From farmhouse to Buddhist temple
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2004-04-24 05:36:29 UTC
From farmhouse to Buddhist temple
The Dhamma Times, 24 April 2004

By Craig Gustafson

Associated Press, United States - Members of a local Buddhist organization
have dreams of building a large temple filled with 3,000 people in
southwestern Minnesota.
For now, they'll settle for a 16-by-20-foot addition to a revamped

To make way for a growing Laotian community here, Nobles County officials
approved the use of the farmhouse as a makeshift Buddhist temple until a
more permanent location can be found. But neighbors say that farm country is
no place for a church, especially one that draws dozens of people to a rural
road occupied by the combines and grain-filled semis of local farmers.

The Buddhists insist there won't be a traffic problem because they only hold
large celebrations once or twice a year. Outside of those gatherings, only a
handful of members visit the temple each day.

Thi Synavone, the Buddhist organization's elected secretary, said the
Worthington community has been supportive and "open to diversity," although
she fears that race and religion may play at least a small part in the

"They're accepting of us to have a temple as long as it's not by them,"
Synavone said of critics. "Have it wherever you want, but not by us because
then we have to deal with it."

Farmers say they're only fearful of accidents on the temple's narrow, gravel
road when visitors face heavy equipment head-on.

"I don't care if you're a Lutheran, or a Catholic, or a Baptist, or whatever
you are. This is not a place for any church," said Joel Lorenz, who farms a
330-acre parcel around the temple site. "It's not based on religion, it's
based on the location. They have the right to worship however they want."

To address safety concerns, the Buddhists agreed to not park on roads and
limit large gatherings to 300 people.

In the end, the Laotians convinced Nobles County commissioners that the
temple wouldn't adversely affect farming operations.

"We just felt, you know, everybody has the right to worship," said Nobles
County Commissioner Diane Thier. "We all know this isn't the place for it,
but this is what they could afford. This is what they do own now. We want to
let them try it."

In fact, commissioners took the unusual step of changing an ordinance to
accommodate the Buddhist temple. In November, after rejecting the Laotian
group's first temple site within the city limits of Worthington, the county
tweaked the ordinance to allow churches to be built in its Agriculture
Preservation District.

It's the first time in 30 years that the county has given its blessing to a
non-farm development in its coveted agriculture district, said Wayne Smith,
the county's director of environmental affairs. The district, which covers
98 percent of the county, or just about everything outside of its cities,
had been considered off-limits except to farming operations.

So why make a change now?

Commissioner Norm Gallagher said that Laotians have helped fill a void left
by southwestern Minnesota's dwindling population, and making room for them
to expand creates a win-win situation for Nobles County.

"We need the workers and they need the jobs, and they need a place to live,"
he said. "It behooves us to make it as consumer- and user-friendly as we

Laotians first began resettling in the United States, including Minnesota,
in the mid-1970s, as they fled Laos during the communist takeover. According
to U.S. Census data, the Asian population in Nobles County has more than
tripled since 1990, to 830 in 2000. Laotian leaders say they account for
about 600 of those.

Bounlome Soumetho, former president of the Buddhist organization, said he
and others worked diligently during the past year to smooth over any
acrimony with opposing farmers. Besides parking and capacity restrictions,
the Buddhists agreed to a two-year conditional-use permit with an annual
review and no loud music after 10 p.m.

Smith said of the Laotians: "They come in and they want to go through the
process. They pay their money. They show up at all the meetings. They've
been super to work with, answering all our questions - and some of them are
probably pretty stupid questions."

For Soumetho, it's simply the Buddhist way - leading a moral life, being
mindful and aware of one's actions and thoughts, and cultivating

"We trust our Buddha," Soumetho said. "We cannot leave him behind. The more
people that know about the temple, the better."

Founded about 2,500 years ago, Buddhism teaches that right thinking and
self-denial will enable the soul to reach nirvana.

The Laotians raised $40,000 to renovate the dilapidated farmhouse, which was
donated by a temple member. To make it a more hospitable gathering place,
volunteers put new siding on the house, rebuilt the kitchen, expanded the
living room, and hauled unsightly junk (including an old bus) from the yard.

