...Buddhism for Urban America
Urban Dharma Newsletter...
September 9, 2003
Conversation with a Buddhist Monk
2. New homes for shrines to Buddhist tradition Church finds
families for antique altars
3. Temple/Center/Website- of the Week: The Seattle Buddhist
4. Book/Movie Review: Graceful Simplicity:
The Philosophy and Politics of the Alternative American Dream
...by Jerome M. Segal
Conversation with a Buddhist Monk
Donna Parker-McNeil, Staff Reporter, Atlanta, Georgia
an effort to provide our readers with a personal portrait of
Buddhism The Message sat down with Ven. Panamwela Wajirabuddhi
a.k.a. Bhante of Georgia Buddhist Vihara Inc. Bhante is a Buddhist
Monk residing at Lithonia, Georgia. He is a humble man of medium
stature, shaven head, and clothed in the traditional garment
- an orange colored robed. On this day Bhante is willing to
share his faith, beliefs, culture and customs with us and to
teach us about the life and lessons of the Great Buddha.
feel especially privileged to have access to such insightful
knowledge and trust that sharing it with you, our readers will
assist us in the process of building a strong, cultural bridge.
is an ancient philosophy that dates back to 500 BCE. It is based
on the teachings and thoughts of a man, born into royalty, but
who left his noble lineage behind in order to attain enlightenment
and became the Buddha (enlightened one). In North America there
are an estimated 1.3 million Buddhists. Most Buddhists in North
America are Asian immigrants. However, there are some Westerners
who practice this faith in order to escape from materialism
and also to seek enlightenment.
Message (M): Who is Buddha?
Monk (BM): The Buddha was a normal human being, who was
a prince and due to succeed his father king Suddhodana. They
belonged to the Shakyan clan, a warrior group in a place close
to the border of modem Nepal and India. He grew up in the luxury
of the royal family, but he soon found that the worldly
comfort and security does not bring true happiness. At the age
of29, he renounced the princely lifestyle and left the palace
to find an answer to human pain and suffering and the cause
of birth and death, all of which every human being dislikes
to face. In the first part of the next six years he went to
different renowned teachers without obtaining an answer. He
also subjected himself to extreme modes of living, which also
brought no adequate answers. Then he abandoned the extremes
life styles and tried to remain in the middle (call the middle
path). At the end of the period, he suddenly came across the
answer to the so far unknown tragic recurrent cause of birth,
suffering, pain and death of every human being on earth. This
finding is called enlightenment and the person is called "Enlightened
One" or "Buddha".
ex-prince lived for another 45 years as a mendicant, begging
his food, having no personal belongings. He taught his discovery
of salvation, the Dhamma (doctrine) throughout northern India.
Even though the Buddha was born as a normal human being, he
later became an exceptional human being, because he developed
his mind to the maximum level possible through meditation and
self-understanding. At the age of 80, the Buddha passed away
not to be reborn again call Nirvana (see below) at Kusinara
(in modem Uttar Pradesh in India).
Buddha taught all different classes of men and women, Brahmins
and outcasts, wealthy and beggars, ascetics and robbers, kings
and peasants, without making any distinction between them. In
order to teach the Dhamma (teachings), he had
face a big challenge to overcome the existing harmful dogmas
of their society. The society was rigidly controlled according
to caste, color, religion, sex, belief and hierarchical customs.
Buddha was enlightened, he expressed the invalidity of the caste
systems and other discriminatory practices against any type
of human beings. Politicians, wealthy people, high rankers and
others carried out these harmful practices. He treated every
human being equally by using specific features, which varied
in accordance with the impermanence of all living beings. Buddha's
comment was, "No one becomes an outcast by birth, no one
becomes a Brahmin (the higher ranking and spiritual advisers
at that time) by birth, one becomes an outcast or Brahmin only
by deed." If someone can maintain five precepts: abstaining
from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and taking
intoxicant alcohol and dangerous drugs, he is the higher-ranking
person. Whosoever is not maintaining those five precepts then
that person is the outcast (Vasala) and not those who are born
in specific families and labeled as outcasts.
Why are there images of Buddha that look so differently?
When different countries created images of Buddha, the basic
structure was similar because it was derived from the history
of Buddhism, pertaining specially to the figure of the living
Buddha in different postures, such as sitting cross legged,
looking down with half closed eyes with his hands resting gently
on his lap. The latter is called. Samadhi Muddra (meditation
posture), which is quite common and found everywhere. There
are other different types of the Buddha's statues with walking
posture, preaching posture and sleeping posture. Furthermore,
you may have noticed also different looks in the Buddha's face.
