as followers multiply
By Michelle J. Lee, Poughkeepsie Journal, Aptil 22, 2004
Religion teaches path to happiness lies in aiding others
NY (USA) -- From the
outside, the entrance to the Kagyu Thubten Choling Monastery in the Town
of Poughkeepsie looks deceptively simple with two long paths, one made
with dirt and the other made of asphalt.
follow the paths to the monastery tucked away on a hill overlooking the
Hudson River, they are greeted by prayer flags, which attract good luck
and ward off evil, and the stupa, a dome and pyramid-shaped monument
symbolizing the steps toward enlightenment and the four elements.
Inside the altar
room, decorated with a large golden Buddha statue and hundreds of other
deities, Buddhist nuns and monks -- called anis and lamas -- chant twice a
day and light lamps while offering water and ceremonial cakes.
elaborate adornments and rituals, Buddhism is often viewed as more of a
path or philosophy. Its core lies in the basic understanding that life, a
cycle of death and rebirth, is full of suffering caused by craving.
The ultimate goal
is to eliminate suffering and achieve nirvana, ultimate happiness, through
want to make peace, better life, improve others,'' Lama Norlha Rinpoche,
the monastery abbot, said with the aid of a translator. ''True religion
means to help others.''
more than 2,500 years ago in a part of India that is now modern-day Nepal.
The impact on the mid-Hudson Valley has only been felt since the 1970s
with the founding of Kagyu Thubten Choling Monastery, Karma Triyana
Dharmachakra Monastery in Woodstock and Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount
Tremper, Ulster County.
communities include Chuang Yen Monastery in Kent, Putnam County, and
groups in Hyde Park, New Paltz, Newburgh and Rhinebeck.
familiar in America during the 19th century through the transcendentalist
and theosophy movement, which sought belief through intuition and the
mystical, said Kristin Scheible, a Bard College religion professor. At the
same time, Asian immigrants brought the religion as they entered the
During the 1950s
and 1960s, Zen Buddhism entered the American consciousness and influenced
Beat writers like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. After immigration
quotas were lifted in 1964, more Buddhists arrived.
One immigrant who
contributed to the development of Buddhism in the valley is Chia-Tsin Shen.
The 90-year-old native of China emigrated with his wife, Woo-Ju Chu, and
family during the 1950s and settled in Scarsdale, Westchester County.
Shen worked in the
shipping business. During the 1970s, Shen and his wife donated the land
for the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery in Woodstock.
Shen is part of
the Buddhist Association of the United States. He donated 125 acres for
the Chuang Yen Monastery in Kent and money for worship halls and a library
housing more than 70,000 Buddhist books. He also donated a Bronx church to
the Buddhist Association, gave land for a San Francisco Buddhist society
and founded the Institute for the Advanced Studies of World Religions,
based in the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He lives at
Chuang Yen Monastery.
American Buddhists are unreliable and range from 1 million to 6 million
practitioners, according to ''Buddhism in America,'' by Richard Hughes
Seeger. The U.S. Census Bureau does not track religion numbers. One 1997
survey estimated between 2.2 to 3.2 million Buddhists in immigrant
communities and 800,000 converts in America.
The form of
Buddhism prevalent in America today is strikingly different from the
19th-century version which focused more on religious theory, Scheible
coming and it's not the Buddhism of ideas. It's practice,'' she said. ''A
lot of Americans seek Buddhism out to correspond with. People who are
seeking spirituality adopt Buddhist practices for their own purposes.''
The landscape is
becoming more complex, she said, because Asian and Asian-American
Buddhists raised in the tradition are worshiping increasingly with
converts, sometimes at the same temples.
When Kagyu Thubten
Choling opened in Poughkeepsie, Norlha noted most worshippers came from
New York City.
support for the monastery increased and they started offering weekly
meditation and Tibetan-language classes. The monastery also developed a
bond with nearby Sheafe Road Elementary School and opened its doors to
classes from Dutchess Community College, Marist College, Vassar College
and the State University of New York at New Paltz.
Ani Yeshi Palmo,
formerly Peggy Turco, said she grew up in a Catholic household and was a
naturalist before she took her vows eight years ago.
She admired the
openness she found at the monastery and liked how the religion tied in
with respecting the environment. ''I was quite young, but I had questions
about the meaning of life and they were very open to help me with that
curiosity, and I hadn't found that attitude anywhere else,'' she said.
Keith Luck, 35, a
visitor from Portsmouth, Va., said the religion makes sense because it
requires him to question his teachers and see if their ideas were valid.
''You don't just accept on faith,'' he said.
One notable change
he experienced during his stay was the ability to be at peace. ''It will
change your personality. I quit looking for things outside myself -- I
quit trying to blame others for my problems,'' he said. ''Meditation helps
control my anger.''