Synavone concedes the farmhouse isn't an ideal location, but right now it's
the only thing within the growing organization's financial grasp. The group
plans to raise more money in the next few months to install a septic tank
and make the building handicapped-accessible.

"Without the support of the community the way that we've had, we wouldn't be
able to do all of this," Synavone said. "Because if they didn't want us to
have a temple out there, they could have made it hard for us. But we do have
really good people helping us out."
2004-04-26 13:30:51 UTC
The Importance of Retreat
by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Edited from the newsletter of Vajrapani Institute, November, 1992.
(Vajrapani Institute, Box I, Boulder Creek CA 95006).

What is the importance of doing retreat? Why do people need to do retreat?
It is not simply to be quiet, to have a break from one's family. Instead,
there are very crucial reasons for doing retreat, very urgent reasons.

One reason is happiness. The peace and happiness of parents, for example,
depend upon their children's having affection and compassion towards them.
And the children's peace and happiness depend upon their parents' affection
and compassion. The same is true for couples or partners: each member's
peace, happiness and success depend upon the compassion and kindness of the
other person. For teachers and students as well, their peace and happiness
depend upon one another.

On a larger scale, the relationship between the leader of a country and its
population also depends upon their cultivation of a proper attitude, a good
heart, compassion. If one person is to avoid bringing problems such as
violence to a country or even to the whole world, that too depends upon his
or her development of compassion, loving kindness and a good heart.

For a person to obey a country's rules and regulations, to respect its laws
and government, this also depends upon kind heartedness. If all people were
to take care of their mind and develop a loving, compassionate attitude
towards one another, they would naturally act with loving compassion. People
would automatically stop harming each other and there would no longer be any
need for rules and regulations to be set down, laid out and enforced. But as
it is now, governments find it difficult to control problems. There are so
many criminals these days that there is no place to put them all!

At this time, the peace and happiness of millions of people--of the whole
world--can depend upon one person who has power, and he or she may have no
loving-kindness or compassion whatsoever. Yet even a stranger in the street
may show affection, a warm heart, loving-kindness and respect for another
stranger, giving him or her much happiness. With such loving, compassionate
thoughts combined with one's own kind and respectful actions, it is possible
to bring happiness and peace to many people everyday, and even to non-human
beings (animals, etc.).

But even if the message were already widespread that compassion and
tolerance are greatly needed nowadays for both individuals and the peace of
the world, this alone would not be sufficient. We have to know how to
develop such qualities. The solution is found by entering into retreat, into
a situation where it is possible to fulfill our basic human potential and
develop all the positive qualities within ourselves. Retreat gives us the
time and space to allow for the growth of this basic human quality. This is
crucial and most urgent, a true emergency! Why? Because others' lives are in
danger and so is our own.

Thus the first reason for doing retreat is to develop the basic human
qualities of affection and loving-kindness; if we do not generate these
qualities and express them towards others, we shall not receive the
affection upon which our own happiness depends. The second reason retreat is
important is that it gives us the time for putting the teachings we have
received from our spiritual mentors into practice. The third reason relates
to the busyness of our ordinary life: we are generally so caught up in
hallucinations, sense enjoyments and our various obligations to others that
retreat time is the only time we have to relax. In retreat we are free to
think and have some quiet, peaceful time for ourselves, without
distractions. In a retreat situation we have the opportunity to come face to
face with ourselves, to see ourselves in depth, to meet ourselves.

Retreat helps draw your consciousness away from false projections and into
reality. Only by recognizing the false projections that have been catching
the mind and learning to distinguish between what is true and what is false
is it possible to change our lives for the better. All such development of
the mind comes from doing retreat. We become better human beings, better
Dharma practitioners, better meditators. So retreat is the foundation of
true development. Without retreat, without being alone, the mind is like
muddy water. But the mind in treat, being alone and free from outside
distractions, is like a calm, crystal-clear lake. There is the clarity to
help see ourselves more clearly and to see our Buddha nature more easily.

Now we can understand the importance, not merely for oneself but for all
other beings, for organizing the facilities for doing a proper retreat. It
gives us the opportunity of experiencing the varieties of happiness
mentioned above, and this is without even talking about the many benefits of
the actual spiritual practice itself. For example, by generating the thought
of the altruistic intention, infinite positive potential is created, and by
meditating upon emptiness for even one second, the heavy negative karma of
the ten destructive actions is purified. As is mentioned in various sutras,
even the intention to meditate upon emptiness--or merely having faith in the
teachings about emptiness--can purify heavy karma. Even doing one
prostration can create inconceivable positive potential. These beneficial
results are difficult to comprehend with our ordinary mind.