These differences are a result of the different cultural backgrounds
in different countries. The images created by the artists follow
the basic structure of the Buddha while the general features
correspond to those of the local peoples' faces and the rest
of the body. His compassionate looks tend to produce in us peace
and calm within.
Do Buddhists worship the statue of Buddha?
No! In his teachings Buddha has clearly stated not to worship
him. We use the statue as a symbol of virtue and morality. All
religions use symbols to express various concepts. In Christianity
the presence of the cross is used to symbolize his sacrifice.
In Sikhism, the sword is used to symbolize spiritual struggle.
We do not worship the statue of Buddha. But we admire his virtues
and the associated practices may tend to look like worshipping
him. There are many such virtues as loving-kindness, compassion,
sympathetic delight, equanimity, charity, generosity and patience.
So we put Buddha's image in front of us and recall his great
qualities into our mind, and also it is object of meditation.
Did the Buddha believe in a god or gods?
Actually Buddhism does not go along with the concept of an absolute
creator or god. Before Buddha's era, people used to worship
many gods; people thought the natural objects such as mountain,
water, sun, moon and other powerful people were taken to be
gods; e.g. Indra and Prajapati were considered to be gods. Later
the concept of multiple gods became part of their belief and
it revised the concept of a single god. Then they began to believe
that there was only one creator or god. Then the Maha Brahma
concept arose. People then believed he was the only god who
had executive powers. Buddha did not accept any of those concepts.
Buddha said, "Many who are scared seek the protection of
rocks, forests, trees, groves; seeking their refuge. No one
can achieve liberation by beliefs only. By seeking their refuge,
no one can overcome suffering" - (DP.II8). Buddha did declare
the presence of the deities and other beings living at different
levels of enlightenment. The deities are claimed to be some
sort of living creatures operating at a higher state than humans.
In his teachings the Buddha says that human beings can develop
their minds to the maximum potential, because no other being
can attain the higher levels of enlightenment and reach Nirvana
(state of no rebirth and no suffering). Otherwise man creates
heaven and hell himself through his own body and mind. The Buddha
pointed out that you should be able
to find your salvation by yourself.
What does the concept of Salvation mean in Buddhism?
In Buddhism salvation means to gain one's liberation from recurring
agony, disquieting mental pain, anguish, repeated rebirth, etc.
Every human being is affected by these qualities and by practicing
Sila (morality), Samadhi (meditation) and Pañña (the
knowledge gaining insight) is only way to liberate from the
sufferings. Salvation may be obtained by each individual through
the practice of morality, meditation and wisdom. An outsider
cannot take someone into Nirvana, where there is ultimate happiness.
A teacher is able to show the path to salvation, but the individual
has to follow the required path. Similarly if someone wants
to swim, that individual has to train and practice in a swimming
What does Buddhism mean to you?
Buddhism is a way of life to me. It is a very simple way of
living. Easily I can be satisfied with whatever I get, and I
expect to do some service to others. I don't harm others intentionally,
I respect others and live very peacefully. Those are some
benefits I get by practicing Buddhism.
Do you have dietary restrictions?
Yes! I take 2 meals a day, one in the morning and one in the
afternoon, I take only liquids such as soft drinks, milk and
water in the afternoon. I depend entirely upon food offered
to me by others. I am expected to take any foods offer to me;
I generally get vegetables, but rarely devotees offer non-vegetarian
foods. I am obligated to eat any foods given to me and should
not refuse anything given to me. According to the Buddha's teaching,
the only foods we can refuse are animal derivatives, where the
animal has been intentionally killed to provide material specifically
for our consumption.
Do Buddhist pay tithes?
No! Buddhists are not compelled to offer any amount of money
or help in other ways. All contributions towards the temple
are voluntary. If there are special needs such as capital expenditure
for construction and other maintenance work, then the devotees
provide them voluntarily. The existence of the temple is met
exclusively by voluntary
of its devotees.
Is it difficult to practice Buddhism in America?
No! Buddhism is derived from what happens in nature. The ordinary
happenings and the other apparent aspect of nature have been
critically analyzed to derive its conclusion. Therefore it is
not difficult for anybody to practice wherever they are.
we maintain its simplicity, then it is not a hard to practice
Buddhism in America. However if we are looking for more worldly
pleasure and joy, which incidentally are considered to be transient,
they lead to pain and suffering. If anyone is after transient
qualities, though pleasurable, such acts make it difficult to
practice Buddhism anywhere. The main purpose of Buddhism has
been to find out the consequences of adherent to transient and
in the USA we wear our regular robes and go from place to place
and state to state as part of our services. Incidentally, passers-by
look at us as being strange and sometimes ask questions. I have
had some funny experiences though. Once when I was living in
Los Angeles, I was walking down the street and a Mexican gentleman
asked me, "Hey man! Why are you wearing a blanket?"
