Thursday, February 07, 2008


Many Westerners have been introduced to Buddhist meditation practices and have found the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh and Jack Kornfield, among others, to be helpful in deepening spiritual practices. But Buddhist meditation practice is not all there is to the religion of Buddhism. Today's New York Times gives us a look inside a Buddhist temple in NY City as it prepares to celebrate the Chinese New Year:

Sing Sun See is from Hong Kong and, at 56, is one of the older nuns at the temple. She rises at 4:30 a.m. to begin her daily routine of studying, chanting and maintaining the temple, while working on the qualities of awareness, kindness and wisdom that define her spiritual path. At the temple, there is no television or radio.

“Outside they have their own life; inside we have our own life,” said Ms. Sun, adding that the nuns lead humble lives so they can cultivate good karma for the next life.

“A lot of things,” she added, “you cannot explain.”

The nuns recite Buddhist chants at specific times of the day while sitting on saffron cushions placed around low tables. They always begin with multiple bows to the 1,000-armed Buddha, which involves getting down on all fours and pressing their foreheads to the ground. At the close of the afternoon chant, one of the nuns deposits some rice or water on a pedestal outside as a symbolic offering for the invisible spirits that they believe wander the streets of New York.

Because some lost souls did not lead good lives, the nuns explained, they are agonizingly stuck between this life and the next. So each night, at precisely 8:30, the nuns take turns striking a large gong with a wooden mallet and reciting a “hell-breaking mantra” to release them from their pain.

“When they hear the bell, they get peaceful,” Ms. Sun said.

A tenet of Buddhism is not to kill animals, and sometimes local devotees request that their donations be used to free caged birds or animals. The temple’s founder used to buy big lots of live frogs, turtles, fish and lobsters from Chinatown vendors and release them into the city’s rivers and ponds. That is, until the New York Police Department threatened to ticket him.

Now, Ms. Sun said, they buy and free animals outside the country. “Everybody likes freedom,” she said. “Nobody wants to be killed.”

There is an interesting slide show attached to the article.

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