http://www.UrbanDharma.org ...Buddhism for Urban America


The Urban Dharma Newsletter... July 22, 2003


In This Issue:

1. Bible Losing Monopoly ...BY BILL MAXWELL ST
2. Buddhist Temple's Obon Festival Updates Ancient Festival ...By Marcia Manna
3. A Buddha-shaped hole
...Colin Thubron

4. Temple/Center/Website- of the Week: The UC Irvine Buddhist Association
5. Book/Movie Review: Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud
...Sun Shuyun ...Amazon.com.UK


1. Bible Losing Monopoly ...BY BILL MAXWELL ST . PETERSBURG TIMES, July 19, 2003


After putting my shirts on hangers, I turned on the television and lay on the king-sized bed.

Faintly, I could hear Manhattan’s traffic outside as a newscaster lamented the unseasonable 90-plus-degree weather. For no particular reason, I glanced at the nightstand. And for no particular reason, I opened the drawer and looked inside. It was empty, and I shut it without thinking. As I turned my attention back to the TV, something bothered me. I opened the drawer again and realized what concerned me: I did not see that ubiquitous Gideon Bible. I looked in my desk drawer and found fancy hotel stationery but not a Gideon Bible. I checked the three dresser drawers. No Gideon. I had no interest in reading the Bible, but I missed seeing it.

After four days in Lower Manhattan, I returned to St. Petersburg and did not give the missing Bible another thought—that is, until a few days ago, when I saw the following headline in USA Today: "Some hotel nightstands looking beyond the Bible."

The article stated that as the financially troubled hotel industry fights to lure back old customers and attract new ones after the 9/11 tragedies, some establishments are beginning to offer a wider range of in-room, religious reading material—if they offer any at all.

According to the newspaper, the new 2,002-room, $1.1 billion Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, for example, does not offer a Gideon Bible in the nightstand, a hotel tradition begun in 1908. Like the hotel I stayed in, the Borgata stocks Gideon Bibles in its lobby library for customers who request them. It also stocks 12 other such texts, including the Bhagavad-Gita and Jehovah the First Godfather.

Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, along with the religious sensitivity and turmoil that have ensued, a growing number of hoteliers are loosening the Gideon monopoly on the "good word" and are giving guests a smorgasbord of religious texts and tools for enjoying their faith and expressing their beliefs.

As far as I am concerned, this new trend is a sign of long-overdue tolerance, respect and common sense.

Established by members of the Mormon Church, according to USA Today, Marriott hotels are replacing the Gideon with, what else, The Book Of Mormon.

In the same light, nearly 2,500 hotels nationwide will receive free copies of "The Teachings of Buddha" from the Society for the Promotion of Buddhism. Founded by a Japanese industrialist 22 years ago, the society will place copies of the text in the hotels of 53 other countries.

If 9/11 teaches Americans anything, it should be that the United States is just one more place in the world community, that various parts of the globe worship in their own way, that we cannot force our way of life on others without expecting resistance and resentment.

What other peoples around the world think of us is important to our future. Something as simple as a ubiquitous Bible in hotel rooms reflects our level of respect for the faiths and beliefs of others. Many wrongheaded conservatives will rage against providing hotel guests with the Bible upon request only. I think that Americans should pay attention to what hoteliers do. They are at the front of the hospitality industry, and they sense trends long before others do. Gerald Zelizer, a rabbi from Metuchen, N. J., told USA Today that as the hotel chains move forward on this front, officials should meet with church leaders to learn which religious texts, products and symbols are appropriate to offer to their guests. The Gideon Bible is valuable to many guests. But it means little—if anything—to many, many others. In the future, I will always take note of the reading material in my nightstand drawer.

• Bill Maxwell is an editorial writer and columnist for the St. Petersburg Times.

2. Buddhist Temple's Obon Festival Updates Ancient Festival
...By Marcia Manna ...COMMUNITY NEWS WRITER ...July 20, 2003


VISTA – So how did a nice, Jewish boy become a Buddhist priest?

"I get asked that all the time," said Lee Rosenthal, resident minister at the Vista Buddhist Temple. "The way I explain it is simple. My life is a seed that sprouted as a flower."

What: Obon Festival

When: Noon to 8 p.m. July 26-27

Where: Vista Buddhist Temple, 150 Cedar Road

Cost: Free

Information: (760) 941-8800

After a series of life-altering events and losses, Rosenthal became interested in Buddhism. The Vietnam veteran went on to earn a master's degree in Buddhist studies, then trained in Kyoto to become a priest.

He compared his journey to the Vista Buddhist Temple with a rose that blossomed in a garden of chrysanthemums. "It took many causes and conditions, soil and watering, manure as well," explained Rosenthal, who is inviting the public to participate in the temple's Obon Festival this weekend. The annual event stems from the custom of ancestor worship in Japan, similar to All Souls Day in Christianity.