I laughed and briefly explained to him that this blanket was
my robe. Usually when people ask questions like that I don't
go into detail about who I am and what I practice.
What is the significance of the color of your robe?
We actually wear brown, orange or yellow. The color helps us
to remember the season of autumn. The falling down of leaves
and changing color of the leaves in Autumn indicate the impermanence
of life and all other things, living and non living, which we
naturally assumed to be permanent. Similarly, a beautiful red
flower one day becomes brown or exhibits other fading shades
and then becomes a dying object. No one is able to prevent these
changes by any means. Similarly and also shown scientifically
day after day all things are changing and nobody can stop such
change, which is a good indication of impermanence.
said there are three characteristics of the life. The first
is 'Anicca,' meaning impermanence; everything on this earth
is changing continuously. The second is 'Dukkha,' meaning suffering
such as birth of a child, getting old, becoming sick, etc. The
third is 'Anatta,' meaning no-self or absence of a true self
entity. The conditions in life are always changing and are in
a transitory state. Therefore neither living beings nor physical
objects can be considered to be permanent.
What Does Buddhism offer to the world?
Buddhism offers much to the world: peace, happiness, living
without fear and worry, being compassionate to every living
beings, not harming any living things including plants (e.g.
unnecessarily cutting down and destroying plants are also unwholesome
acts), expression of love and kindness to every individual;
also encouraging people to abstaining from killing, stealing,
sexual misconduct, lying, and taking intoxicant alcohol. If
the people were to observe the previous five precepts, most
of the unwholesome acts or evil behavior will disappear. For
a start, we can gain peace and happiness by practicing the five
through special type of meditation discovered by the Buddha
can Buddhism offer
to human problems. It can help to eliminate greed, hatred and
delusions (misinterpretation of things and of acts presumed
to be wholesome at the common level of the mind's operations).
By practicing meditation one can gain peace, calmness, happiness,
humbleness, selflessness and elimination of egotism.
the early stage of meditation one must set aside a certain specific
time so as to calm one's mind. During this special time once
must look into one's mind and notice what comes and goes into
and out of it. Then one can critically analyze the subject matter.
Over a period of many sessions, one discards harmful unwholesome
thoughts, retains and fosters good wholesome thoughts and ignores
those which have neither of the other two qualities. Through
this demanding process of training of the mind and gradually
improving it in stages, one will be able to extend the practice
of meditation to all times, even while having a conversation,
washing dishes, etc.
when one is doing risky acts like driving or using tools one
should be mindful only on the subject concerned and nothing
else. This is referred to as full awareness or mindfulness,
which was introduced by the Buddha. The development of mindfulness
is the ability to focus on what one is doing. If one has no
training in concentration to be mindful, as explained above,
then it is difficult to pay attention to what is really happening
at that specific moment. We start the meditation process using
the breath as the tool to stay with the present moment. At our
Vihara we have meditation practice for beginners and advanced
meditation every Saturday afternoon.
Are there different Sects of Buddhism'?
Partly yes, partly no, because there are some differences in
the modes of practice to suite various cultures and localities.
We of course meet and mix very well and support each other.
Similarly, the following analogy illustrates the point.
are many different rivers, some famous and others not so famous,
some wide and
narrow, some beautiful with huge waterfalls and others without.
But the water of all rivers flows to end in the Ocean. Then
the river waters mix with the salt water to give the single
taste of salt.
in Buddhism, Theravada, Mahayana, Zen, Vajrayana, etc., are
sects of Buddhism, but all of them abide by the same primary
fundamentally Buddhist way of life. As the taste of the multiple
river-water in the ocean became the single salty taste, the
fundamental practice of Buddhism in the various sects is similar.
Thus the fruits of the Buddhism from different sects impart
the same expression of calmness, of loving kindness, of joy
and of peacefulness and ultimately lead to the same attainment
of Nibbbana (the ultimate eternal happiness).
in the March and November 2002 issues of ‘The Message
– North America’s only Multi Faith Newspaper.’