There are many other examples of the immense benefit of Dharma practices.
Reciting mantras and the names of holy beings even once can purify great
negativities. For example, it is said that reciting the name of Shakyamuni
Buddha can purify 84,000 eons of negative karma! Through their power of
purification these and other practices can help bring the mind further along
the path to enlightenment. Furthermore, meditating on the path to
enlightenment also helps rid us of immediate dangers, such as rebirth in
unfortunate life forms if death is imminent. At the same time, such
meditational practice can purify the causes of this life's problems from
difficult relations and unmanageable diseases such as cancer and AIDS to the
danger of untimely death. Because we create great positive potential through
these practices, they become the cause of success and harmony in this life,
bringing good fortune in business, wealth, good health and long life. For
all the above reasons, therefore, retreat gives us more hope, strength and
encouragement for this life. And from a strong and healthy mind comes a
strong and healthy body.

In conclusion, retreat is important because it involves retreating from
ignorance, from the dissatisfied mind of attachment and from the
self-centered attitude. These are the fundamental forces from which we must
retreat; this is the true meaning of meditation. Transforming the mind into
a positive state, freeing ourselves from unsatisfactory experiences and
their causes--these are the essential purpose of Dharma practice.

There will always be problems and dissatisfaction as long as we think that
the causes of happiness and the causes of suffering lie outside ourselves.
But the experiences of our life--and the teachings of the Buddha--tell us
that the source of happiness is within our own mind. We can find
satisfaction, peace and happiness only within our own minds. Therefore,
retreat and meditation practice become the ultimate solution for any and all
of our problems.
2004-04-26 13:31:42 UTC
Repaying the Kindness of Our Parents
by Ven. Thubten Chodron

Many of us Westerners are not familiar with recognizing and repaying the
kindness of our parents. Since the breakdown of the family structure and the
advent of pop-psychology, many of us are more familiar with looking at
families as dysfunctional and codependent, populated by wounded inner
children and perpetuating child abuse. I do not want to ignore the pain and
tragedy that occurs in some families. However, I think it is important for
our own happiness and the happiness of those around us that we have a more
balanced view of our families. Since we see what we look for, constantly
dwelling on our disappointments in the relationships with our parents
over-emphasizes their importance. Blaming our parents for what we see as
harm done to us, our heart closes. Until people can resolve their negative
emotions towards our parents, it will be difficult for them to be good
parents to their children.

One remedy for this is to change our way of looking at things, to dwell more
on the kindness we have received from our parents. When we reflect with
clarity on our family, we will see great kindness there and will realize
that we have been the beneficiary of that kindness in ways not previously
noticed. For example, our mother carried us in her body for over nine months
and then gave birth. Her body getting stretched this way and that, becoming
huge, she was uncomfortable. But she went through this for our benefit, and
because of it we are alive today. She-or whoever took care of us as
children-had to get up in the middle of the night to feed us for years. When
we were toddlers, our parents (or people whom they asked to look after us
when they were busy) protected us from danger as we innocently played with
electric plugs or put random objects into our mouths. Our parents taught us
to speak, tie our shoes, brush our teeth and hundreds of other little things
that we now take for granted. They saw to our education, and they taught us
basic manners enabling us to get along with other. When our
self-centeredness got out of hand, they disciplined us. (As a child I
thought that all the discipline I received was unfair. It was only as an
adult that I came to realize I may not have been the easiest child to
raise!) Our parents had many things going on it their lives and perhaps were
often worried about financial, health, social, or family matters, but they
did their best to raise us, given that they are limited human beings just
like us.

When we give ourselves the mental space to contemplate this kindness,
incredible healing can occur within us. Gratitude will replace sorrow and
bitterness. We will see that we have received immense kindness, and this
will open us to want to share that kindness and love with others. It will
also improve our relationships with our parents, enabling us to express our
love to them. And in this way we will repay our parents' kindness.

Teaching from Dharma Friendship Foundation
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