Monday, December 27, 2010

Springs woman sells business, possessions for Buddhist life

by MARK BARNA, THE GAZETTE, December 19, 2010

Gwyn Waterfield, her head shaved and wearing a white robe, walked slowly down an aisle at Shove Chapel on the Colorado College campus last week during her Buddhist Precept Ceremony.
Nine months ago, Waterfield was an Austin, Texas, business owner with 10 employees. She gave it up and most of her possessions to pursue becoming a Buddhist nun.
“I have some nervousness and fear about my new life,” Waterfield said, “but mostly I have an enormous amount of gratitude.”
The ceremony signified Waterfield becoming an Anagarika within Buddhism’s Thai Forest Tradition.
As an Anagarika, Waterfield will adhere to the Eight Buddhist Thai Forest Precepts: refraining from sexual activity, speaking falsely, ingesting mind-altering products, eating after noon, entertainment, beautification, adornment and oversleeping.
After one year, Waterfield will be a novitiate, which requires, in addition to the precepts, prohibition from preparing food and driving a car. Two years from now, she may be an ordained Buddhist monastic, though the process usually takes longer. 
Waterfield is the first to join the monastic arm of the nonprofit Awakening Truth, founded by Ajahn Thanasanti earlier this year in west Colorado Springs. Awakening Truth also offers Tava Sangha, a free meditation and talk from Thanasanti for lay people.
Monastics within the Thai Forest Tradition take a vow of poverty, making them dependent on donations for survival since they never charge for their talks and good works.
Donors pay the rent on Thanasanti’s small cottage and on an apartment, which doubles as Waterfield’s sleeping area and communal meditation site for lay people.
Everything Thanasanti and Waterfield eat has been given. One day it might be a McDonald’s meal, and on another it might be a chef salad from a family restaurant.
“You can’t show preference (for what you are given),” Waterfield, 40, said.
At the Precept Ceremony, Thanasanti said the purpose of the monastic life is “awakening.” Monks benefit society by revealing a path to a happiness deeper than anything the world can offer.
“We live in a world where self-discipline, restraint and self-renunciation are not popular,” Thanasanti, sitting cross-legged on a pillow, said. Monastics “open the door for people to question their choices. There is another choice.”
Raised on a ranch in Canadian, Texas, Waterfield got a double-shot of Christianity. Mom was a Roman Catholic and Dad a Methodist. Her teen and early-adult years were marked by drinking and drug use, she said.
Because of her wayward lifestyle, it took her a number of years to finish her math degree at St. Edward’s University, a Catholic college in Austin.
In 1998 she founded “Gwyndows,” a window-cleaning operation in Austin that quickly grew into a formidable residential and commercial business.
All the while she was exploring Buddhism. She practiced at Austin Buddhist centers and attended days-long retreats around the country.
“The world started to look different,” Waterfield said. “There is something transformative and powerful about sitting still.”
After attending a 10-day retreat in CaƱon City this year run by Thanasanti, she made a decision. “I knew I had to pursue this,” said Waterfield, who has never been married.
About 50 people attended the Precept Ceremony. Waterfield’s mother, Gail, and her brother, Bruce, traveled from Texas.
The ceremony took place at an altar adorned with flowers, candles, and the statues of Buddha and Kuan Yin, the embodiment of compassion within the faith.
“I was prouder of her than I’ve ever been,” Gail Waterfield, 70, said after the ceremony. “The peace I see that has come over her is something that a mother prays her child will have.”
To learn about Waterfield’s daily life as a monastic, go to Barna’s blog, The Pulpit, at
Awakening Truth
What: Tava Sangha, a Buddhist program for lay people
When: Wed. 6:15-7:15 p.m.,meditation only; Sat. 6:30-8:30 p.m., meditation and talk by Ajahn Thanasanti.
Where: 511 Columbia Road
Cost: Free

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Becoming a Buddhist in Guernsey

by Richard Moorman, BBC, Dec 20, 2010

Guernsey, UK -- Guernseyman Richard Moorman became a Buddhist in 1997 but said he had been "flirting with the idea" since 1971.

He explained that in that time he had researched the faith and had been practising elements of it before his official conversion.

He said the Guernsey Buddhist Group held meetings open to anyone from any branch of Buddhism or any faith.
Richard said: "We've had Zen and Tibetan Buddhists and people of other religions come to our meetings."

He explained: "They enjoy the chanting, the meditating and the things we do."

Even though meditation is a central part of Buddhist practice Richard said it had its origins in the pre-Buddhist religions of northern India and today was practised by many people both as a religious activity and in secular life.

He said: "Meditation has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce stress levels - it's a very good thing to do irrespective of the religious sharpens powers of concentration."

Richard decided to make the step of taking on Buddhism in an official capacity following his step-daughter's move to the faith and, along with his wife, began practising a Japanese derivation of the religion.

He explained when they converted to Buddhism they took part in "taking refuge" which involves accepting "the Buddha as your teacher, the Dharma as his teaching and the Sangha as the community of Buddhists".

