Abington, US, Mar 14, 2017: The leaders of a local temple in Abington, Massachusetts, wish to install a 10 feet tall statue of Lord Buddha. However, the town isn’t giving the all clear to do so.
This week, the temple leaders will appeal a decision by the Abington Zoning Enforcement Officer denying their application to install some ornamental monuments along with the statue.
The Chua Linh Quang Buddhist Meditation temple on Washington Street, has been open for almost an year, used by the Vietnamese-Americans and others for yoga and meditation.
According to a report in The Enterprise, Zoning Officer Marshal Adams said he couldn’t approve the application of Temple Leader Nhutam Thich to install a 10-foot, white stone statue along with several smaller statues and large painted rocks because the temple’s plans were explicit and abutters hadn’t given input.
In a residential district, the town typically only allows someone to hang out a shingle for something like an attorney’s office, he said. “I told the temple they’d have to clarify everything they were going to do,” Adams said. “They have a lot of questions to be answered, so I felt it best that the whole thing be sorted out through the zoning board.”
Agai, Thich requested ZBA to review his decision on Mar 9, at a public hearing. Thich remained unsure of what she will do if the ZBA doesn’t give approval.
She said, “I hope they are going to say yes.”
The Chua Linh Quang temple is part of the Pho Hien Buddhist Meditation Temple Corporation and the Vietnamese Buddhist Community of Massachusetts. The organization leads a temple in Worcester. “It was easy to get approved in Worcester,” Thich said. Approval for certain permits, like this one, has proved more difficult in the residential section of Abington, she said. Thich said she hadn’t heard directly from any neighbors about the statue. “I think they’re okay with it, but I don’t know,” she said. Adams said if abutters have concerns, “the time to share them would be the public hearing.” The public hearing before the ZBA was originally scheduled for Feb. 9, but was rescheduled to March 9 because of snow.
Back in the day, when the “grandmas and grandpas” of the Native American Church (NAC) needed peyote, they would make a 2,000-kilometer pilgrimage from the reservations of South Dakota to the tiny town of Mirando City, Texas, close to the U.S. border with Mexico. That’s where they could find Amada Cardenas, a Mexican-American woman who at the time was the only peyote dealer in Texas.
Cardenas was not Native American, nor was she a member of the NAC. But she understood how sacred the medicine was to church members and defended its use as a religious sacrament to those who sought to ban it.
“After Amada’s passing, the peyote distribution system lost heart and seemed to be about monetary compensation,” said Iron Rope, former chairman of the Native American Church of North America (NACNA) and today chairman of the NAC of South Dakota. He is concerned that the remaining three or four peyote dealers in Texas — all non-Native — don’t give “the medicine” the reverence they should.
“They don’t make prayerful offerings when they harvest,” Iron Rope said. “We’ve heard reports about intoxicated harvesters. Sometimes, the medicine that comes to us was mushy or small, and the harvesting technique was not one that would allow regrowth.”
Careless and sometimes illegal harvesting, along with increased land and resource development in Texas, has led to a decline in peyote’s quality and availability. Prices have gone up, and church members worry the cactus, now listed as a vulnerable species, could become endangered.
In 2013, NACNA began researching ways to conserve peyote and its natural habitat.
Peyote, or Lophophora williamsii, is a succulent that contains psychoactive alkaloids and only grows in southern Texas and a handful of states in northern Mexico.
Indigenous people have used it ceremonially and medicinally for centuries, as noted by 16th century Spanish missionaries, who condemned it as an evil. Peyote use persisted, however, and by the late 1800s, had spread to present-day Oklahoma, where tribes adapted it to suit their individual spiritual traditions.
In the face of government efforts to ban peyote, peyotists in the early 20th century sought to incorporate as a formal religion. In 1918, an intertribal group established the NAC, which has evolved to include tens of thousands of members across dozens of tribal nations. Members view the church as an important component of healing from historic trauma and reconnecting to tradition.
Peyote was banned in the United States in 1970, but the law was later amended to allow peyote to be used in “bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church.”
Texas allows several peyoteros registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to harvest and sell peyote, but only to card-carrying NAC members with proven Native American ancestry.
‘A beautiful ceremony’
Unlike other religious denominations, said Iron Rope, the NAC is not a unified theology.
“Different variations of the ceremony have come into play,” he said. “There are Christian aspects to the NAC today and traditional aspects, as well.”
Wynema Morris, a member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and an NAC member, grew up with an understanding of the sacredness of peyote and the religious etiquette surrounding its use.
“It was my own grandfather, Samuel Thomas Gilpin, who actually received peyote early on from the Winnebagos, a neighboring tribe, and passed it on to his sons, my uncles,” she said.
Peyote is much misunderstood and maligned, she said, viewed by many anthropologists through the lens of colonial prejudice.
“I don’t like their use of the word ‘hallucinations,’” she said. “You don’t use peyote to get high. You use it to pray and communicate with God — the same God everyone else talks to.”
She described all-night services of prayer, song and meditation.
“The ceremony is beautiful,” she said. “The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”
In 2013, NACNA began looking at ways to conserve and sustain peyote for future generations of indigenous Americans, Mexicans and Canadians.
“It was our intent to eventually have our own land and be able to have our own peyote dealer who could understand our concerns as the Native American Church,” said Iron Rope.
In 2017, NACNA and partner organizations formally launched the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI). With funding from the Riverstyx Foundation, a nonprofit that supports research of medicinal uses of psychoactive plants, IPCI purchased 245 hectares (605 acres) of land in Thompsonville, Texas, to serve as “Sacred Peyote Gardens.”