In Woodstock, Tom
Schmidt, director of operations of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery,
said he became interested in meditation and eastern philosophy while
studying engineering and jazz during the 1960s.
Schmidt was raised
as a Roman Catholic, but he found Buddhism appealing because it allowed
him to keep his prior beliefs. ''Being a Buddhist, one doesn't have to
throw one's past away. That doesn't mean we have any disrespect or
disbelief in the religions we believed in,'' he said.
He met his wife at
the monastery and visited Beijing and Tibet with the lamas in 1999. He
intends to return to Tibet this summer.
like Patricia Hunt-Perry, prefer worshipping in small religious
communities, or sanghas. Some groups, such as Hunt-Perry's sangha, gather
in less-formal settings such as homes and offices.
of the Budding Flower Sangha in Newburgh, said the organization meets
twice a week in a farmhouse and draws 40 to 50 members, many of whom are
new or converted.
A former college
professor, Hunt-Perry was introduced to the religion when she interviewed
Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, a peace activist and poet who was
nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 by Martin Luther King.
Hunt-Perry founded her sangha in 1991 and she became a dharma teacher in
Much more formal
than the sanghas is the Buddhist Association-run Chuang Yen Monastery, a
225-acre cluster in Putnam County with worshipping halls, dining
facilities and monastic and lay residencies.
The Great Buddha
Hall was designed by architect I.M. Pei. The hall can accommodate 2,000
people and contains the largest Buddha statue in the western hemisphere
surrounded by 10,000 smaller statues.
Buddhist Association secretary, said the monastery primarily attracts
Chinese immigrants and Chinese-Americans from the metropolitan area and
has more than 100 visitors on weekends.
list has 700 names, a majority of them senior citizens. The monastery is
trying to expand the congregation to include more Americans and
second-generation Asian Americans.
contains books from all three Buddhist schools of thought and monks and
nuns from the different schools live there.
spiritual ideals are the same for everyone, Chang, an IBM research manager
who came from Shanghai, fears some non-Asian people who visit the
monastery view Buddhism as part of a New Age phenomenon. ''They want to
experience it, learn about it. They feel there is a lot of mystery they
can explore,'' the Westchester County resident said.
Many Chinese and
other Asian immigrants from Buddhist countries have a deeper understanding
and pride in the religion as part of a cultural institution, Chang said.
struggle, he said, is grappling with the second and third generations and
convincing them to stay the course and keep the faith.
Siddhartha Gautama, an Indian prince born in a part of India that is now
modern-day Nepal, gives up a life of privilege, attains knowledge and
becomes the Buddha, or Enlightened One. He teaches others until his death.
Mauryan King Ashoka, ruler of parts of southern India and Persia, converts
to Buddhism and sends missionaries throughout the country and overseas to
Syria, Egypt, Macedonia and Ceylon, present-day Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka
converts to Buddhism.
spreads across Asia in countries such as Burma, Cambodia, China,
Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Tibet, Thailand and Vietnam.
Buddhism gains interest in America when writer David Henry Thoreau
publishes a ''Lotus Sutra'' excerpt in a New England transcendentalist
journal. Other writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman also
are influenced by the religion.
First Buddhist temple in San Francisco founded by Sze Yap Company. Other
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott form Theosophical Society
in New York City, an important link between East and West.
Chinese Exclusion Act limits immigration. More acts come in the following
decades to restrict other Asian immigrants.
Buddhist Mission to North
America, forerunner of Buddhist Churches of America, the oldest
institutional form of Buddhism in America, is founded in California.
Dwight Goddard, former Protestant missionary, publishes ''The Buddhist
Bible,'' an anthology of Theravada and Mahayana materials that influences
Zen Buddhism spreads in America. D.T. Suzuki teaches Buddhism at Columbia
University, influencing academic and literary figures. Alan Watts, a
former Episcopal priest, publishes ''Beat Zen, Square Zen and Zen.'' Beat
writers Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg publish
The Buddhist Association of the United States, the largest Chinese
Buddhist association in metropolitan New York, establishes headquarters in
The Immigration and Nationality Act removes immigration quotas. The number
of immigrants from Buddhist counties rises.
Several Buddhist monasteries are founded in the mid-Hudson Valley,
beginning with the Kagyu Thubten Choling Monastery, founded in the Town of
Poughkeepsie, followed by Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery in
Woodstock and Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper.
Construction on Chuang Yen Monastery in Kent, Putnam County, begins.
Chuang Yen, which is run by the national Buddhist Association, is formally
dedicated by the Dalai Lama in May 1997.
Source: ''Buddhism in America''
by Richard Hughes Seager, The Buddha Dharma Education Association Web
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