Richard said Buddhists have "a profound respect for all sincere religious practice".

Using the example of Christmas he said they respected Christians and their celebration of Jesus' birth.
Richard said as he lives in a Christian culture he still celebrated the event: "It's not a religious festival for me but its certainly a time to enjoy being with family."

He said the main teaching of Buddhism is: "We don't exist in isolation to everything else, we are one with everything and everything is one with us... once that becomes a profound insight, it produces great happiness."

Friday, December 3, 2010

Buddhism Enjoys A Revival In China

by Mitch Moxley, IPS News

BEIJING, Dec 1 (IPS) - Quan Zhenyuan discovered Buddhism by accident. After the owner of a vegetarian restaurant here in the Chinese capital gave her a book about the religion, she became hooked. Today, Quan is one of a growing number of urban Chinese who turn to Buddhism for spiritual fulfillment.

"I always used to believe Buddhism is a kind of superstition, but I changed my mind completely after reading the book" called ‘Recognising Buddhism’, says Quan, 32, an executive manager at a tourism agency in Beijing. She says Buddhism has taught her how to better solve problems and cooperate with employees and clients. "Buddhism gives me peace of mind."

China, an officially atheist country, is experiencing a Buddhism revival.

In the three decades since Premier Deng Xiaoping announced the ‘Reform and Opening Up’ policy, a spiritual void has opened among many Chinese, experts say. Stressed and overfocused on careers and material gain, many of its citizens have started to look for answers in religion, none more than Buddhism, which has a 2,000-year history in China.

A 2007 survey by the Research Centre for Religious Culture at East China Normal University found that of 4,500 people questioned across 31 provinces and autonomous regions, 33 percent claimed to believe in Buddhism.

Liu Zhongyu, the research team’s leader, told Phoenix News Media that "Buddhism is the major belief among intellectuals and young people" in China. He said that more than 300 million Chinese likely believe in Buddhism. Ten years earlier, the State Bureau of Religious Affairs pegged the number at 100 million.

Liu attributed the growing interest in Buddhism to social instability, pressures and anxiety caused by the rapidly developing market economy in China.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ ‘Blue Book on China’s Religions’ said Buddhism has experienced a "golden period" during China’s three decades of reform. During this period, nationwide organisational systems have been created, conducting summer camps and public education activities.

Research by the Centre on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University in the United States, announced at the 7th Symposium of the Social Scientific Study of Religion in China in July, found that interest in Buddhism has exploded in the last three decades. About 185 million Chinese follow Buddhism today, the Centre found.

Around the first century AD, Buddhism began to spread from India to China via the Silk Road. Gaining the support of emperors and royalty, the religion’s teachings spread rapidly. Indian dignitaries were invited to teach Buddhist philosophy and many sutras were introduced in China.

Mao Zedong, who was famously hostile toward religion, did not ban Buddhism outright, but many temples and Buddhist organisations were soon overtaken by the state.

When China brutally suppressed Tibetan Buddhism in 1959, this was supported by the government-controlled Buddhist Association of China. During the Cultural Revolution, many Buddhist holy sites were ravaged, but following Mao’s death in 1976, the suppression of Buddhism and other religions eased somewhat.

Like many young urban Chinese, a man in his thirties who gave his nickname as Eddie has turned to Buddhism to find meaning in his life. Buddhism has helped him answer questions about mankind’s purpose and about what comes next, he says.

"It shows me a brand new world. It’s like a light to guide my life, it gives me hope. It makes me understand the power of now," says Eddie. "I think I’m on the right track in connecting with myself."

But Duan Yuming, a professor at Sichuan University’s Institute of Religious Studies, says that while interest in Buddhism is growing, very few Chinese can actually call themselves Buddhist. "They practice Buddhism just for peace of mind."

Still, even a cursory interest is a good thing, Duan tells IPS.

"Buddhism is a spiritual development leading to true happiness. Buddhist practices, such as meditation, are a means of transforming oneself and developing the qualities of awareness, kindness and wisdom….Chinese people today are always urgent to do things. They don’t even know how to relax. Meditation can help them find peace of mind," he says.

Over the past decades, Buddhist monuments have been erected and restored across China, and tourism to Buddhist and other religious sites has increased. In 2006, China organised the World Buddhist Forum, and the next year banned mining on Buddhist sacred mountains.

Part of the rising interest in Buddhism stems from a growing fascination with Tibet. Although the vast majority of Chinese view the Autonomous Region as an inalienable part of China, many urban Chinese think of Tibet as a romantic, rugged frontier. As a result, tourism to the capital, Lhasa, and beyond has exploded in recent years.

Duan says that the growing interest in Buddhism among the majority Han Chinese can help improve understanding of and relations with Tibet – something the exiled Dalai Lama, who fled China for India in 1959, has said himself.

He told his biographer, the author Pico Iyer: "If thirty years from now Tibet is six million Tibetans and ten million Chinese Buddhists, then maybe something will be O.K."