A window into Buddhism

New York monastery welcomes visitors for tours, meditation
Associated Press, July 31, 2003

CARMEL, New York (AP) –The 37-foot-high Buddha sits atop a lotus flower, encircled by 10,000 smaller Buddha statues.

His hands — the left index finger extended into the clenched right in a “knowledge fist” — represent the unification of compassion and wisdom.

The Chuang Yen Monastery houses this statue, the largest Buddha in the Western Hemisphere, on their 225 acres in Carmel.

With meditation programs in both English and Chinese, the monastery welcomes visitors to walk around the Seven Jewels Lake, meditate in their halls and learn about the principles of Buddhism.

Venerable Xin-Xing, a monk living at the monastery run by the Buddhist Association of the United States, emphasized the importance of meditation today.

“The people of America should meditate and cultivate compassion,” he said. “When we meditate, the negative emotions will sometimes arrive. We have to transform them, then we can help other beings.”

Visitors are invited to meditate with the 15 monks and nuns living on the site, and are encouraged to ask questions about the Chinese tradition of Mahayana Buddhism.

“I learned how to meditate with some assistance,” John Fitzgerald said. He first visited the monastery with other students in his Tai-Chi class, but continues to return. Visiting the monastery “has opened my mind to many different aspects of life,” said the 63-year-old from Yorktown Heights, New York.

To help guests understand the principles and applications of the religion, the Great Buddha Hall has tables piled high with books ranging from “What the Buddha Taught,” to “Finding Inner Peace.” The books are available for visitors to take home.

Peace and happiness

The Great Buddha Hall, completed in 1997, was built around the finished Buddha statue. Photographs of the dedication with the Dalai Lama, and of the process of building the artificial marble statue, adorn bulletin boards that also offer information on retreats, camps, classes and special events.

Kuan-Yin Hall, adjacent to the Great Buddha Hall, is used for daily meditations, special events and retreats. Housed inside is a porcelain statue of Kuan-Yin Bodhisattva dating back to the Ming Dynasty. The woman stands on a dragon’s head, and reaches out, toward the ocean, which symbolizes compassion, according to Xin-Xing.

A short walk from the two halls is a larger statue, beside the Seven Jewels Lake, of Kuan-Yin, a smiling barefoot woman.

Venerable Kong-Dow, a 56-year-old newly ordained nun at the monastery, explained that the smile comes from the peace and happiness in the woman’s heart.

“She always appears to be smiling. Not like us who need to ‘say cheese’ when we want to take a picture,” said the nun.

Within the cocoon of thick trees and underbrush, the Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions relocated here from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. The library holds 70,000 books on world religions, many of which are Buddhist reference books in various languages.

College students take advantage of the resource, according to volunteer Tsu-Ku Lee. He said the monastery also gets groups of senior citizens and special education students visiting the grounds. Lee said the association may build a college on the land in the future.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday August 1, 2003.
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