P.O. Box 1322, Powder Springs, Atlanta, GA 30127 – Tel:
(678) 363 6190
New homes for shrines to Buddhist tradition Church finds families
for antique altars ...By VANESSA HO ...SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER
the manager of the anesthesia department at Swedish Medical
Center, Mitchell Ishikawa spends long, hectic hours attending
to patients, surgeons and anesthesiologists.
when he gets home, he performs a simple ritual that helps ease
the strain of the day. A Buddhist, he lights incense, says a
silent prayer and bows before a relatively new addition in his
house: a butsudan, or home shrine.
me, I feel like I have a place that has meaning. It's a feeling
of solace, when I pay my respect in front of the obutsudan,"
said Ishikawa, 47, using the honorific for the shrine.
Japanese American Buddhists buy or inherit a butsudan, a boxlike,
wooden altar used for daily offerings to Buddha and family ancestors.
But Ishikawa received his for free and never knew the family
that owned it.
because he adopted it through a new program at the Seattle Betsuin
Buddhist Church, which encourages people to donate butsudans
that are no longer being used, then recycles them to other families.
years ago, temple leaders noticed butsudans showing up at thrift
stores and rummage sales. A few times, they heard of someone
tossing a shrine in the garbage. They discovered that as the
Nisei -- the first generation of Japanese Americans born in
this country -- began to pass away, their antique butsudans
sometimes became orphans.
family members are all scattered in this country," said
the Rev. Doei Fujii of the temple, which practices the Japanese
Jodo Shinshu tradition of Buddhism. "That's why family
traditions are getting weaker."
some cases, Sansei families -- the children of the Nisei --
weren't Buddhists or weren't as traditional. Other times, they
didn't have room in their condo for a 7-foot-high shrine. And
sometimes, elderly Nisei moved into an assisted-living facility
but couldn't bring their beloved butsudans with them.
they were from children of parents who had passed away, or who
had gone into a retirement home. And they really didn't know
what do with them," said Dennis Yamashita, chairman of
the temple's religious department.
thought, 'What a waste to put it into the trash,' " he
the same time, temple leaders noticed that some worshippers,
such as Ishikawa, were becoming more interested in owning a
butsudan. But the shrines, often made in Japan, can be expensive.
One top-of-the-line model, carved from teak, costs $28,000.
helped start the butsudan adoption program in January as an
"information and referral service" for both donor
and recipient families. Sometimes, people struggle with guilt
over what to do with a butsudan, and the program helps ease
their mind, he said. So far, about eight have been donated.
are well-tended antiques, with two sets of double doors, delicate
gold pillars, chandeliers and carved panels. Some have come
with scrolls and a portrait of Buddha. Others include religious
accessories such as a vase, incense holder and gong, and still
others have been stripped bare.
one has its own personality, and I wish it could talk,"
said Sadie Yamasaki, chairwoman of the temple's archive committee.
didn't know what year the shrines were made but noticed they
seemed to have come from the same era. And she often found it
difficult to get much historical information from the donors.
shrines she cherishes the most are ones made by Japanese Americans
interned during World War II. She brought out one of her favorites,
which she hopes to display in a historical exhibit some day.
It was small, made of rough scrap wood, painted black on the
outside and a rich red on the inside.
she knew was that it was from a woman who said her father had
built it while interned in Minidoka, Idaho.
tells such a story of that time and how hard life was,"
she said. "It's interesting how the tradition was maintained.
That's the legacy they left for us."
Ishikawa, knowing that another family once owned his butsudan
was significant. He had adopted the shrine after his brother
died earlier this year. A few months later, his father died.
The shrine's spiritual presence helped him cope with his loss.
feel like it had more significance that it had a purpose for
a family," said Ishikawa, who donated money to the temple
after he received the shrine.
day, he pays his respect to his loved ones and chants "Namo
Amida Butsu," which roughly translates as "I take
refuge in the Buddha of Immeasurable Light and Immeasurable
actually makes me feel whole," he said.
had grown up watching his parents make daily offerings to Buddha.