But at the Vista Buddhist Temple, the festival is more about celebrating the individuals responsible for our ability to fully appreciate life.

"We all have ancestors, but they aren't all the same people," said Rosenthal, 56. "As a forward-looking priest in the United States and as an American Buddhist, I like to use the word 'forebearers.' If it wasn't for my Jewish ancestry, I wouldn't be here. That was a step on a ladder that led me to the roof. If you say Obon is a time for Japanese to look back and honor their ancestors, you invite a tourist mentality – like, let's go watch the Navaho Indians weave baskets."

Rather than attend as observers, temple members and the community are invited to participate. A taiko (Japanese for "fat drum") presentation will occur at 5 p.m. on the temple grounds, and a silent auction and craft boutique will be featured. Japanese food, flowers and plants will be sold, and Bon Odori, Japanese folk dancing, begins at 6:30 p.m.

"It's the atmosphere," Rosenthal said of the festival's broad appeal. "There is a large outdoor courtyard, and we hang paper lanterns at night. Taiko drums accompany the Japanese music. Someone said this is like Texas line dancing, but we aren't there to learn the tango. We are there to just move, and when our hearts are pounding in sync with the drums, you observe other people in a big community in tune with life."

Before the festival, temple member Elaine Marume teaches Japanese dance steps in a downstairs room at the temple.

"It's open to the public, and we get people from the community who aren't associated with the temple, they just like to dance," Marume said.

"We try to keep the dances pretty much the same, so people can go to different temples and still participate. Circle and folk dancing from different areas of Japan can reference different kinds of work, like harvesting a rice crop."

As Rosenthal suggests, dancers are not there to learn the tango. But one folk dance, similar to the samba, is especially popular.

"We have a large population of Japanese immigrants in Brazil, and they have created their own Obon dance, which is a samba," Marume explained. "It's called Shiawase samba."

Marume is a Japanese-American who has taught dance at the temple for a decade. Her husband, who was born in Japan, will prepare and sell sushi at the festival. Marume said that Obon inspires her to remember her grandparents, who immigrated from Japan, and "all the other relatives who made her life possible." The Rev. Rosenthal, known for his humor, will offer his "Buddhist schtick" at around 3 p.m., and though he wants the event to be entertaining, he takes the teachings of Buddhism seriously.

"When you look into yourself, look at all the teachers you have had," he said.

"When we are in the same room, we share the same oxygen, the breath of life. That is the beauty of Obon. That is the beauty of the Vista Buddhist Temple."

3. A Buddha-shaped hole ...Colin Thubron reviews Ten Thousand Miles without a Cloud by Sun Shuyun


It is said that the Chinese have no religion. Confucianism and Taoism do not propose a God or reach beyond the grave, any more than Communism does. So there is a peculiar fascination about the quest of Sun Shuyun, born in Mao's China, for a validating faith in her travel memoir Ten Thousand Miles without a Cloud.

Her search is charged, ironically, by a kind of homesickness. Born - an unwanted daughter - in a small town in the north, her childhood was darkened by the Cultural Revolution. Yet as an adult, after scholarships had taken her to Beijing University and to Oxford, she looked back with a sense of loss. In her memory, the figure who had filled this vacuum was her illiterate grandmother. Until Sun went to university, they slept in the same bed, head to toe, and her earliest memory was of bound feet rubbing against her face. The whole family, including Sun, ridiculed the old woman's Buddhism, but it was from her that the child picked up its lore - and years later came to wonder at her grandmother's unshaken faith, and her compassion.

In 1997 Sun Shuyun's father died, broken, in an unrecognisable new China. His death severed his daughter's last links with Communism. Living in England now, she found her panacea in a man who offered an alternative certainty. She became obsessed by him. He had lived over 1,300 years earlier.

In the seventh century the monk Xuanzang set out from China for India in search of Buddhist scriptures. Eighteen years later he returned, carrying 600 books of Sanskrit sutras and seven statues. For the rest of his life he presided over the resurgence of Buddhism in China's golden age, and the retranslation of the sacred canon. The story of his travels itself became another holy text.

Sun Shuyun set out to follow in his footsteps, and their twin journeys form the bulk of her book. A vicarious pilgrim, she attempts through Xuanzang to draw closer to faith. The journey takes her from the Tang capital, today's Xian, to the Taklamakhan desert and into the Heavenly Mountains of modern Kyrgyzstan. Denied entry into Uzbekistan, and with Afghanistan in turmoil, she flies to Peshawar and there picks up Xuanzang's long trail, wending back and forth along the Ganges through the heartland of Buddhism.

