mountain Dharma Center acts as the headquarters of the Unified Buddhist Church in the U.S.

The official name and address of the Unified Buddhist Church, Inc. is:

Unified Buddhist Church, Inc.

C/O Green Mountain Dharma Center

Ayers Lane, P.O. Box 182

Hartland-Four-Corners, Vermont 05049, USA

Tel: (802) 436-1103, Fax: (802) 436-1101

Internet: http://www.plumvillage.org

E-mail: MF-Office@plumvillage.org


The Urban Dharma Newsletter Archives:



The Los Angeles Buddhist-Catholic Dialogue:



To Subscribe or Unsubscribe: