Amidst blaring Tibetan ceremonial trumpets, piles of colorful sacred prayer scrolls, and the distinctive presence of a 32-foot high statue of the Buddha Maitreya, the formal dedication of a new center with the goal of promoting multicultural peace and understanding took place at the Kagyu Thupten Chöling (KTC) monastery and retreat center on the Hudson River in Wappingers Falls last Saturday.
The new 35,000 square-foot, two story building features a Mahayana shrine hall with an Amitabha statue, sacred to Chinese people as well as a main shrinehall housing three statues: the Tibetan Guru Rinpoche (10 feet high) and the Maitreya Buddha (32 feet high) and the White Tara of Long Life.
One of the most important Tibetan Buddhist lineage-holders, His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche arrived from the Himalayas to officiate over the ceremony and teach a new group of students who are entering into the three-year retreat this week.
“This center will provide a model for bringing together different religious traditions and cultures to share both their common heritage and their diversity,” his Eminence explained. “Inclusive, cooperative projects of this nature are especially important during these times of increasing conflict throughout the world, in order to promote understanding, tolerance, and peace.”
The center will serve the wider community as well, he said. “In addition, the construction of such a center promotes a harmonious atmosphere in the country in which it is established and throughout the world.”
Poet Laureate of Dutchess County, Robert Kelly, professor of literature at Bard College who is KTC’s Vice President elucidated further:
“This is the first time that the Buddhism of Tibet and the Buddhism of China are being put in the same building. Look at what happens when you plant the seed of amity between the two peoples by honoring their main intellectual and spiritual traditions. We hope that amity will extend to Asia as well as here.”
During the ceremony, the Tai Situ Rinpoche held a multi-colored cord connected to the rolls of prayers called ‘zungs’ to his heart to bless them before them were inserted inside the statue by lamas climbing up a high wooden ladder.
One of the young lamas, Jamdron the translator, explained this ritual to us: “Rinpoche meditates to blend his awareness with the mind of the Buddha, and to generate the power of that consecrates the zungs. The transmission of that blessing is symbolized by Rinpoche holding the string to his heart that is connected to zungs that then get put into the statue so those blessings can radiate the five wisdoms of the Buddha families out to the world.”
The word Maitreya means “Loving Kindness.” Robert Kelly also said:
“It is only by generating loving kindness that we can reduce the hatred in the world. Buddhism has a means of removing human suffering by contemplating loving kindness. We need this kind of a pure spiritual and psychological method for reducing the animosity, violence and strife that we see today.”
The new center will include accommodations for visiting teachers and monastic residences, as well as facilities for Dharma projects, including the preservation of ancient texts.
Lama Norlha Rinpoche, Abbot of KTC, has been the main inspiration behind the building of the center. He explained in a letter to his students: “"The main focus of the Maitreya Center will be the study and practice of the Buddhadharma according to the unbroken lineage of the Buddha's teachings creating a place where lay people can work with traditional monastics to learn about and practice the sacred Dharma.”
“The purpose of the Maitreya Center, however, extends beyond expanding our physical facilities; it aims to foster spiritual community. This purpose derives from the example of the Buddha, who taught both monastic and lay practitioners of different backgrounds more than twenty-five hundred years ago in ancient India. By establishing the Maitreya Center, we too can bring together persons of diverse backgrounds with the common aim of benefiting others through spiritual practice, global awareness, and engaged action.”
Kelly concluded by saying: “Come and see it, come visit it and feel it. This place will be an umbrella to bring peace to the region and we invite everyone to come to the ceremonies, listen to the teachings and walk around the stupa which is very meritorious. As you walk around the stupa, ponder world peace, think about forgiving your enemies and being kind to people because peace begins with you.”
Photos by Charlotte Mann, Amber Roniger and Tonia Shoumatoff. For more information: www.kagyu.com.