She claims no bravery as a traveller. She is much hosted and guided. The Pashtuns at the arrival gate in Peshawar airport look so alarming that she bolts behind a telephone booth. But she is buoyed up by her (very Chinese) optimism. She has minor epiphanies of her own. In Kushinagar, where the Buddha died, she encounters converts to a self-reliant brand of Buddhism that she feels might become hers. In a monastery the selflessness of a devotee fills her with astonished questioning.

It is hard to write of Buddhist faith without lapsing into banality. Karma, transmigration, nirvana: they have become Western platitudes. But Sun Shuyun records her feelings, and those of others, with spontaneous simplicity, almost with innocence, as if she were still the child seeking her grandmother's solution.

Among her book's felicities are sudden insights into a Chinese world still hard to grasp. She describes her childish excitement, then fear, at the Cultural Revolution; her family was endangered even by her mother's curly hair (it suggested foreign ancestry), which she tried hopelessly to straighten with industrial acid, then cropped off.

In the end Sun Shuyun is moved, even troubled, by Buddhism, but she is not converted. She admits to being defeated by the arcane school advocated by Xuanzang. Disarmingly she writes: "Perhaps I am one of those pragmatic Chinese who find such philosophies too abstruse, too complicated. We have always been that way."

And so have most of the rest of us. The "Ten Thousand Miles without a Cloud" of her book's title is a Buddhist metaphor for the clarity of perfect knowledge. She may not have touched this, but her journey through the faith so demonised in her youth is a gently moving one. Both her longing and her scepticism are deeply sympathetic.

Her journey ends at her grandmother's grave. There Sun feels a bitter sadness that she had not treated her with more understanding. The inscription, typical of poor Chinese, does not record the name, but simply: "The tomb of the woman of the Liu and Wang families". The old woman had planned her own funeral: her clothes, her offerings. But by the time she died, land-hunger demanded that people be cremated. So her granddaughter left fruit on the mound above her ashes - grapes and bananas, which she had not tasted in life - and said a Buddhist prayer for her.

4. The UC Irvine Buddhist Association



The UC Irvine Buddhist Association's mission is to reach out to student and faculty of UCI to promote awareness about Buddhism. Many Buddhist students on-campus may or may not know of UCI Buddhist Association. Thus, it is our first and foremost goal to allow students and staff of UCI to have the opportunity to expand their spiritual and religious horizons. We encourage learning and understanding of Buddhism in all forms. We welcome all people of all diversities, in the hopes that they can realize the teaching values of the Buddha. We believe that the messages of Buddhism are not only helpful for our religious and spiritual growth, but also our personal growth because Buddhism is more than a religious--it's a way of life, a philosophy. Our goal is to dispense the precious knowledge and information we call Buddhism.

The three major missions of the UC Irvine Buddhist Association are:

1. To promote Buddhism on the UC Irvine campus.

2. To secure unity, solidarity among Buddhists by providing services for the benefit of those who participate.

3. To attain happiness in life by understanding the teachings of the Buddha.


UC Irvine Buddhist Association


The club was originally established in 1994 by a group of students who were interested in Buddhism. The main goal was and still is to promote Buddhism on the UCI campus among overseas Chinese; to have social gatherings among people interested in Chinese culture and Mahayana/Vajrayana Buddhism.  We also seek to provide a friendly environment for those who wish to explore Buddhism further. In the club, you have the opportunity to socialize and make friends as well as learn valuable lessons in life.

5. Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud ...Sun Shuyun ...Amazon.com.UK

*This is from Amazon.com in the UK



Book Description

Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud is a beautifully written account of Sun Shuyun’s journey to retrace the steps of one of the most popular figures in Chinese history – the monk Xuanzang, who travelled to India searching for true Buddhism.

This exceptional book is a journey on three levels: historical, cultural and spiritual.


Xuanzang should be known as one of the world's great heroes. His travels are legendary. He brought true Buddhism to China. His own book provides a unique record of the history and culture of his time. Yet he is unknown to most of us and even to most Chinese. Sun Shuyun, herself brought up in China, was determined to follow in his footsteps, discover more about Xuanzang and restore his fame. So she retraced his journey from China to India and back. In the 8th century, crossing 110 kingdoms, he took 18 years. He opened up the east and west of Asia to each other - and to us. A man of great faith and determination, Xuanzang won the hearts of kings and robbers with his teaching, his charm and his indomitable will. Against all odds he persuaded the Confucian emperors to allow Buddhism to flourish in China. At the heart of this book lies Sun Shuyun's own personal journey towards understanding the Buddhist faith of her grandmother, recognizing also the passionate idealism of the communist beliefs of her own family and discovering her own beliefs.


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