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Buddhism grows beyond religion in America

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Akash Shukla

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path… and so began the spiritual entourage of Florida native Michael Paul Schlosser. The blue-eyed and fair-skinned native was ordained as one-of-the-first Anglo American Buddhist monks in the country.

“26 million Americans are influenced by Buddhism in their daily lives. I went to Houston and I was pleased to see that a lot of people in temples were happy to witness an American monk,” Schlosser revealed. One of the most fascinating beliefs about Buddhism is that there is no Creator or God.

The founder of Buddhism was a young prince of Nepal, Gautam Buddha. After gauging that wealth and luxury do not guarantee inner peace, he set out to find inner peace. Even after devoting his 16 years to the grind in public relations, Schlosser failed to plug the void within. ‘Unfulfilled’ as he felt and rattled by the rat race around, he said, “The transition didn’t happen overnight. He began to read and notice the difference between Eastern and Western philosophies. Encounter with Buddhism made me feel that I have reached the spot,” he revealed in spiritual satiety.

At SGI-USA, another strong Buddhist practitioner Michelle Riofrio recollected that she felt tangled between her two noxious emotions: one, being robbed at gunpoint and the second having fear of expressing the same to her conservative catholic parents. After seeing no way out of this quagmire, she resorted to win it all with Buddhist practice and she claimed that ‘it summoned her to put forth her courage’.

Michael Paul Schlosser, who has served as a resident monk at Buu Mon Buddhist temple since November of 2006 as Bhante M Kassapa, and Michelle Riofrio are not the only Americans who have chosen the Buddhist trail of spirituality in America: As per the statistics and an ABC 13 bulletin, Buddhism currently ranks as the fourth largest religion in the world.

Buddhism, which is 350 million strong, continues to grow as we speak the faith and read the depths of non-theistic religion. Emmett Till Justice Campaign  Civil rights activist Alvin Sykes sought out Mamie Till-Mobley to talk to her about her son. Emmett Till, a black teenager from Chicago, had been brutally beaten and murdered. His offense: allegedly whistling at a white woman. While Till’s killing turned one of the events that energized the booming American Civil Rights Movement, his killers were acquitted of the crime. Although they later admitted their guilt, they remained free.

In January 2003, Sykes and Till-Mobley kicked off the Emmett Till Justice Campaign. Till-Mobley succumbed two days later.  Sykes helped craft the legislation, which creates two positions– one in the FBI and the other in the U.S. Justice Department– to investigate these unsolved cases. The bill also sets aside up to $135 million over 10 years for investigations.

The activist’s life changed at the age of 18 when he encountered Nichiren Buddhism at a Herbie Hancock concert. The life-changing philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism includes chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. His practice and analysis of Buddhism fortified his determination to fight for justice and enhanced his faith in the might of dialogue to bulldoze walls and achieve results that otherwise seemed impossible.

While Buddhism continues to shape lives of countless Americans in more ways than one, SGI-USA perennially puts forth unique experiences of neo-Buddhists in US who relentlessly lend voice to the unsung. In an earlier incident, Tibet’s exiled Buddhist Dalai Lama was discharged from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Evidencing the popularity boom of Buddhism in US, many local newspapers reported that dozens of Tibetans draped in ethnic clothes greeted the Dalai Lama at the Mayo Civic Centre.

en.wikipedia.org
en.wikipedia.org

“His life means the world to us,” said a US national of Buddhist told the newspapers and added, “We follow his footsteps. He touched our faces. It was a blessing.” Amid all the furore over Tibet and against China’s warning to stop interference, US President Barack Obama met Dalai Lama at the White House and reiterated his strong support for the preservation of Tibet’s rights.  Situation as is playing out for US is more of a fence-sitting sort…  “US supports Dalai Lama’s middle-way approach of neither assimilation nor independence for Tibetans in China,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council.

However, Buddhism and its peace-loving agenda continue to prevail over this political turmoil. Despite the upsurge in hate and race crimes in US, Buddhism among natives is gaining momentum.

(With inputs from SGI-USA)

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Buddhist Monk Losang Samten Uses Colors to Spread Message of Peace

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

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Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten uses colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism. VOA

According to one estimate, there are a 5 quintillion, 5 hundred quadrillion grains of sand on earth, a number so large it must be approaching infinity. This makes sand an appropriate medium for the construction of spiritual images of the universe.

Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten does just that, using colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. VOA

Decades of mandalas

Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama.

“When I was a teenager, age of 17,” he told VOA, “I had a privilege to enter His Holiness Dalai Lama’s monastery … in India. I have been studying sand mandalas ever since then. So it’s a long time.”

VOA found Samten painstakingly layering grains of colored sand at the gallery of the Philadelphia Folklore Project. The particular mandala he was working on was the mandala of compassion, or unconditional love.

Far from random designs, mandalas have been perfected over centuries.

“These are uniquely designed many, many, many, many, many years passing to an artist to another artist to another artist to another artist,” Samten said. “The color has a meaning, the shape has different meanings. Not my design; it didn’t come out of my own idea.”

When Samten created a sand mandala at the American Museum of History in New York in 1988 at the request of the Dalai Lama, it was the first time the 2,600-years-old ancient ritual art was seen outside of monasteries. Since then, Samten has made sand mandalas in museums, galleries and universities across the U.S. and many parts of the world.

“They are used to enhance the spiritual practice through image and meditation, to overcome suffering. Mandalas represent enlightened qualities and methods which explain this path, making them very important for the spiritual journey,” Samten wrote on his web site.

Nothing is permanent

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama. VOA

“In the winter of 1959, [we] crossed Mount Everest, it took us two months to cross,” he told VOA. “You cannot travel during the day and so scared and not enough food not enough clothes. I was age of 5. I saw, I mean unbelievable dead bodies, people dying without food. I became a monk at age 11 when I was in school, refugee school.”

Samten left monastic life in 1995 and became the spiritual director at the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia. He says the patience of the creative process, can lead observers to find calm determination within themselves.

“When I am doing this mandala at universities and schools, many kids came to me, (saying) ‘when I saw you doing the sand mandala, that help me so much to finish my education, patience …’ I have a lot of stories,” he said.

Monk Samten
Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. VOA

Beauty comes and goes

After a sand mandala is completed, it is dismantled ceremoniously.

“Dismantle has many different reasons,” Samten said. “… One thing is, dismantle is a beauty, whatever we see as a beauty on the earth, never be everlasting as a beauty and impermanent, impermanent, comes and goes. It’s like a season.”

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Or like sand, ever changing in the wind.

Samten often invites children to participate in the ceremony.

To gallery visitor Traci Chiodress that was part of the charm of the event.

“I think it’s powerful to see something so beautiful created, and then taken apart, and to be done in a community with a group of people of different ages,” she said. “I just think it’s an important type of practice.” (VOA)