His mother, who grew up on Vashon Island, had watched her parents
do the same. When her husband of 53 years diedlast month, Haru
Ishikawa found great comfort in chanting a daily sutra before
really teaches me that life is impermanent, and you have to
appreciate each day as it comes," she said. "As my
son said, 'If tomorrow never comes, you have today.' "
The Seattle Buddhist Temple
Seattle Buddhist Temple is in the Jodo Shinshu tradition under
the mother temple of the Nishi Hongwanji in Japan and is affiliated
with the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA). The history of
the Seattle Betsuin officially began on November 15, 1901 when
Rev. Kakuryo Nishijima performed the first Jodo Shinshu Buddhist
service in the Pacific Northwest. Since that time the temple
has grown through many changes. The current temple complex,
dedicated on October 4, 1941, became, for example, the US Maritime
Commission Office from May 3, 1942 until August 4, 1946. Following
this brief period in the history of the temple, the temple was
able to grow again dedicating an auditorium in October, 1945,
starting a Day Nursery Program and a Boy Scout Troop in 1948,
and founding the Research Department headed by Grace McLeod
and Yukiko Miyake in 1949. These and other activities of the
temple were recognized by the mother temple in Kyoto, Japan--known
as the Hongwanji or "temple of the Primal Vow"--and
on March 11, 1954 the Seattle temple was elevated to Betsuin
status. More locally, the activities of the Betsuin and its
historical impact in the Seattle area was recognized in 1986
when the Betsuin was included as part of the China town historic
district which is registered in the national register of historic
use the following links to get a brief description of the affiliated
organizations and programs offered by the Seattle Betsuin. Also
included on this page is a description of some of the services
the Betsuin and its ministerial staff can provide.
Buddhist Association, Buddhist Women's Association, Dharma School,
Archives, Young Buddhist Association, Boy Scout Troop 252, Campfire,
Cub Pack 252, Dana-kai
Sunday English Services, Weekly Sunday Japanese Service/Program,
Dharma Exchange, Spring Retreat, Obon Festival, Japanese Hou-za,
English Study Classes, Japanese Spring & Fall Seminar, Shakyo,
Keiro Home Monthly Service, Wisteria Manor Monthly Service,
Health Clinic, Crafts,
and Funeral Planning; Wedding, Wedding Planning and Consultation;
Memorial Services; Buddhist Book Store; Temple Library; In-home
Visitation; Hospital Visitation
Definitions of terms used
Dana is the Buddhist term for selfless giving. Kai is the Japanese
word for gathering. The Dana-kai is a Betsuin sponsored affiliate
organization that is organized around the spirit of selfless
One of the Three Treasures of Buddhism, it is a term that refers
to the body of truth that a Buddha becomes awakened to. The
Hou is the Chinese/Japanese term for Dharma (the Buddhist Truth/Doctrine).
Za is the term for "seat." Hou-za, literally, means
"Dharma seat" and refers to a gathering where people
come to hear the Dharma.
(lit. to trace the Sutras). Japanese Buddhist custom
of copying the Buddhist scriptures (sutra) using Japanese brush
Graceful Simplicity: The Philosophy and Politics of the Alternative
American Dream ...by Jerome M. Segal
Reviewer: A reader from California ...Graceful Simplicity
asks and attempts to answer the very big questions--why are
we here? What's important? And how can we get more of it?
taking the reader on a tour of the meaning of "the good
life" through the ages, philosophy prof/Hill staffer Segal
offers a definition of real progress for us today, and bravely
outlines concrete prescriptions to get us there.
advocate downshifting and opting out. Segal resolutely and compellingly
argues that's not enough. Millions can't reasonably afford it,
and alienated pockets of downshifters do not a civil society
he advocates, why not build a politics that enables a good life
for pretty much anybody? Sure, his policy prescriptions aren't
as detailed and polished as the Contract for America(see Publishers
Weekly review above), but who would disagree that looming college
costs for our children jam millions of us into high stress,
low quality-of-life careers? And who else out there has worked
this hard through the details of moving equitably from more
to better; from growth to real progress?
Segal's writing is as graceful as the book's cover. His analysis
is borne out of his years as a philosophy professor, combined
with a decade on Capitol Hill. Graceful Simplicity is at once
provocative, pragmatic, insightful and enduring. Take it on
vacation, demand it as next month's book group title, give it
to your best friends (you'll rise three notches overnight).
Reviewer: from Greensboro, North Carolina ...Jerry Segal
has written an important book for those interested in creating
greater meaning and enjoyment in their lives -- that is, for
Segal has developed deep ideas about the meaning of a good life,
ideas that have many parallels in religious thought, but which
are not a part of any one religious tradition.
exposition is highly practical, while seeking to change one's
thoughts about what is a good life, and how to pursue it.
parts of the book speak to professionals in philosophy and public
policy, which is appropriate for a philospher with deep interests
in public affairs, and long experience in Washington D.C.
best parts of the book speak to all of us who want to become
more creative, feel more in control of our lives, and have a
greater sense of self-worth through contributions to our community.
a rigorous analysis of the excesses of consumption in our society,
along with the poverty of our collective spirit. But it is also
an optimistic book, in that fairly simple steps can improve
our experience of living.
the book. Be a better person.
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